Springsteen’s version of Blinded by the Light was never a hit, but he still plays it in concerts to this day. He’s changed the orchestration, end even done it as a Latin number. The obscure lyrics have long caused much discussion as to their meaning. Springsteen wrote this song when he was in his early 20s, and before he had any success as a recording artist. He has stated that it was based on his experiences as a young musician and was based on people he met. Many people have tried to show that this was a song about drugs, or about sex. Springsteen has often written about love and sex. He’s alluded to drugs, but never sold himself as primarily a druggie. I suspect that, while both sex and drugs are reflected in the song, the song is not primarily about either, but is instead a description of the adolescent life of a musician.
The inner rhymes of the song provide a great sound, but seriously constrained him as a lyricist. He often had to choose a series of words that sounded good together, not necessarily that were the most direct way to describe what he was feeling. The burden is on the free words, the ones that don’t rhyme, to apply the connotation of the line of the song. What is most telling is where he chose not to rhyme. These words we have to assume he chose more deliberately. Because the style of the song is so constrained, it actually frees him from having to mean one thing, and instead can paint a picture with words that have multiple meanings, no one of which has to be the true one, but instead just have to be true to the theme of the lyrics.
Madman drummers bummers. The word madman is telling here, as it doesn’t rhyme, it strains the rhythm, and it leads of the song. [Update: Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez was the Drummer of the E-Street Bad] There is a sense of insanity, of hopped the up emotion that would cause one teenager to call the other a Madman. Drummers is both a music reference and again that sense of rhythmic energy, the pulse of life. Bummers: not everything is going to go well, and already we have a warning that there are things going on that will bring you down, bum you out, cause you to crash. Indians in the summer. Here I suspect the Indian refers not to a Native American, but to the motorcycle. In the north, you can’t ride in the winter when it snows, so the bikes come out in summer. The motorcycle is the symbol of freedom, and the cause of many young men’s premature death. The motorcycle shows up dominant in another Springsteen classic: Born to Run, where it is referred to a “Suicide Machine.” It is the mode of escape, the tool of the young. Did Bruce mean this? Possibly. [Update: `The Indians` were Bruce’s Baseball Team] It is not a rhyming word, and so was chosen more deliberately for meaning. With a teenage diplomat. The diplomat is suave, sophisticated, a term of maturity. This is at odds with the teenage modifier. The juxtaposition gives a sense of awkwardness, of just coming of age that pervades the song. A diplomat is also a person responsible for representing one culture to another. As a musician, Springsteen is a representative to the cities and towns he visits, and to the people of the older generation.
Down in the dumps with the mumps. Since mumps is a rhyming word, I was at first tempted to pass it off as simple alliteration as opposed to any real meaning. I don’t think it means a literal sickness, unless it was one in the past that lead to missing out on opportunities, but a disease as serious as the mumps would put our hero our of commission. The mumps causes mumbling from swollen salivary glands and testicular swelling. Here the mumps make more sense as a metaphor for teenage awkwardness (mumbling) and sexual frustration. It is telling that the mumps is a disease that gets more serious as you get older, that it is less serious to have as a child. The adolescent pumps his way into his hat. Pumps is a sexual word, and at a first reading I thought this was a metaphor for masturbation, but no self respecting teenage guy would jack off into his hat if he had any other option. I suspect that the pump refers more to a combination of fidgeting and perfectionism exhibited by the teenager to get his appearance just right before going out into the public. He’s not just putting on his hat, but making multiple small adjustments that look like pumping. [Edit: A Hat could be a slang term for a Condom, leading to a sexual interpretation of this whole stanza. Bruce claims this line is self explanatory.]
