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Spirit in the Night: A Film for Your Ears

Updated: Oct 19, 2021

The content in question:


So long, old friend.

If you can recall ages back to my first post on this blog, you may remember that it was a content critique on Pink Floyd’s 1973 classic “Time”. It was a song my mother had introduced to me when I was younger, and the tune managed to stick with me ever since. As I sat back and decided what I wanted to write about this week, I found it only fitting to write about a song my father showed me at a young age as well. You see, when I was a child, not much time was spent listening to the music of those times. Anywhere I was going with my parents, they always had CD’s of their favorite artists to play in the car. Yes, CD’s. Remember those things?? I was never one that was fond of modern music until I got to be in about middle school, and even then I always came back to music my parents showed me from their childhood.

When you’re a child, you mostly consume music for the sound, the beat, and it's "dance-ability" some may say. However, once you mature, and you have a little more than just rocks rattling around in your head, you discover these things called lyrics. I discovered that music is like a magic carpet that can send you wherever, whenever you want. If you give it the chance to, that is. I find that lyrics are so undervalued in music today, that it often leads to a lack of depth and the inability to tell a story.

Me on my way back in time while listening to Brown Eyed Girl or something.

Bruce checking out his debut album for the first time in early 1973. Unbelievable

As stated earlier, my parents were constantly exposing me to the music they loved as children, teens, and young adults as I was growing up. I still remember the first song that unveiled the vivid, spiritual journey that a song can send its listener on when the lyrics are digested properly. In 1973, a young man from New Jersey who had been working his way around the Jersey shore music scene for a few years managed to put out his debut album. The album was Greetings from Asbury Park, and the young man I’m speaking of is none other than New Jersey’s own, Bruce Springsteen. Being that he was one of my father’s favorite artists, it was only right that he became one of mine as well. Seriously, I love the man and all of his work. When I initiate a prayer I whisper, “In the name of the Father, the Son, and a man named Springsteen.” Okay, that was a pretty bad joke, but I do find myself drawing inspiration from this man on a day to day basis.


Pretty cool cover art too if you ask me.

As you make your way through the track listing of Greetings, in the second to last spot, you’ll find a song entitled “Spirit in the Night”. Coming in at 5 minutes on the dot, the song tells a story about a night spent doing just about everything your parents would advise against. The first time I heard this song, and every time since, I was transported back in time to a warm summer night long before I was born. It is a visceral experience that I cannot do justice through my own words, so I’ll let The Boss take it from here.

The song opens with Clarence Clemons’ saxophone surrounding and engulfing you like a groovy summer breeze on a late night. A Vini Lopez drum fill swirls you into the first verse, and you’re introduced to a 23 year old Bruce Springsteen. The young man is singing with the will that convinces you that the actions within this song are happening right before your eyes.

“Crazy Janey and her mission man, were back in the alley tradin' hands. along came Wild Billy with his friend G-man all duded up for Saturday night. Well Billy slammed on his coaster brakes and said anybody wanna go on up to Greasy Lake? It's about a mile down on the dark side of route eighty-eight, I got a bottle of rose so let's try it. We'll pick up Hazy Davy and Killer Joe and I'll take you all out to where the gypsy angels go They're built like light….”

As the listener, you’re immediately thrown into a world full of youth, romance, and adventure, all in under a minute. The unique choices of imagery and vocabulary has always stood out to me. What is a "mission man" ? What does it mean to "trade hands" ? What does it mean to be "duded up" on a Saturday night? What is a "gypsy angel", and what the hell makes this damn lake so greasy ?!?!? The song builds and builds on the tail end of that verse, and you’re thrusted into the first of three choruses lead by Bruce, and assisted by the iconic backing vocals of the E-Street Band. The band chiming in vocally gives the song a sense of company. The same you feel on a night spent with your friends:

“…. and they dance like spirits in the night (all night) in the night (all night) Oh, you don't know what they can do to you. Spirits in the night (all night), in the night (all night) Stand right up now and let it shoot through you.”

