Lexington Green

When summoned by the horseman’s cry
from breaking fast and tending barns
The Yeoman farmers trained response
was to secure their ready arms

The nineteenth dawn that April bore
revealed a revolutionary scene
Captain Parker’s men had met
to learn the news on Lexington Green

But red clad soldiers marched all night
From landing ships on Cambridge shore
And through Lexington they’d pass
En route to capture Concord’s Store

Lieutenant William Sutherland
Called to the men across the sward
Commanding them “Disperse Ye Rebels
Ye Villains, most unruly mob.”

Outnumbered, Captain Parker’s men
were ordered to disperse once more
But chaos and uncertainty
lay beneath the fog of war

Who fired first? the tales suggest
Perhaps a sniper off the scene
but British shot and bayonets
Killed nine men on Lexington Green

Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith
Arriving with three companies
Ordered drumbeats for the march
To Concord’s Bridge and history

In Concord town the Minutemen
Had learned of Lexington’s Melee
On Punkatasset over-watched
As Redcoats made their first foray

Searching houses, barns and fields
for weapons cached and powder kegs
but long since moved and all they found
were milk and barely, ham and eggs

When searching soldiers caught the site
Of mounds fresh piled in the fields
And ready spades we turned to dig
And three great cannon were revealed

But as they searched, the Minutemen
From Acton, Bedford, and Westford
Joined the Lincoln men above
The Concord rivers northern shore

A Regiment of militiamen
descended  Punkatasset Ridge
assaulted Captain Parson’s Force
assigned to guard the Northern Bridge

The Regulars formed to volley fire
As if for warfare in the town
A warning shot rang out and then
the musket balls were raining down

They fled their post and headed south
to form with Regiments complete
and leaving off their fruitless search
the British Colonel called retreat

The local men who took the bridge
Had learned to shoot when they were Boys
Some had marched to Montreal
To fight the French and Iroquois

At Meriam’s Corner, and Brooks Hill
The local muskets took their toll
and passing through the ambuscade
at Bloody Angle Thirty  fell

At last they came back to the field
where shot had shattered dawn serene
And Parker had then his revenge
Upon the sward of Lexington Green

The Wrestle Off

The members of the team had rolled out the resilite mats in the back gym. The air was barely heated, so they had been hard to the touch as the boys rolled them in three straight sheets. The kinetic energy of a pair of teenage boys transferred to the friction of the shoes applied a sheering force that would separate untaped mats. That was acceptable during a normal practice, when the mats would be shared by a half dozen pairs at once. During a real match they would be taped together, to prevent them from separating during the bouts. The tape was an expense that the cash strapped athletic department wouldn’t waste on a practice. But there was no risk of separation during the opening half of this practice. The mats were rimmed with spectators, the members of the team focused on the two participants in the center. During a normal practice, the mats might be rolled out with either side up. The lesser used side had five circles, laid out like the dots on a die showing 5.

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My Grandfather’s Flag

The Following post was written by my Mother.

My Grandfather's Flag

My Grandfather's Flag

To the best of my knowledge, my father was given the flag while he was still in the army. He was not discharged immediately after the war but spent many years in the reserves. I remember him packing to leave for Camp Drum, as it was called in those days. He was not called up for Korea, but I think he was still in then because I can remember him going to camp for two weeks every summer for several summers. I was too young to remember him going in Ohio, and we moved to Merrick in 1949. I would have been too young to remember many summers when Korea broke out in 1950.

I remember him saying that when the war ended in Europe, they were preparing to go to the Pacific. As they were about to depart, the war ended in Japan. He said they then sailed back to NY, instead, and upon entering NY Harbor, they all through their mess kits overboard.

He became active in some military organizations. In Merrick the more active group was the American Legion, vastly different from what it has become today, a drinking, non-tipping hangout. He was an officer in that post. I am not sure which group gave him the flag, the VFW or the Legion, or the government. I remember him marching in some parades in Merrick on Memorial Day and Veterans (Armistice) Day, and they were a big group. The VFW post was, I think, in Freeport.

He won several medals which we played with, broke, lost. We were children, and he didn’t mind.

He didn’t keep up with any of the men he served overseas with but did with some of his reserve buddies.

Although he is not buried with that rank, he had told us that he was Chief Master Sargeant. I don’t know what that rank actually is. Maybe it was honorary. The chevron on his arm had lots of stripes and something in the middle. I think he is buried as a First Sgt.