With a boulder on my shoulder: Muscles. Our man has been working out, or has just started developing. It also is sounds like the expression “chip on his shoulder.” He doesn’t just have a chip, he has a boulder. So that he feels not only that he has something to prove, but that he has some thing huge to prove. [Edit: also seems like a reference to Sisyphus, the spirit in Hades serving an eternity pushing a boulder up the hill. Another relevant Greek reference is Atlas, the Titan that held the World on his shoulders] Feeling kind of older: He’s starting to feel more adult, but just kind of, he’s still part kid. I tripped the merry-go-round: We have here the first fairground reference, but it fits with the theme of summer, recreation locations, the kind of gig a young musician would get. It also might be the other job of a kid who gets to play in his band, but doesn’t make enough money that way to survive. So he runs the merry-go-round as well. The key word here is tripped. It harkens back to “trip the light fantastic” but also to tripping a circuit breaker. The question was whether the tripping was accidental or intentional: the result of it being his job, or of a childhood prank. The merry-go-round could also be a metaphor for starting off the music of the band, the lights,and the dancing that is the teenage equivalent of a ride on a merry-go-round. While any of these might be what he originally meant, I think it is the plausibility of multiple definitions that really makes the line work. They all connote the same theme, the same feel. With a very unpleasing wheezing and sneezing the calliope crashed to the ground. Here is the first bummer. If we go with the explanation that it was the young man’s job to run the merry-go-round, than this means that something went mechanically wrong. If it was a young prank, then he broke the machine. If it was the band, then something went wrong on stage. A Calliope is a musical instrument named after the Greek muse of epic poetry, fitting for the epic length of these lyrics. The instrument made sound using steam and pipes, much like an organ. Even if the merry-go-rounds music was not strictly speaking generated by a calliope, it was something similar enough that the word fits. The sneezing and wheezing would have described a malfunctioning steam organ as it was falling apart. Since the calliope was a keyboard instrument, it would have also been an acceptable metaphor for an organ or electric piano, or even the entire band in a stage performance. [Edit: If we go with the sexual interpretation, this implies an awkward first sexual experience, complete with being somewhat put-off out by the strange noises both he and his partner made during the act.]
Some all-hot half-shot was headin’ for the hot spot snappin’ his fingers clappin’ his hands. At first read this appears one of the more straightforward lines in the song. Half shot probably means that he got a hold of some alcohol before headed out, and was buzzed, but it could also mean that he was still a half kid. He knows the music is going to be playing, and he already is anticipating the experience. But hot spot is another word with multiple meanings. The connotation could also be sexual, he’s headed to a tryst. Considering the later lines of this stanza, that also makes sense. It is even possible that both meanings are intentional: going out with the possibility or likelihood of hooking up, dancing as a mating game, and barely contained and visible expressed excitement at all of the possibilities.
The object of the song switches from male to female. And some fleshpot mascot: A fleshpot is a strip tease cabaret. Men would be lured in with promises of sex, gotten to pay for booze, and kicked out without receiving any sexual favors. A girl that would be the mascot could either be the girl that stands in the door and tries to entice men in, or could be a younger girl, adopted as the mascot of the older, more jaded women that work inside. More likely it is a younger version of these girls, still young, but perhaps a little trashy already. Maybe more comfortable in the scene, but not by much.was tied into a lover’s knot: She’s involved with someone. This involvement has tied her in a knot. with a whatnot in her hand. Since whatnot is a rhyming word, and it makes the line work out well, It is a filler word: anything you can’t or don’t want to describe is a whatnot. It could be a condom, a joint, a crumpled up piece of paper with a love note on it, a bauble won at some stand at the fair. It has meaning to her, to the tryst, and is left to be filled in by the listener.
And now young Scott with a slingshot: It isn’t clear if were returned to the guy from two lines prior, the all-hot half shot. It does not matter. The experiences are in some ways universal, and are certainly spread over multiple people. The slingshot could be many things: an actual slingshot, which is both a child’s toy and a weapon. As a weapon, it could be euphemism for a gun. Since a slingshot has a rubber band, it could mean a condom. Again, the ambiguity reinforces the blurry line between childhood and adulthood, between play and serious actions. finally found a tender spot the tender spot could be that he sweet talked his girlfriend into having sex, or he found a place secluded enough to have sex, or just that he found a tender spot in a girl’s heart that he was allowed to progress to more intimacy.and throws his lover in the sand: the kind of rough move a young kid might do, unaware of his own strength, swept away in the action. The sand implies a beach, playing again on the theme of a recreation location. The theme park and beach combination would fit in well with the New Jersey shoreline, probably the most important summer spot in the Boss’ home state.
