There is something special about your teenage summer nights. Tapping on your buddy’s window late on a Saturday night long after everyone in the house is asleep, because you absolutely have to talk. Driving around your hometown, looking in vain for something to do before giving up and going to the McDonald’s drive-thru. Cruising with the radio blaring, windows down and singing along to songs of hope and desperation. “….1, 2, 3, 4, the highway’s jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive…”
It was during this time of my life that the album Born in the U.S.A. by Bruce Springsteen was released. I had listened to Bruce Springsteen before. Seemed like everyone had a copy of Born to Run. I had not yet had the opportunity to explore The River or Darkness on the Edge of Town, and I was just getting into the loose and jangly Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ.
But Born in the U.S.A. was different. It was big and loud. Bombastic. A protest party album like I had never heard before. I pumped my fist to “Born in the U.S.A.” I sang along to the sha-la-la chants in “Darlington County” and I stood in front of my mirror, pretending I was on stage with “Dancing in The Dark.”
But, for some reason, the song “No Surrender” was different from all other songs on this album. From the very first time I heard “No Surrender,” it sounded familiar, almost timeless. I could have sworn I had heard this song before. Was it the tune? The lyrics? The sentiment? Even more so than any track on Born to Run (one of the finest albums of all time), I felt that “No Surrender” captured the spirit, the longing, the happiness, desperation and dreams of my teenage years.
“Tonight I hear the neighborhood drummer sound
I can feel my heart begin to pound
You say you’re tired and you just want to close your eyes
And follow your dreams down”
A visceral connection to his community is created through music. There is a breathtaking excitement as his heart begins to pound. He realizes his dreams are within reach. The summer night is filled with magic and promise.
“Now young faces grow sad and old and hearts of fire grow cold
We swore blood brothers against the wind
I’m ready to grow young again.
And hear your sister’s voice calling us home across the open yards
Well maybe we could cut someplace of our own
With these drums and these guitars.”
We are older now, but that time of dreams and hopes was just yesterday. Through this music we play and listen to, we can get back to that time. This is not about nostalgia. This is not about sentiment. These “drums and these guitars” connect us to something larger than ourselves. This music reminds us that we are here today because of who were were yesterday. We can still connect to that passion. We can still do great things.
From time to time, Bruce Springsteen takes requests during his concerts. These requests may be a rarely played song from his catalog, or it could be a song that he loves made famous by another artist. On September 9th, 2016, a sign was held high during a Springsteen concert in Philadelphia. “Skipped school today. Our parents thought we could learn more than a 3 minute record.” The sign was made by a college student who asked to play “No Surrender” along side Bruce and the E Street Band. Bruce obliged.
A clean cut kid jumped up on stage and was provided a guitar. He stood next to Bruce and took a wide stance. He looked out at the audience, and a wry, knowing smile appeared on his face. The band began the song, and in front of an audience of 30,000, the kid became a rock and roll star. With the confidence of a veteran and the swagger of a preacher sharing a truth his congregation must know, he played and sang along side Bruce like he had been in the E Street Band since 1972. This moment, this un-scripted completely spontaneous event, became the perfect embodiment of “No Surrender.”
“Now on the street tonight the lights grow dim
The walls of my room are closing in
There’s a war outside still raging
You say it ain’t ours anymore to win
I want to sleep beneath
Peaceful skies in my lover’s bed
With a wide open country in my eyes
And these romantic dreams in my head.”
The American dream, and the dream of every kid trying to do more, trying to make sense of the world, trying to do something great has perhaps never been better expressed in song than “with a wide open country in my eyes, and these romantic dreams in my head.”
No retreat. No surrender.
Written by Bruce Springsteen
Performed by Bruce Springsteen
Released June 4, 1984