Bruce Springsteen is on the road yet again, now playing The River in its entirety. That means he’ll be singing “Drive All Night.” I’ve seen it, and can report that it is, as it always has been, a really dumb song—the dumbest thing ever credited to Springsteen.
For the lucky ones who’ve avoided the tune since its 1980 release, “Drive All Night” finds Bruce wooing an ex-romantic partner back into his arms. The chorus of the track—the longest song on the double LP and a fan favorite from the start—spells out the carrot he’s offering: “Baby baby baby, I swear I’ll drive all night again just to buy you some shoes.” In return, he wants to “sleep tonight again in your arms.”
This has be the only shoes-for-sex quid pro quo in rock history, yet he threatens throughout the song to go on this marathon four-wheeled shoe crusade “again,” meaning this isn’t the first time he’s tried the shoe gambit. No wonder she gave him the boot!
Springsteen caught some heat back in the day from feminist organizations who called his referring to nearly every female character on The River as “little girl” disrespectful and demeaning. The courtship in “Drive All Night” only makes things worse. What Juliet with any self-worth would let this Romeo back in her bed for a pair of shoes?
Who did Bruce think he was wooing? Imelda Marcos?
Making matters dumber: He’s going to “drive all night” for the skips? Why? The rest of the song indicates Bruce and his barefoot imminent conquest live in the same town. The only reason he’s driving all night is that he can’t find anybody in Jersey selling shoes before dawn.
It gets worse. Let’s assume, for purposes of making Springsteen’s shoe-promising Lothario look as dumb as possible, that this is the same guy from “Racing in the Street.” That highway star from a previous album cruised in “a ’69 Chevy with a 396, fuelie heads and a hurst on the floor.” Floyd Garrett, longtime owner and operator of Floyd Garrett’s Muscle Car Museum in Sevierville, Tenn., tells me that any car with the 396 cubic-inch engine—a massive powerplant which Chevrolet offered as an option for the 1969 Camaro SS, Chevelle SS, and Nova SS—and set up with a 4:10 rear axle ratio, as a street racer surely would be, would get eight to 10 miles a gallon. The aforementioned “fuelie heads,” a generic term for a fuel-injection system some street racers added to their stock engines, could enhance a muscle car’s fuel economy.
But not this muscle car.
“You can’t have fuelie heads on a 396 Chevy,” says Garrett. “Fuelie heads won’t fit on a big-block engine.”
The biggest logical problem with “Drive All Night,” though, has to do with a basic cost-benefit issue that his working-class narrator—the sort The Boss is so often praised so much for understanding so well—would surely be aware of.
The River was released in the fall of 1980, with America crippled by an oil shock linked to the taking of hostages in Iran and the build-up to the Iran/Iraq war. Unleaded gas sold for an average of $1.241/2 a gallon that year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That translates to $3.59 a gallon in today’s dollars. Say “all night” meant midnight to 6 a.m, and that The Boss and his street rod averaged a modest 30 miles an hour throughout his mission to find an all-night shoe store. Even assuming Garrett’s best-case scenario of 10 mpg, that’s still $64.62 in fuel costs for the “Drive All Night.” That’s before a penny is spent on footwear.
I saw The River tour last week in Washington, D.C., and shook my head throughout all nine minutes or so of “Drive All Night.”
I felt uncomfortably dumb every time I had to hear that “drive all night again just to buy you some shoes” line, but I noticed that the song ended ambiguously as regards whether the ploy ever worked out. I also noticed that his wife, Patti Scialfa, who shared the stage as he crooned the song, was wearing some nice boots.
Top photo via Getty