As you know, his name is engraved on the memorial at Silver Lake in Baldwin. His name is spelled wrong, two L’s instead of one.

Grandpa always flew the flag on holidays. I continue to fly his flag for him and for all the men and women who have served in defence of this country. That includes just about every male member of my family–except your father. I only fly his flag on special holidays like Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Veterans Day.

Uncle Gene has the flag that was presented to me at his funeral. I gave it to Uncle Gene because, like his father, he served. I would have loved to give it to you, but I thought Gene really deserved it. I will give you this 48 star flag. It is older and signifies much more. And, of course, it was definitely before Alaska and Hawaii became states in 1959. So, for whatever the story, it really is Grandpa’s army flag. And he was proud of it.

Earning the right

I recently read a complaint that the Ushers at Michael Jackson’s funeral wearing what appeared to be West Point Full Dress uniforms was insulting.

Men’s fashion has always been derived from military uniforms. Look at many hotel employees, SGT Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, or any Gum Shoe that walked down the street wearing a WWI era trench coat. In the days of horses, gentlemen wore long tall boots, long stockings and short breeches, all of which were driven off the cavalry needs to not get caught up in your stirrups. High hats with plumes came from the uniforms designed to make the front rank look taller. The original designs were practical for military purposes, the later often mimicked the form without providing the function.

Jim Peckham ran a wrestling camp where the motto was “Earning the Right to Win.” I like the concept that a Right is something that can be denied to those who haven’t met the minimum standard. Yes, life, liberty and pursuit of happiness are the right of all, but victory is the right of the one who has earned it.

If you earned the right to wear the uniform and then dishonour it, that is insulting. If you never earned the right to wear the uniform and wear clothes that look like it, it is merely that same sincere form of flattery shown by a younger brother that wears his older brothers Jacket. If the ushers claimed to be Active duty military, that would be inappropriate, probably illegal, but even then it would not be insulting.

In the days when gentlemen carried sabres, and were expected to protect their honour at the risk of their life, it was understood that a Gentleman could only be insulted by another gentleman. While the modern USA is an egalitarian society, I still reserve the right to select who is entitled to insult me. You have to earn that right.

Attitude Shift

When I got out of the Army, I had the choice of moving back to Massachusetts or anywhere closer to my last duty station.  Since I was in Hawaii at the time, I could choose from  a huge swatch of the country.  I went on several job interviews, and had a few places I could have moved.  I picked for location as much as for the job:  I moved to San Francisco.

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16 Random Things About Me

1. The mechanism in the brain is that is supposed to disengage the mouth doesn’t always work with me. When I remember an embarrassing episode from earlier in my life, I often yell at my self about it, out loud, usually something like “Stop think so much!” or “Quit it.” I have Programming induced Turrette’s Syndrome.

2. I read incredibly fast. I started reading in kindergarten and have always devoured books. I was reading the full length Alexandre Dumas books in third grade.

3. I wore braces while wrestling in high school. My lips were routinely turned into chopped liver by them.

4. Music has been an incredibly strong force in my life. I was singing before I spoke. I started piano lessons in first grade (Thanks Mrs. Stephanski!). My great Uncle Ben started teaching me Saxophone in second grade. I sing out loud whenever I am in the car alone. I contemplated going to Berklee school of music. As a Junior and Senior at West Point I conducted the Jewish Chapel Choir.

5. I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance while in High School. No other book I’ve read has had more of an effect of how I interpret the world.

6. As a Plebe at West Point, I got into big trouble twice. The first time was because I had a sword for the medieval studies club in my locker in the trunk room. The second time was for drinking. My roommate had snuck a bottle of Jack Daniels into the Barracks. I had to shots, and threw them up.

7. When I was a three years old I made up a Superhero named “Strong Running Man”

8. I was really into Archery when I was in boy scouts. I had a recurve bow. My cousin and I were shooting arrows up into the air in New Hampshire. One got stuck in the trees, and fell to earth right in front of my father, missing him by a few feet. He broke the bow over his knees.

9. My first crush was when I was in nursery school. Her name was Elizabeth Lubin. I still don’t know how to spell her last name.

10. I compose music. I’ve written a few jazz and folk songs. I have written about 70% of the book for “The Princes Bride, the Musical.” It is an Operatta.

11. I spent my first two and a half years as a professional programmer doing Microsoft programming. My focus on Linux and Open Source programming comes from having been burnt by MS too many times.

