In the 1980s, before performing "The River," Bruce Springsteen often recounted an episode from his youth that evoked his conflicted relationship growing up in New Jersey with his conservative, working-class father and what happened in 1968 after he received his draft notice for the Vietnam war.  --  One of these recountings was transcribed by Cathal Garvey, an Irish fan, in 2009.  --  A number of silent emendations to his version have been effected in the text below, which based on a recording of a performance on Sept. 30, 1985, at a concert at the Coliseum in Los Angeles.[1]  --  It appears as a track on the album "Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band Live/ 1975-1985."  --  The lyrics to "The River" follow.[2]  --  NOTE:  According to Wikipedia's article on the song, Springsteen's preambles to "The River" "would sometimes conclude positively and sometimes not." ...



By Bruce Sprinsteen

How you doing out there tonight?  That’s good, that’s good.

This is a . . . When I was growing up, me and my Dad used to go at it all the time over almost anything.  But, ah . . . I used to have really long hair, way down past my shoulders.  I was 17 or 18.  Oh man, he used to hate it.  And we got to where we’d fight so much that I’d, that I’d spend a lot of time out of the house. 

And in the summertime it wasn’t so bad, because it was warm, and my friends were out, but in the winter, I remember standing downtown where it’d get so cold, and when the wind would blow, I had this phone booth I used to stand in.  And I used to call my girl, like, for hours at a time, just talking to her all night long.

And finally I’d get my nerve up to go home.  I’d stand there in the driveway and he’d be waiting for me in the kitchen and I’d tuck my hair down on my collar and I’d walk in and he’d call me back to sit down with him.  And the first thing he’d always ask me was what did I think I was doing with myself?  And the worst part of it was that I could never explain to him.

I remember I got in a motorcycle accident once and I was laid up in bed and he had a barber come in and cut my hair.  And, man, I can remember telling him that I hated him and that I would never ever forget it.  And he used to tell me:  “Man, I can’t wait till the Army gets you.  When the Army gets you they’re gonna make a man out of you.  They’re gonna cut all that hair off and they’ll make a man out of you.”

And this was, I guess, ’68, when there was a lot of guys from the neighborhood going to Vietnam.  I remember the drummer in my first band coming over to my house with his Marine uniform on, saying that he was going and that he didn’t know where it was.  And a lot of guys went, and a lot of guys didn’t come back. And the lot that came back weren’t the same anymore. 

I remember the day I got my draft notice.  I hid it from my folks and, three days before my physical, me and my friends went out and we stayed up all night.  And we got on the bus to go that morning.  And man we were all so scared…  And I went, and I failed.  I came home [audience cheers].  It’s nothing to applaud about. 

I remember coming home after I’d been gone for three days and walking in the kitchen and my mother and father were sitting there and my dad said:  “Where you been?” 

And I said:  "Uh, I went to take my physical.” 

He said:  “What happened?”

I said:  “They didn’t take me.”

And he said:  “That’s good.”

[Guitar, then harmonica intro to "The River"]

I come from down in the valley
Where mister when you're young
They bring you up to do like your daddy done
Me and Mary we met in high school
When she was just seventeen
We'd ride out of that valley down to where the fields were green

We'd go down to the river
Into the river we'd dive
Oh down to the river we'd ride

Then I got Mary pregnant
And man, that was all she wrote
And for my nineteenth birthday I got a union card and a wedding coat
We went down to the courthouse
And the judge put it all to rest
No wedding day smiles no walk down the aisle
No flowers no wedding dress
That night we went down to the river
And into the river we'd dive
On down to the river we did ride

I got a job working construction for the Johnstown Company
But lately there ain't been much work on account of the economy
Now all them things that seemed so important
Well mister they just vanished right into the air
Now I just act like I don't remember
And Mary acts like she don't care
But I remember us riding in my brother's car
Her body tan and wet down at the reservoir
At night on those banks I'd lie awake
And pull her close just to feel each breath she'd take
Now those memories come back to haunt me
They haunt me like a curse
Is a dream a lie if it don't come true
Or is it something worse that sends me
Down to the river though I know the river is dry
That sends me down to the river tonight
Down to the river
My baby and I
Oh down to the river we ride