Bobby Jean (1984)

Bruce Springsteen

Born In The U.S.A.
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This meditation on a lost love from deep in a boy’s heart is one of Springsteen’s most poignant songs. The losses that he had sung about throughout the first part of his career seem to reach a fine-honed edge in “Bobby Jean.” Something big had been realized.

The pure Rock-N-Roll version is more than great; the acoustic versions available stretch and knead the emotions further.

The jumping off point is a visit to Bobby Jean’s childhood home and a conversation with her mother. He had come to find his own past only to discover that, in the person of Bobby Jean, the past had vanished.

Layered in is Bruce’s homage to Del Shannon, to whom all the subsequent R&R greats have paid honor. As in “(Little) Runaway,” no one knows why the girl in question has gone away. The mystery heightens our experience. The singer’s longing becomes everyone’s longing for something unrecoverable.

The Boss’s nods to Shannon are covert:

Me and you we’ve known each other
Ever since we were sixteen

I wished I would have known
I wished I could have called you

This matches with lines from “Runaway”:

And as I still walk on, I think of
The things we’ve done together
While our hearts were young

There is an overt reference from Bruce as well:

Now we went walking in the rain
Talking about the pain from the world we hid

Shannon, of course, sang:

I’m a-walkin’ in the rain
Tears are fallin’ and I feel the pain
Wishin’ you were here by me
To end this misery

The song also acknowledges The Boss’s own self-consciousness that he had become a star, a personality who can be heard, disembodied, out there on the radio. Through the song he sends a message to Bobby Jean, whoever she may be modeled on, but it is a message to the past, a tinkering with time, place and action.

Maybe you’ll be out there on that road somewhere
In some bus or train traveling along
In some motel room there’ll be a radio playing
And you’ll hear me sing this song
Well if you do you’ll know I’m thinking of you
And all the miles in between

And I’m just calling one last time
Not to change your mind

But just to say I miss you baby
Good luck goodbye, Bobby Jean

No matter how far you go, your past is wrapped around you like a vine. We’re reminded of a thought from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry:

All grown-ups were once children… but only few of them remember it.

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