January 13 – Turntable Talk 10 : This River Wasn’t Exactly One Of Dreams

Welcome back to Turntable Talk! Thanks to all the regular readers and welcome to any new ones. Briefly, on Turntable Talk we have a number of guest columns from other music fans and writers, sounding off on one particular topic. To kick it off in 2023, our topic is They’re a Poet Don’t You Know It... we look at a song that made a great impact on our contributors for its lyrics.

Today we have Max from Power Pop Blog. There he gives us a great song or two daily with a great writeup, and coming soon apparently an episode-by-episode look at Star Trek. Will he pick a great power pop song, or might he go where no man has gone before?

Dave stated, “I just want you to pick one song that you think has fantastic lyrics, or one you like because of the lyrics, and say a bit about why you love it.”

I went through many songs to get to this one. Dylan songs mostly before I realized this one hit home. This was the title track to Bruce Springsteen’s 1980 double album The River. I picked this song because it is so easy to relate to. I’ve known friends who have lived this song. This is not a party starter song by any stretch of the imagination. The lyrics are downright sad because they are so damn real. It contains one of my favorite Springsteen lines “And for my nineteenth birthday I got a union card and a wedding coat.

I grew up in a small town with a population of around a thousand or so at the time. The jobs there were dead end jobs and the pay was even worse. I saw a cycle even at an early age by seeing parents and their kids doing the same thing generation after generation. It was enough inspiration for me to explore and find new things…and to get out. Some of my friends never made it out. They are doing now what they swore they wouldn’t do before.

I saw my sister get into the same position as the Mary character in the song. It ended many years later in a divorce but at least she is happy now so there are good endings! Her son was the best thing that happened to her. The funny thing is I ended up moving back near that town but I’m doing what I want to be doing not in a job or rut that I hate. Some of my old friends are not in that position.

I came to realize…it wasn’t the location at all. It was and still is a nice small town. No that wasn’t it. It was the lack of expectations at the time set upon everyone that made it seem pre-ordained for bad choices to happen.

The wedding in the song relates to Springsteen’s sister, who got married when she was still a teenager. She knew it was about her and her husband the first time she heard it. It was also based on conversations Springsteen had with his brother-in-law. After losing his construction job, he worked hard to support his wife and young child but never complained.

The songs lyrics are outstanding. Even the opening lines are so close to how I grew up. I did grow up in a valley. I come from down in the valley,
Where mister when you’re young, They bring you up to do like your daddy done.

It’s so easy to relate to. I’m sure many people can relate to this song with completely different circumstances than me.

Bruce saves the best for last though. He is talking about the dreams we have when we are younger about what we are going to do in life until life wakes you up with a bang.

Now those memories come back to haunt me
They haunt me like a curse
Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true
Or is it something worse

The song didn’t chart in America or Canada but did make it to #35 in the UK. The album was #1 in the Billboard album charts, #1 in Canada, and #2 in the UK.

The River

I come from down in the valley
Where mister when you’re young
They bring you up to do like your daddy done
Me and Mary we met in high school
When she was just seventeen
We’d ride out of that valley down to where the fields were green

We’d go down to the river
And into the river we’d dive
Oh down to the river we’d ride

Then I got Mary pregnant
And man that was all she wrote
And for my nineteenth birthday I got a union card and a wedding coat
We went down to the courthouse
And the judge put it all to rest
No wedding day smiles no walk down the aisle
No flowers no wedding dress

That night we went down to the river
And into the river we’d dive
Oh down to the river we did ride

I got a job working construction for the Johnstown Company
But lately there ain’t been much work on account of the economy
Now all them things that seemed so important
Well mister they vanished right into the air
Now I just act like I don’t remember
Mary acts like she don’t care

But I remember us riding in my brother’s car
Her body tan and wet down at the reservoir
At night on them banks I’d lie awake
And pull her close just to feel each breath she’d take
Now those memories come back to haunt me
They haunt me like a curse
Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true
Or is it something worse
That sends me down to the river
Though I know the river is dry
That sends me down to the river tonight
Down to the river
My baby and I
Oh down to the river we ride


40 thoughts on “January 13 – Turntable Talk 10 : This River Wasn’t Exactly One Of Dreams

  1. Thanks Max! A great song from a great songwriter, I think it speaks to a lot of people that grew up in small towns like yours or in the ‘Rust belt’ cities. Funny you ended up back in almost the same spot eventually, like you said I guess it’s not the place as much as the mindset in it.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. I remember once I had the misfortune to have my car break down in a small town in Kentucky, just off the highway. It was coal country – literally had a Norfolk Southern line in the street and saw coal trains slowly working their way down the road alongside cars – and a young guy, maybe 30, at the shop was nice enough to drive me up to Cincinnati, maybe an hour away. He was a vet, told me a lot about his town and growing up there, for him it was military because there wasn’t anything else to do. He didn’t want to work in a mine and besides, it wasn’t hiring anyhow. So he and most of his school friends signed up for the Army just to get out of the town. Same sort of atmosphere as what you grew up in, I imagine.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Badfinger (Max)

        Yea…I know that Kentucky and West Virginia are the coal minds or else. Where I live there was one huge company where everyone worked… I have to admit it’s got better.

        No one talked about trying to do better…but when I went to WV…the places I went were sad….like the town you met that guy in. I can’t imagine them back in the day!

