Monday, November 30, 2009

Was Terry a dude?

I just recently stumbled across the Memorized Breaths blog. The blog appears to be defunct, which is a shame, since there's some nice material in there. I particularly appreciated this post on Bruce Springsteen's "Backstreets," one of the tracks from "Born to Run" (1975). The author briefly suggests that the relationship described in the song may have been between two men, a notion that is embraced in some of the comments. I subscribe to this theory, as well. To wit:
  • Bruce is singing about "Terry," a name with an ambiguous gender association. The women in most of Bruce's songs tend to have unambiguous names like Mary, Wendy, Wanda, etc. (Although he did marry a Pat.)
  • The song refers to love as something secretive and forbidden, again a departure from much of his music from the time period. ("Sleeping in that old abandoned beach house getting wasted in the heat/ And hiding on the backstreets, hiding on the backstreets/ With a love so hard and filled with defeat/ Running for our lives at night on them backstreets.")
  • The main characters are pretending to be something they're not -- conventionally masculine. ("Remember all the movies, Terry, we'd go see/ Trying to learn how to walk like heroes we thought we had to be.")
It's a hell of a song either way, but if Springsteen was singing sympathetically about a same sex relationship back in 1975, that's pretty impressive on his part.


Sari Botton said...

Interesting, and I like the idea of Springsteen being so progressive for back then. However, my friend David Begler (, the biggest Springsteen fan I know, has this to say:

I would say negative.

And as proof, I would look to Bruce's live versions in 1978, where he added the "Sad Eyes" section, and he sang "I swore I would drive all night, just to buy you some shoes." Even gay guys wouldn't want shoes THAT badly.

Also, he continues..."Little girl you'd been lying, little girl you'd been lying."

On the other hand he did use to kiss Clarence on stage.

-- D.

Seth Masket said...

Interesting. I'm not sure what to make of that live version. Springsteen was clearly trying out some new material ("Drive All Night") that he'd eventually put on "The River" album, but I'm not sure why he'd blend that with "Backstreets." They're very different songs. "Backstreets" is this sad, angry song about love and betrayal, while "Drive All Night" is just this unabashed display of devotion.

I tend to think that, regardless of my gender or sexual preference, I'd be a little freaked out by someone driving all night to buy me some shoes.

Sari Botton said...

I think they ultimately became very different songs. But Springsteen played different iterations of "Drive All Night" in the middle of Backstreets for years, long before "Drive All Night" became its own song. I have a recording from 1977 or thereabouts where he does a slightly different version than the one in the you tube video. I guess after he displayed unabashed devotion to Terry, he/she betrayed him. (I am inclined to think Terry was a chick.)

Seth Masket said...

Is it possible he wrote "Drive All Night" for a guy, as well?

sari Botton said...

Maybe he wrote it for my fashion stylist friend, Eric Stern - who has 600 pairs of shoes.

Sari Botton said...

I know this thread is pretty dead by now, but just listened to "Drive All Night," and he sings "girl" too many times for the dude theory to fly.

Seth Masket said...

No, no, Bruce was calling out to "Daryl," which, as we all know, is Terry's middle name.

Robert said...

Coming really late to the party, but I'll just add that Springsteen famously had a real-life very good friend who was a guy named Terry. Terry Magovern died in 2007 and there's a tune on the Magic album that was written in his honor: "Terry's Song."

You know, I've always thought that "Backstreets" was about an extremely close friendship that could have been with a man or a woman. Even with lines like "Laying here in the dark you're like an angel on my chest," it sounded in the context of the song not sexual but profoundly intimate, like it could be two lovers or it could be two wounded soldiers in a foxhole.

That reminds me that I've thought it would be great if Springsteen did a USO tour in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not that I have any experience upon which to conclude what an audience of soldiers would appreciate musically, but I speculate that songs like this one, "Badlands," and "Promised Land" would go over huge.