12. When I was Lieutenant in the Army, I lived in a beach house on the North Shore of Hawaii. On certain days, when I was allowed to do the morning exercises (PT) on my own, I would often go snorkeling right behind my own house.

13. My favorite hobby is Rock Climbing. I have done more damage to my body by climbing with out doing injury prevention exercises than any other way. My favorite type of climbing is climbing cracks by jamming my hands and feet into the wall and camming them.

14. I was incredibly nearsighted as a kid. It killed my depth perception. It is one reason I never liked sports like Baseball or Basketball. I had LASIK about ten years ago, and my eyes have continued to get worse to the point that I need glasses full time again.

15. I have a ridiculous memory for quotes. I can watch a movie or TV show once and pick up a quote that I remember for years.

16. I grew up wandering in the woods. The thing I love most about being back on the East Coast (aside from being near to family) is the woods here. There is something about the deciduous forests and terrain gentle enough to let you walk just about anywhere while out in the woods that I find really recharging. I’ve recently taken up snowshoeing because I love being able to wander through the snow covered woods and walk anywhere.

Hometown

One facet of returning to Boston after half my life away is dealing with the demons of High School. Not just my demons but those of my friends from my home town. Things we didn’t talk about then are now part of the conversations. The emotional irritants from 1986 have been encapsulated in enough mother of pearl to be taken out and admired in the light. As technology increases the frequency of re-acquaintance, old names and faces trip old traps. The strong and confident find themselves in tears over a snub two decades passed. Anger long since packed away in the attic is extracted, unfolded, and ignites upon exposure to fresh air.

When we were expecting our son, my wife and I read many books. One phrase that stood out is ontology recapitulates phylogeny. In simpler language, an embryo passes through all the stages of evolution before it becomes a baby. All those previous steps are incorporated into the nascent human. But evolution didn’t stop with human infancy. Dr Karp suggests we should think of toddlers as cavemen not yet ready to comprehend full language. Is the teenager then still carrying around the same set of energy and impulses as we needed when we were in the trees? As adults, we have built on what we were as children and teens. We’ve incorporated it into our adult selves. Have we grown from our pains or just grown around them? Nietzsche promised us to grow stronger from a non fatal encounters, but was that may have just been the optimistic aspiration of a man in extreme pain.

Like Robert Frosts swinger of birches, I have gone away and come back. My arc described not just a removal from earth, although I have spent a good deal of time looking down at earth from high up on a cliff side, but also a removal from the society in which I first developed. I can’t claim to any great insights to any development but, maybe, my own. It is not that I have grown beyond who I was in 1989, but that I’ve gotten a sense of how that boy fits inside the man I am now.

Stoughton. Mention of the name of my home town now evokes a common response: Ikea. Yes, the great blue behemoth sits in the center of the woods that we dubbed Sasquatch Territory many years ago. The name came from the trees bent, like Frost’s Birches, from an ice storm, that an older brother in the neighborhood would rather have ascribe to the attentions of a descendant of some sibling branch of our phylogeny. The naming was inspired, no doubt, by the most popular of episode from the Six Million Dollar man. Those woods were our playground, our battle grounds, where we built dams and dug for old railroad spikes. The benefit of living with such great woods behind our houses came at the cost of being removed from the center of action, around the North Elementary School, where the tighter knit subdivisions lead to the forming of alliances that would play out on the school grounds and classrooms. Four of us from the edge of Stoughton had the combination of nurture and nature to succeed in Stoughton’s Academic environment. A Catholic, a Korean Buddhist, and a Unitarian, and me, the Jew, somehow survived and succeeded, at least academically.

Stoughton is proud of its blue-collar roots.  Drinking and smoking were normal part of teen culture, as was a moderate degree of drug use.  We lost a few kids to driving accidents, most notably for me one of my older sisters boyfriends.  There was social ostracism, taunting, bullying, and fights.  The latter were often started with our version of a thrown gauntlet, the phrase “meet you at the tracks”. We even have our own minstral, singing in much more evocative terms than I ever could.  My sister’s friend Lori Gerow grew up and married into the name Lori McKenna.  How a girl from a school that prized speed metal above all grew up to be a country/folk star is just the sort of irony that you might expect from a town that is caught on the edge of the Boston Metrosprawl:  not quite farm country anymore, but not quite the city.