        Liked by 2 people

      3. the city/county where I grew up was like that in that it was dominated by one employer – GM. when I went to school as a kid, more than half my friends dads (and one or two of their moms) worked for them, mostly in ‘the plant’. Those who didn’t want to, or see viable, go to college largely wanted to follow along into the factories too; the pay was good, union jobs were (they figured) more or less guaranteed once they were in. Of course through the 90s and 00s, the company kept cutting back and cutting back, selling off parts plants, closing assembly lines and battling the union to pay less. Eventually it got to where they only had an office left in the city, though they since re-opened one production line. But we were fortunate since there was an in-town college and we were close to a very large, growing city so the economy took the hit relatively easily. Many one-industry towns don’t do that well.

        Liked by 2 people

      4. Badfinger (Max)

        This company is AO Smith…either the largest or second to largest water heater maker in the world. How in the hell it ended up in our 2 stop-light town I’ll never know. The pay was alright but it wasn’t union. Without that place…I doubt if the city would have lasted. It has more roots now….I think it would survive now if they left.
        Where I grew up also depended on farms and plenty of them. Tobacco farming was number 1 in Ashland City TN… I think it now has 5000 people! It has grown physically and emotionally…thats the good news until you are in traffic…I would have never dreamed that possible!

        That is cool that you had a college nearby…I would have liked that.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Springsteen is a great lyricist period! Amazing how this tune impacted your circle of friends and family around you through his words without any of them knowing except for you! Shows you the power of music(and lyrics) how it resonates with us as a listener..
    Great stuff Max!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Great song choice, it was inevitable we would hear a Dylan or Springsteen tune, there’s a gold mine there. While Bruce has that way of speaking to you, in this case it was quite literal. Very compelling read Max.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Bruce is The Boss and Da Man when it comes to writing lyrics that speak to that that is human within us. His albums are some of my most listened-to because it restores my humanity, that sometimes decides it wants to walk away. Great choice, Max. Dave, also like the way you introduced this post with the Star Trek reference. I’m about 10 episodes into and that feels like going to another place altogether!

    Liked by 3 people

  5. These are the type of lyrics that resonate with me. Simple words that create realistic imagery. Nothin’ fancy (like LS!) – just honest observation, not couched in some flowery language.
    But then what would you expect from The Boss?

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Small towns, little expectations. I had three friends just outta school who wound up ‘providing for a family’ when they were around 18,19. Still teens. I guess being painfully shy and awkward around the lasses compared to them (at the time) was my blessing in disguise?
    The line ‘No wedding day smiles, no walk down the aisle’ is the one that rings truest.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Could be. By 18, I was willing to get married & take on the world but no gal I wanted to do that with would do much more than give me the time of day. Probably for the better now, decades later.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Great tune, Max. I think this may have been the first Springsteen song I heard, though Springsteen didn’t fully enter my radar screen until “Born in the U.S.A.”

    Admittedly, I first liked this song because of the music. Only later I started paying attention to the words. Springsteen definitely has written some great lyrics!

    I would love to see him again this year. Unfortunately, ticket prices are completely insane – ironically not something many folks he sings about can afford!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. No question, he is a great lyricist.
      On those ticket prices, it is ridiculous. Now, I imagine he doesn’t set the prices himself he should be able to use his clout to lower them – take less money per show, tell the promoter to do the same unless they wanted to be replaced…something to make them affordable to many of his fans.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I think one of the key problems is the secondary market. Certain folks get their hands on large quanities of tickets to resell them at ridiculous prices. Of course, the phenomenon isn’t limited to Springsteen.

        They should limit ticket sales to a small quantity of maybe 3 or 4. I realize this may add a bit of complexity to the sales process but believe certain artists do this, proving it can be done. You’d think somebody like Springsteem should have enough muscle to do something about it.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. seems like they should be able to – any big artist like that – if they cut out the middle man and set the prices themselves, maybe handled the ticket sales themselves

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Badfinger (Max)

      Thanks Christian… this song just hit me when I first heard it and it made complete sense…Yea ticket prices are just insane…my first concert in 1982 cost I think around 6-10 bucks but I’ll have to check.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. One of my first if not my first concert (cannot exactly) was actually free. It was my longtime favorite German rock band BAP in Bonn, Germany ca. 1981 when they were still in their early stage. I will add while shows were much more affordable at the time, free was certainly an exception!

        $6-10 bucks at a concert venue nowadays may buy you a soda or a lousy hotdog!

        Liked by 3 people

      2. Badfinger (Max)

        Oh yea…I went to a sporting event and 3 hotdogs and cokes cost $40…it’s just crazy.

        It’s way too much now…I know they have a road crew and everything but come on.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Badfinger (Max)

        Yea…you are right Christian…if people refused they would either A: not tour or B: come down on the prices.
        You and I are enough alike where I think you would say the same thing… I don’t need a “show”….just give me lights and music…no special effects…just the basics and I would be happy.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. if you’re lucky! Haven’t been recently and wasn’t buying hot dogs when I did go, but at a baseball game, the dog itself might be $6 or more and add another $6 for a soda or $12 for a lite beer. One more reason I favor watching them on TV and maybe going out to the actual game in person once a year.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. I don’t have the ticket stubs anymore, but I think the Roxy Music ticket in ’82 for me was around $13, which probably translates to $50 or so now. Not cheap but not the $300 type range so many artists charge now.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Badfinger (Max)

        It’s beyond crazy now Dave…it’s also the same with sporting events…even minor league baseball…I have advice for anyone going…eat before you go.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: Bruce Springsteen – The River – PowerPop… An Eclectic Collection of Pop Culture

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