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I am not quite sure what this song is about, with pimps swinging axes and the lighting of soul flames, but it still sounds good all these years later. It sounded much better back in ancient times, like in the 1980s, when I listened to it on my sister’s record player: you turn over the record and this was the first song on side two of “The Wild, the Innocent and the East Street Shuffle” (1973). After saying “Puerto Rican Jane” a million times (well, twice) and then some good electric guitar playing it all dies away and all that is left is just the piano, playing almost one note at a time. And then right after – right after – that very last note on the piano it bursts into “Rosalita”. It is like Christmas or sex: the anticipation is half the joy.


Spanish Johnny drove in from the underworld last night
With bruised arms and broken rhythm in a beat-up old Buick
But dressed just like dynamite
He tried sellin’ his heart to the hard girls over on Easy Street
But they sighed “Johnny it falls apart so easy and you know hearts these days are cheap”
And the pimps swung their axes and said “Johnny you’re a cheater.”
Well the pimps swung their axes and said “Johnny you’re a liar”
And from out of the shadows came a young girl’s voice said: “Johnny don’t cry”
Puerto Rican Jane, oh won’t you tell me what’s your name.
I want to drive you down to the other side of town where paradise ain’t so crowded, there’ll be action goin’ down on Shanty Lane tonight
All them golden-heeled fairies in a real bitch fight
Pull .38s and kiss the girls good night

Oh good night, it’s alright Jane
Now let them black boys in to light the soul flame
We may find it out on the street tonight baby
Or we may walk until the daylight maybe

Well like a cool Romeo he made his moves, oh she looked so fine
Like a late Juliet she knew he’d never be true but then she really didn’t mind
Upstairs a band was playin’, the singer was singin’ something about goin’ home
She whispered, “Spanish Johnny, you can leave me tonight but just don’t leave me alone”

And Johnny cried “Puerto Rican Jane, word is down the cops have found the vein”
Oh them barefoot boys they left their homes for the woods
Them little barefoot street boys they say homes ain’t no good
They left the corners, threw away all their switchblade knives and kissed each other good-bye

Johnny was sittin’ on the fire escape watchin’ the kids playin’ down the street
He called down “Hey little heroes, summer’s long but I guess it ain’t very sweet around here anymore”
Janey sleeps in sheets damp with sweat, Johnny sits up alone and watches her dream on, dream on
And the sister prays for lost souls, then breaks down in the chapel after everyone’s gone

Jane moves over to share her pillow but opens her eyes to see Johnny up and putting his clothes on
She says “Those romantic young boys
All they ever want to do is fight”
Those romantic young boys
They’re callin’ through the window
“Hey Spanish Johnny, you want to make a little easy money tonight?”
And Johnny whispered:

Good night, it’s all tight Jane
I’ll meet you tomorrow night on Lover’s Lane
We may find it out on the street tonight baby
Or we may walk until the daylight maybe

Oh, good night, it’s all right Jane
I’m gonna meet you tomorrow night on Lover’s Lane
Oh, we may find it out on the street tonight baby
Or we may walk until the daylight maybe

Good night, it’s all right Jane
I’ll meet you tomorrow night on Lover’s Lane
Now we may find it out on the, on the street tonight baby
Or we may have to walk until the morning light maybe

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The screen door slams. Mary’s dress waves. Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays Roy Orbison singing for the lonely. Hey, that’s me and I want you only. Don’t turn me home again, I just can’t face myself alone again. Don’t run back inside, darling, you know just what I’m here for. So you’re scared and you’re thinking that maybe we ain’t that young any more. Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night. You ain’t a beauty but, hey, you’re all right. Oh, and that’s all right with me.

You can hide ‘neath your covers and study your pain, make crosses from your lovers, throw roses in the rain, waste your summer praying in vain for a saviour to rise from these streets. Well now, I ain’t no hero, that’s understood. All the redemption I can offer, girl, is beneath this dirty hood with a chance to make it good somehow. Hey, what else can we do now? Except roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair. Well, the night’s busting open, these two lanes will take us anywhere. We got one last chance to make it real, to trade in these wings on some wheels. Climb in back, heaven’s waiting on down the tracks.

Oh, oh, come take my hand, we’re riding out tonight to case the Promised Land. Oh, oh, oh, oh, Thunder Road, oh, Thunder Road, oh, Thunder Road. Lying out there like a killer in the sun, hey, I know it’s late, we can make it if we run. Oh, oh, oh, oh, Thunder Road.

Sit tight, take hold, Thunder Road!

Well, I got this guitar and I learned how to make it talk. And my car’s out back if you’re ready to take that long walk from your front porch to my front seat. The door’s open but the ride it ain’t free. And I know you’re lonely for words that I ain’t spoken but tonight we’ll be free, all the promises’ll be broken.

There were ghosts in the eyes of all the boys you sent away. They haunt this dusty beach road in the skeleton frames of burned-out Chevrolets. They scream your name at night in the street, your graduation gown lies in rags at their feet. And in the lonely cool before dawn you hear their engines roaring on, but when you get to the porch, they’re gone, on the wind. So Mary, climb in. It’s a town full of losers, I’m pulling out of here to win!

– Bruce Springsteen

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