Elvis Costello may have summed it up best: “Home is anywhere you hang your head.”
Many of us grapple with where we came from. It’s the idea of “home” that incorporates just the family and geography we inherit through birth. It’s your hometown.
But it’s not your “home.” Home is really where we hang our heads–it’s where we find comfort in our lives, whatever that means. (Or to continue Elvis’ train of thought, where we feel most comfortable feeling sorry for ourselves.)
Becoming an adult often means disconnecting from the “hometown” where you grew up, with all its memories and assholes and resentments; and finding the “home” you create yourself, from your spouse, your kids, your friends. Springsteen’s songwriting career has charted that journey from the north Jersey gothic of the home he escaped from (“Independence Day”) to the warm, loving embrace of the home he’s created with his wife and kids (“This Life”).
It’s such a universal journey, and Springsteen fills it with the kind of specifics that you know are emerging from his own experiences. It’s entwined with his songs about fathers, about his own father and being a father, but it’s a distinct thread of its own. It’s central to what I think Springsteen means through his meaning, if that doesn’t sound too rockcrit claptrappy–that our personal and political lives, our insides and our outsides, our “home” and the community where we make our homes are all inextricably linked.
So he can sing about loss in “My City Of Ruins,” and it can express his grief over the death of close friends, but at the same time, it can detail his sorrow over the death of American dreams as foreclosures stripmined his hometown of hope.
It’s rattling around my brain as I confront my own family issues, drawing clearer lines between my home and my hometown. You can’t always disconnect from that hometown; it stalks you and nips at your heels and draws blood. But if you’re lucky, you can at least find a little stake of ground to call home, where you feel at peace and in control, and where you can stand stable and strong and loved. It’s the spot behind the wheel of that big old Buick, not whatever’s happening outside its windows.