And some bloodshot forget-me-not, bloodshot could be a reference to bloodshot eyes from smoking pot, or the blood from first sex, or as a result of the roughhousing in the previous line. It could also imply blood engorged, as in one who is ready for sex. It seems to refer to a girl again, maybe the same one from earlier in the song or a different one, as the experiences, if not universal, were certainly common amongst a good number of the people in the song. A forget-me-not is a flower, which would reinforce that he is talking about a girl, a pattern he uses again later. That she’s called a forget-me-not can means either that the girl is unforgettable, or that she is worried about being taken advantage of, of being forgotten. It is this kind of dual possibility that loads this song with meaning. whispers daddy’s within earshot: once again we are reminded that these people are still half kids, worried about parents, and some even accompanied by them on these summer excursions. These actions are illicit, below the radar of the parents and older generation. Is it sex, drugs, or just sneaking out at night? save the buckshot: buckshot may be a euphemism for his ejaculation, but it could also refer to any explosive action, anything that would kick of like a bullet. turn up the band, perhaps they are listening to music and she wants the radio louder to cover their activities. The similarities of the situations in these four lines suggests that this is all about to one couple, hooking up secretly. The main thing that challenges this notion is the non-rhyming words, the simple ones that could have more easily connoted that young Scott was the half-shot or the two girls were the same girl. More importantly, the fact that he repeats the word some connotes different people: Some fleshpot mascot, some bloodshot forget-me-not. If he wanted us to believe that they were the same person, he could have just said and the bloodshot forget me not. If he wanted to signify that the girl getting thrown in the sand was the same girl from the last line, he could have used but the bloodshot forget-me-not. Instead, the word some implies that we know the type of person he is describing, there are more than one. Thus, this really seems to be a collection of personalities, probably an amalgam of experiences collected over time.
Blinded by the light. It is both the title of the song and the most repeated line in the song. I’ve been on stage, and been blinded by the spotlights shined on me. I suspect that Bruce knew that feeling all too well when he was inspired to write this song, and that he is describing both that physical disorientation and the emotional overload of being young and the center of so much attention. The original (not the Manfred Mann) lyrics follow with Cut Loose like Deuce. He has stated explicitly that a Deuce refers to a sports car. The Manfred Mann version (at least as it is printed in the lyric sheet) is revved up like a Deuce. They have slightly different connotations. The revved up means potential, wanting to cut loose. Cut loose here means that the car is already speeding down the road. A Deuce would have been an old car at this time, but possibly the kind of old car that a young kid would be able to get his hands on. Another runner in the night…As a musician, he was not only playing at night, but interacting with people in “go out and party” mode. As an adolescent, night was when you can get away with things. Runner: high energy, a kid full of hormones, young and dumb and full of come. But another runner: this is a common pattern, the person is joining the other runners out there, the other party goes, the other adolescents trying on adult life, love, drugs, rock and roll, and responsibility. I suspect the primary person cut loose is the Boss himself: touring with a band, just out of high school, the freedom must have been both exhilarating and bewildering.
She got down but she never go tight: Got down is an expression with many possible meanings: dancing, giving a blow job, depression, getting drunk. The key is the word “But” meaning that what ever she did, it wasn’t as serious as what comes next: Got tight. While it might be tempting to use the modern slang meaning of tight as a girl that is really attractive, this song came out about 25 years before that usage. Tight can mean drunk, but that is a little bit more British than Bruce would have used. Tight can also mean a virgin, but that seems at odds with the rest of the song about first experiences, and a virgin starts tight and then becomes less so, so one wouldn’t get tight. The only obvious slang meaning left is to be in tight with the crowd, and this may make the most sense. She got down, but she never got tight: she danced well enough to be well regarded, but wasn’t quite accepted into the the inner circle. This seems to be justified by the following “but she’ll make it alright.” The girl here is still looking for social acceptance, she hasn’t quite found it, but there will be other nights, other events, and the rest of her life. She’s alive, she’s healthy, she still in the game, if a little older and maybe wiser. [Edit: a sexual interpretation is that she had sex, but not with someone that she is going to be with for the long term. A fling.] Since this refrain is repeated but referring to other characters, both male and female, this seems to be the unifying theme. Early adulthood is hard, but the scars it leaves help define who you are. This theme jives well with the rest of Springsteen’s songs, especially those off of his first album.
