' ' Cinema Romantico: My All-Time Top 5 Favorite Springsteen Cinematic Needle Drops

Thursday, August 15, 2019

My All-Time Top 5 Favorite Springsteen Cinematic Needle Drops

Back in the glory days of the blogosphere, when I was writing part-time for the movie blogging bar & lounge Anomalous Material, I concocted a list detailing the best Bruce Springsteen needle drops in cinematic history. As a Bruce devotee, after all, who spent his lunch break on June 14, 2019 not eating but just walking around downtown Chicago listening to “Western Stars”, I felt fairly qualified to curate such a list. Anomalous Material, though, is long gone and so is that list, though that list wouldn’t be right anymore because, well, things have changed, I’ve changed, more movies have come along, so on and so forth. And this Friday, if you didn’t know, marks the release of “Blinded by the Light”, for which this Bruce-devoted blog is very excited, based, as it is, on Sarfraz Manzoor’s Springsteen-centric memoir “Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock N’ Roll” about growing up as a Pakistani Muslim in Britain and leaning on the sounds of Springsteen to get through. So, in the spirit of Championship Vinyl of “High Fidelity”, where Bruce made a legendary cameo as himself, giving council to the emotionally, romantically, spiritually confused Rob Gordon, here are my all-time Top 5 Favorite Springsteen Cinematic Needle Drops.

5. “Hungry Heart” in “The Perfect Storm” (2000). Rennie Sparks of The Handsome Family once said of this song – I swear, I can’t source the quote now – that it evokes how all of life is grasping. And that’s what this scene captures. If it is nominally a celebration at the infamous Crow’s Nest upon Billy Tyne and the crew of the Andrea Gail returning to Gloucester, it comes on the heels of introducing each character’s respective crisis, all of them grasping for just a little more, a mixture of agony and elation, which, like so much of Springsteen’s catalogue, the song evokes by being at once melodically bouncy and lyrically mournful.

4. “Born in the U.S.A.” in “Canadian Bacon” (1995). Michael Moore’s comedy detailing a few Americans invading Canada under mistaken pretenses was not in any way as good as its premise. Aside from a couple solid throwaway jokes about the C.N. Tower and, yes, William McKinley, there is only one genuinely great moment and it involves Bruce. It happens when John Candy’s Sheriff Bud Boomer and his small band of pseudo soldiers, crammed together in a truck, begin singing “I was Born in the U.S.A.” for a little jingoist inspiration. “I was Born in the U.S.A.,” they sing. “Born in the U.S.A.,” they sing again. Turns out, these are the only lines they know and so they just keep singing them, over and over. Say what you want about Michael Moore, please, feel free, but I will always love for him for slyly satirizing the longstanding comical, disheartening truth that most people have no idea what this song is actually about.

3. “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City” in “Baby, It’s You” (1983). If Springsteen’s first album is uneven, this is one of the tracks that still illuminated it. Now long into his Revered Old Man phase, it’s a track that reminds you of the Young Springsteen’s swagger, when his voice was more a slur and less a groan, and so John Sayles, essentially a Jersey guy despite being born in New York, in making his 1983, 1966-set Jersey romance of an upper class Jewish girl and a lower class Italian boy nicknamed the Sheik, called on this song for a heightened scene in which the Sheik swaggers into the lunchroom, living out the brash lyrics, “I walked like Brando right into the sun and danced just like a Casanova.”

2. “Streets of Philadelphia” in “Philadelphia” (1993). The beginning of Jonathan Demme’s film is a montage of The City of Brotherly of Love itself, though this is no commonplace scene-setter but an evocative delineation of stakes –Phila-damn-delphia, birthplace of America, and this is us, all of this is all of us. And that’s why the solemn synthesizer and “bruised and battered” vocal of Springsteen’s Oscar-winning track is more a proper hymn to this nation than any Irving Berlin treacle.

1. “Tougher Than the Rest” in “Wild” (2014). The “High Fidelity” cameo is so great because it evokes how we Springsteen disciples cosmically consult with Bruce in our greatest times of need. And that’s what “Wild” does too, just through Bruce’s music. When Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon), on her Pacific Crest Trail sojourn, happens upon a rushing river with a rickety log bridge the only option for crossing – go forward or go home – she pauses for an instant and says to herself, since no one else is with her, “Come on, Bruce. Sing with me.” And so the needle drops on this all-star “Tunnel of Love” track and together Cheryl and Bruce sing as she navigates the bridge and crosses to the other side and I’M NOT CRYING YOU’RE CRYING.

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