So I was playing up The Junction (early singles purchase – purple vinyl) for the umpteenth time when it hit me like a bolt from the blue….it’s the British River. Or rather, as it predates the title track of Bruce’s, The River is the American Up the Junction. What? I hear you say. Are you crazy. What can those amiable sarf Lundun rockers possibly have in the common with the Born in the USA hitmaker. Well…
Working-class kid hooks up with teenage sweetheart…..
Me and Mary we met in high school
When she was just seventeen
I never thought it would happen
With me and the girl from Clapham
Brief bliss brings unintended consequences…..
Then I got Mary pregnant
And man that was all she wrote
She said she’d seen a doctor
And nothing now could stop her
Faced with imminent fatherhood our narrator has to grow up fast and earn some money:
I got a job working construction
For the Johnstown company
I got a job with Stanley
He said I’d come in handy
But dreams of married and family happiness are shattered as the two grow inexorably apart:
Now I just act like I don’t remember
Mary acts like she she don’t care
And now she’s two years old
Her mother’s with a soldier
We end with our hero musing on where it all went wrong….
Is it a dream a lie if it don’t come true
Or is something worse.
Alone here in the kitchen
I feel there’s something missing
And so it’s my assumption
I’m really up the junction
What’s really interesting is how Difford/Tilbrook use this scenario as a lyrical excuse for a steady flow of witticisms – ‘he started me on Monday, so I had a bath on Sunday’ – which is also a neat reflection on working-class homes where daily showers were not always available, and a wealth of detail worthy of a Ken Loach film (The Railway Arms, Clapham Common, incubators and bookies and of course Clapham Junction). The video of course is literally a kitchen-sink drama.
Bruce by contrast is not in it for any witticisms or clever lyrics, but to write an everyman blue collar tragedy. It’s got no specific detail that would locate it in a place. It’s almost completely lacking in irony, that defining quality of so much English songwriting. If it’s a film it’s definitely directed by Oliver Stone.