The next verse is reserved for two characters, both authority figures of sorts. The first is described as Some brimstone baritone anti-cyclone rolling stone preacher from the east. Brimstone refers to fire and brimstone sermons, the baritone to a low, rumbling voice, implying an older man. An anti-cyclone is a high pressure system that brings fair weather…perhaps he’s full of hot air. As a rolling stone, he is a migrant. Maybe he’s a rolling stone in the nature of the other musicians, and as such he’s giving the younger musicians pointers. A Dictaphone is an old voice recording device. Dethrone the Dictaphone could be a hint as to what was happening in the recording industry: moving from records to tape. Hit them in their funny bone could mean stage presence, make them laugh, be larger than life. that’s where they expect it least. You have to do something when you perform to set yourself apart. The repeated one syllable in this couplet reinforce the baritone sound, giving a little weight of years to the preacher.
The other character is The new mown chaperone, someone young thrown into a position of authority, something he’s not yet comfortable being. He’s out of the action, in the corner all alone watching the young girls dance. He’s trying to keep aloof. Now comes a great line: some fresh sown moonstone was playing with his frozen zone to remind him of the feeling of romance. Perhaps this is a drug reference, but I suspect not. Moonstone was a song by Cat Stevens that came out in 1967, so Bruce would very likely have known it. In moonstone, the singer talks about something, likely some one that he caught just a glimpse of, that keeps coming back into his mind:
saw a flash, then a sparkle from a moonstone
Then the mist started, started to clear
I saw a face, a face in the moonstone
And then it started to disappear
Perhaps he saw someone that caught his eye, or maybe the band had just played the song, and it stuck in his mind as an ear-worm. Either way, it was messing with a portion of his spirit that had been frozen, most likely hurt by a romance earlier in life. He is not immune to the sexuality of the scene. It is possible that these two guys are one and the same, but they seem to be different for the same reasons listed above.
The refrain ends differently this time: He got down but she never got tight, but he’s gonna make it tonight. Again, suggesting that the couple got together, here it seems to refer to the chaperon above, hooked up, got shut down, but he’s going to make it…hey are older, and sex is perhaps less formative for them. It isn’t their first time, so perhaps it is less important to be in love in order to have sex. Or perhaps just the experience of a near miss is enough to get his frozen feelings moving, to rejoin life, and start playing the game again.
Some Silicone Sister: This seems to be a pretty straight forward reference to a woman with a breast implants. I suspect that sister does not have a racial meaning, but it might. with her manager’s mister: She has a manager. A Boob job wasn’t cheap in 1973, and wasn’t that common either. A woman with implants was probably either rich or in show business. Since she has a manager, it implies the later. But she isn’t just with here manager, but her manager’s mister. Perhaps her manager is a woman, and she’s with the her manager’s husband. That seems like a stretch. It could refer to a device that sprays mist, either for perfume or something, but that seems weak, unless is was some form of drug paraphernalia, but again, it seems like a stretch. Mister implies something masculine. It may mean that she has her manager’s manhood tightly under control. Told me I got what it takes: if she is in the music business, she thinks Bruce has the potential be be big. I’ll turn you on sonny to something strong if you play the song with the funky break. She’s older, and hitting on him. She’s tried to turn the tables: I can make you big. She tries to be manipulative: she’s asking him to change his set list. She promises to turn him on to something strong: implying both sex and drugs. She is either a powerful woman and maybe just a little desperate for validation from a young rising star.
Go-kart Mozart repeats both the music and amusement park themes from earlier in the song. Either word could be the metaphor. If Go-Kart is supposed to be a metaphor, and Mozart implies that this character is a musician, than the Go Kart could refer to the sound of an electric guitar with a lot of distortion. If the Mozart part is the metaphor, than this could just be the guy that runs the Go Karts, [Edit: or is very gifted as a mechanic]. Was checking out the weather chart to see if it was safe to go outside. If Mozart here is a guitarist, then chart probably refers to sheet music. It is possible Weather chart refers to music from the group Weather report, a Jazz fusion group that was just starting on the scene in the early 70s. Go outside might mean playing outside the changes, getting funkier, getting more risky with the music. Of course, the great thing about this kind of poetry is that it supports a great degree of flexibility of interpretation it supports. The weather chart could be the paper, and looking at the weather for the rest of the night, a fairly banal interpretation. Or it could be the racing forms and Mozart is afraid of running into his bookie.