There are many stories triggered by this reminiscence, but they don’t really address the matter at hand. My demons from this part of my life are domesticated beasts who now rarely ruin the carpet or chew my slippers. I faced them later in life, when they were the members of a larger pack that briefly overwhelmed me. That time brought deep introspection and a truce that has held.  Nec Stoughtonia Terrent. High School Ended for me in 1989. Between there and here is a long journey. But my connection with these friends, the commonality of experience ended then, too. After that, Stoughton was a place visited for a Week during Christmas or Summer in between Training and Education. After my folks sold their place on Larson Road, I didn’t have any excuse to go back, and lots of other demands on my vacation time. So to connect with people I knew back then, I refer to events of two decades hence. But what to do when the responses bring forth such vehemence? Stoughton wasn’t nearly the worst thing I’ve faced in my life. I can’t claim I would have chosen that as my upbringing, or that there are not major steps there I would have changed, but I don’t hate the place, not by any stretch.

One common theme though is a sense that we really didn’t know each other back then. Certainly the divide along gender lines was quite strict amongst us, the geeks. There might a be a strong friendships that crossed lines, but they were ones and twos. My friends were mostly guys. Girls in class were fearsome things, more likely to laugh at you then to respond kindly to an approach. My early relationships happened during transitions: summers, trips. Even crushes were reserved for girls outside my classes, girls who wouldn’t have seen the ass I made of myself by talking too much during a class I had prepared for too little. I don’t know if a 13 year old boy and girl can be just friends. Certainly it is a chemically unstable situation, too prone to slip on one side or the other into obsession or rejection. Some of the girls in the classes were caustic . Some unconscious action of mine would bring derision, a sneer of contempt and add another layer of shellac to my shell of isolation. It didn’t keep me from speaking up to the teacher, to challenging the pedagogy, but is kept my attention focused on the front of the classroom. Another girl from these days remain fixed in my mind with a perpetually startled expression, mortified of the least attention. An essay read aloud in English class would periodically cast a brief spotlight into the mind of one of these foreign entities.

There are a few things I got from Stoughton that I might not have if I had grown up elsewhere.  It was far enough from the city that there were still large tracts of woods.  Both houses I lived in backed up to stretches of woods large enough that I never fully explored them.  I loved the freedom and relative safety I had of wandering free in the woods, a freedom that my Brookline raised son will not be ableto enjoy without travel.  Stoughton was a small enough town that we knew, if not everyone, than the majority.  Rare is the member of my graduatin class whose name does not evoke some small memory.  I remember my teachers, knew the principals.  My folks and my friends parents were involved in town meeting and in social issues that affected our town.  If I was left behind by the organized sports collectives so popular amongst my peers in elementary school (Soccer, Baseball) the music department and High School Wrestling team made up for it.  The honors program challenged me enough to get me engavged, but was not so competative that it stifled anything other than the superstars.

Today Stoughton is more memory to me than reality.  I cheered to hear that we won the football game on Thaksgiving against tradition rival of Canton, but didn’t go to watch the game.  Few of the teachers that taught me are still employed in the system, far more have retired.  My friends no longer live there:  those that stayed in the area have migrated to surrounding towns, or, like me, have been drawn in to the city.  Periodic epsidoes involving Ikea aside, the greatest draw of Stoughton remains the staple of our diet from adolescence:  Town Spa Pizza.

Blinded by the Light

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.

Book Ends

The last two nonfiction books I’ve read are Black Hawk Down and  In a Time of War. The two nonfiction books have both dealt with wars that have happened since I became an adult.  In a Time of War chronicles some of the members of West Point’s class of 2002 as they progressed through the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, mostly Iraq.  Black Hawk Down retells the events of the Battle of Mogadishu in October of 1993.  Both these books strike close to home for me.  They present a set of delimiters around a pattern within the  U.S. military involvement overseas.

In October of 1993, I was in my final month of the Infantry Officer’s Basic Course at Fort Benning Georgia.  Within the year I would  arrive at my first Regular Army unit, the 25th Infantry Division.  The Ranger platoon leaders in Somalia were class of 1990 grads, the seniors when I was a Plebe.  The soldiers to my left and right at Rangers school, the ones from Ranger regiment, would go and serve with the men that fought in Somalia.

Mike Palaza, a 1991 West Point grad and fellow Alumnus of Stoughton High School stated that he wasn’t going to marry his girlfriend if he was headed to Somalia:  he was headed to the 10th Mountain and knew that he’d be deployed.  He was being melodramatic when he said that he wasn’t going to get married before going to Somalia. “I won’t make her a Widow.”  But they got married and he deployed there anyway.  He is still alive and well.