The first chorus concludes and Springsteen begins to further illustrate the setting and the characters in the 2nd verse:

“Well now Wild young Billy was a crazy cat and he shook some dust out of his coonskin cap. He said, "Trust some of this it'll show you where you're at, or at least it'll help you really feel it" By the time we made it up to Greasy Lake I had my head out the window

and Janey's fingers were in the cake. I think I really dug her 'cause I was too loose to fake I said, "I'm hurt." She said, "Honey let me heal it". And we danced all night to a soul fairy band and she kissed me just right like only a lonely angel can She felt so nice, just as soft as a spirit in the night (all night)”

"I think I really dug her 'cause I was too loose to fake. I said, 'I'm hurt.' She said, 'Honey let me heal it'." Are you joking?? What an incredibly simple exchange between these two characters, but it tells you all you need to know about how they feel about each other. A chorus follows, and as you listen to an instrumental break lead by Clarence's saxophone, you’re left wondering how this 23 year old kid has managed to create such an immersive atmosphere in a 5 minute song that rivals those of a Hollywood film. As the "ooo's" of the E-Street band fade, you’re thrown into a 3rd and final verse:

“Now the night was bright and the stars threw light on Billy and Davy dancin' in the moonlight. They were down near the water in a stone mud fight, Killer Joe gone passed out on the lawn…..”

At this point, all but the piano cuts out. The listener is now alone with this intimate section in which Springsteen further emphasizes the detailed environment and relationships he has created throughout the song. The rhythm section slowly builds back up just in time for the final chorus of the song to explode:

“Well now Hazy Davy got really hurt, he ran into the lake in just his socks and a shirt. Me and Crazy Janey was makin' love in the dirt singin' our birthday songs Janey said it was time to go, so we closed our eyes and said goodbye to gypsy angel row, felt so right Together we moved like spirits in the night, all night Baby don't know what they can do to you Spirits in the night, all night Stand right up and let it shoot right through you.”


"This man puts more thoughts, more ideas, and images into one song than most people put into an album." Yep, I'd say so.

I don’t believe that there has ever been a song written that quite captures the essence of innocence, curiosity, and mystery that is your youth like this song has. Given that this was his first major record label release, this was Bruce’s wide-eyed introduction the world. While most critics probably weren’t expecting much from the unknown kid, one thing that cannot be understated upon listening to this album is the sheer talent this man has at storytelling. The creativity in the lyrics from cover to cover is unrivaled by almost anything that is produced today. Whether it be the illustration of hanging your head out of a car window while your buddies are driving, experiencing your first sips of alcohol, staying out past curfew, or having your first taste of romance, the simplicity yet relatability of the situations mentioned in this song is what makes it so special. Despite never having met the characters in this song, I feel as though I was there that night at Greasy Lake.

Amen, iggy082.

Unfortunately, not many people today would give this song a chance unless they were sat down, strapped into a chair, and had Bose headphones placed around their ears. Thankfully, you gave it a chance because some kid on some blog told you to. It may sound like I’m a "classic rock elitist", and that I’m pushing the motive that old music is better than modern music, however that’s not quite true. Each person gathers influence and inspiration from their own experiences and their own tastes. My inspiration just happens to be from an old song that came out in 1973. What I AM trying to say is that songs like these, that have such in depth depictions of stories, are becoming more and more rare in the streaming age. You look in the past and there are so many examples, "American Pie" by Don McLean, "A Day in the Life" by The Beatles, "The Boxer" by Simon and Garfunkel, the list goes on and on. The ability to conceptualize and develop stories and characters within a 3 to 5 minute song just seems to be a skill lost in time. The fact that "Spirit in the Night" isn't even mentioned in the same breath as some of the greatest songs of its era just goes to show how strong the quality of music was back then. Regardless of your tastes, take my friend's wise words into consideration...

Walker lol

"For the interested readers today looking to satiate their enthusiasm for creative expression in the space of writing, I encourage you to do so, and I encourage you to seek out those select few veterans willing to share their treasured insight."

- Walker Butler

"ARCANE: What the Hell is Normal Anyway?"

I fully agree. I too encourage you to find what you can draw inspiration from, and absorb it in any way possible. Whether it is writing, music, film or a select veteran like Bruce Springsteen, take their insight and use it to to fulfill your own creative motivation.

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