An Early Pearly is a type of white flower, and is also referred to as a she, another case of referring to a girl as a flower. In this case, a Pearl white flower, both implying virginity, and the term Pearly Whites, a big smile. Or perhaps her name is Pearl, and so she got the nickname Early Pearly. Or it could imply that she get physical early in a relationship. Little does imply that she is young, perhaps another adolescent. Came in by her curly-wurly A Curly Wurly is a candy bar. Curly hair, appearance, a girly look. Or a girly Car. Asked me if I needed a ride. She’s hitting on the singer. Hey, it is Bruce! But I just noticed that the lyric sheet says came in by her curly-wurly. This might be a typo, as I think Bruce sings it the other way around. A reference to pubic hair, and thus another sex reference seems a trifle crude, especially since it seems more that she is propositioning him.
There are a lot of lines still to go in this song, but I feel like they are not so impenetrable. [Some additions from from here to the end, providing my detailed analysis]
Oh, some hazard from Harvard was skunked on beer playin’ backyard bombardier
Harvard boy, drinking and doming something wild in the backyard. Sounds like a house party.
Yes and Scotland Yard was trying hard, they sent a dude with a calling card,
he said, do what you like, but don’t do it here
Well I jumped up, turned around, spit in the air, fell on the ground
Asked him which was the way back home
He said take a right at the light, keep goin’ straight until night, and then boy, you’re on your own
Scotland yard is the home of the British police, and so that stanza seems to refer to a run in with the authorities, getting run off, a house party broken up by the police. Bruce tries to impress, tries to sweet-talk, but gets told to head out of town. straight until night seems like a Peter Pan reference.
And now in Zanzibar a shootin’ star was ridin’ in a side car hummin’ a lunar tune
Zanzibar sounds like the name of a bar, a bad pun, trying to play on the exotic locale. I picture a dive with a Neon sign out front with a picture of a palm-tree and a martini glass. Lunar toon is both a reference to songs like Moonstone or Moon Dance, or just the addled moaning of someone that is high, but also Looney-tunes, Bugs Bunny and so on. Again, the crossover from child to adult. Sidecar is a motorcycle reference, but also to someone that plays a supporting role, that doesn’t get to drive, not in control of his own destiny.
Yes, and the avatar said blow the bar but first remove the cookie jar we’re gonna teach those boys to laugh too soon
Avatar is a leader, the person directing the action. Perhaps an older musician or manager. Remove the cookie jar is the cookie jar the tip jar or the stash of weed? Possibly the venue owner decided not to pay them in response to some clownish behavior, to teach those boys to laugh too soon. Or is this payback for a bar owner that stiffed them?
And some kidnapped handicap was complainin’ that he caught the clap from some mousetrap he bought last night,
Well I unsnapped his skull cap and between his ears I saw
a gap but figured he’d be all right
Members of the band or friends experiment with beer, drugs, prostitutes–mousetrap seems to be an interesting euphemism–and yet they all survive. The kidnapped handicap sounds like a similar reference to the sidecar, someone that had to be taken out to the bars under duress of both the escort and the escorted. A wing-man that ruins chances. It may be that a degree of growth has happened to the band by these later stanzas.
Mama always told me not to look into the sights of the sun/Oh but mama that’s where the fun is: This is the ultimate line of the song, and seems to sum it up nicely. We’re old enough to make our own choices, we may knowingly choose to something dangerous, but we do so to live fully. This song is a youth anthem, not necessarily promoting sex, drugs, and rock and roll, but describing how alluring the lifestyle is to kids on the cusp, but also to reassure that many kids go through this and are OK. They’ll be singing “Glory Days” a decade later, just like Bruce Springsteen was, and he hadn’t even hit his prime.