SSG Franklin was my senior squad leader when I got to my Platoon in Hawaii.  He had a Combat Infantryman’s Badge from his deployment to Somalia.  He claimed he hadn’t really earned it, just had done a lot of Cordon and Searches in houses looking for weapons.  When I went to Haiti, I had a team leader in my platoon who said comparable things.  It seems that for most of the deployment in Somalia, the US forces were considered a neutral force, just there to help distribute food.  It wasn’t until we decided that Aidid was the bad guy that things went south. It is hard to hear these two points of view and then read the chaos and hell that was Mogadishu during the events told Black Hawk Down.

If you look at the chain of events from the time I graduated High School up to the present situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is a continuing narrative.  With the fall of the Soviet Union, we stopped paying attention to the Mujhadeen in Afghanistan, and we lost interest in the Iran/Iraq war and it’s effect on those countries and the region.  Saddam Hussein didn’t get the message that we wouldn’t tolerate an invasion of Kuwait.  By responding, we put American troops on the Arabian Peninsula. The mujahideen fighters, trained and equipped by the United States, now turned their enmity against us.  We were already questionable allies due to our support of Israel, so it wasn’t too hard to make us the bad guys. Al Qaeda has claimed responsibility for inciting much of the violence in Mogadishu in 1993.  It was these actions that lead the US to drive Osama bin Laden out of the Sudan (a short jaunt away across Ethiopia) where he was then building the terrorist network that later attacked American 2001.  He claimed that they learned the US could be chased from a country by making it take casualties.

What was clear from reading the book and from what little I’ve studied is that we misread the situation.  Aidid was willing to let the United Nations help, but he was the real power in Mogadishu.  In the news they called him a “Warlord.”  He was the single most powerful leader to come out of the Somalia Civili war.  Not that he was undisputed, there were many such powerful men, but he had a larger power base than the others.  When the US decided that he was not to be allowed to participate in the future government, they turned a potential ally into an enemy.  Yes, he was a vicious man, but the country was known for brutality, he was just more successful.  Yes, he killed UN peace keepers.  But the story there is fairly murky, at least from what little I’ve seen. The facts of Somalia are such that no one with any degree of power got there without blood on their hands.

What is the difference between a warlord, a tribal leader, a sheik, a community leader, a mayor, a governor?  The power to rule must be granted at least in a portion by the people who are ruled, if only because they think the alternative is worse.  Here in the United States, we were unusual when we said that the military leadership you be subservient to the civilian leadership.  This new fangled idea is not the norm in much of the world:  it is still catching on.  I acknowledge the difference between a person who has seized power and one who has been selected by his community.  We in the United States often forget that places without traditions of elections have more primitive methods for selecting leaders that  nevertheless still have the support of the community.  We may not like these men:  we certainly decided that we didn’t like Aidid.

In a time of War shows a later next stage in the evolution of America’s foreign policy through force.  The West Point class of 2002 deploys to war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan and  suffers casualties. Nine years after I graduated from West Point, a year after I had removed myself from the roles of the Army Reserves, these kids were graduated into a very different Army than I had experienced.  But things don’t change much at West Point.: Their experiences had been similar enough to mine.  The soldiers upon which  the book focused were from company D-1, the Company next to mine for my final two years at the Academy.

I often wonder what would have happened if President Bush senior hadn’t listened to the advisors who told him to stop before heading the troops up to Baghdad.  If what happened in Iraq since 2003 is any indication, we would have certainly been involved in some serious fighting come 1993.  I suspect that my generation of classmates would have been placed in much the same situation as the class of 2002 and later classes.

I cried a couple of times during the book.  Both times it was during the notification scenes.  I can’t imagine a worse thing to do to someone you love than to make them suffer through the fear and dread of deployment to a war zone, except to die on them.

The war in Iraq was going poorly when the book was published.  Since that time, we have lived through “The Surge”, “The Anbar Awakening” and a change in the outlook for Iraq in the long term.  A big part of that change is that the American strategy changed.  Gen Petraus, the Armies chief counter-insurgency expert, gets a lot of credit for his role in getting Army commanders to understand the real situation on the ground, and to work with the people in their locales.  With his current position in CENTCOM, he will be able to affect the operations in the Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as monitor the evolving relationship between Iran and the United States.  I am cautiously optimistic that we will carve a decent situation out of these conflicts.

Returning to thinking about Somalia in the light of the current conflicts really drove home how lucky I have been personally, how much some of our soldiers have given, and how complex American foriegn policy really is.