Yes, I guess technically every song tells a story. What we are interested in however are the songs that tell actual stories -stories about cowboys, and love and the day the music died. Songs are the smells of the ears, they can transport us places in an instant. All this week we are exploring these story songs and getting all Springsteen-y because it's winter now and all we want to do is stay inside and listen to music. - Dylan Wise
The moment when Dylan introduced the idea of doing a "story song" Listening Party I had my choice picked. This choice was, in my opinion, the best story-country-song there ever was. Which song you ask? That'd be "Pancho & Lefty" by Townes Van Zandt. So, why am I not writing about arguably the best "story song" there ever was in the genre of the story song? Plainly, Highway Patrolman by Bruce Springsteen. And the reason? Because family is hard and if you don't believe that, if you think that is fiction dreamed up by me to make this article more meaningful you'd be dead wrong. That or you don't actually love your family as much as you think you do. I don't know, I don't mean to make judgement. I just know that every time I listen to this song I think of my brothers and it crushes me to no end.
You see, we were all once young; hell we're still all pretty young, but when we were younger we had a lot of fun, we also got into a lot of trouble and we also fought a lot. I grew up in a farmhouse with two brothers, with whom I shared a room. In fact I remember a time when we all shared the same bed, breathing hot breath under the covers to warm ourselves on winter nights. We would stay up late at night playing Nintendo, concocting sugar packed Kool-Aid to keep ourselves awake as we tried in vain to play a full season of Tecmo Super Bowl. We were close, really close (both literally and figuratively). In those close spaces we got into a lot of fist fights. Sometimes we beat the hell out of each other - but somehow that's weirdly just a part of growing up and having a brother. It's carved into youth and it's carved into brotherhood. But no matter how badly we hurt each other we could never bring ourselves to hate each other for too long, always reverting to tearful apologies.
With age, still in the prime of our youths, we found trouble. We all dealt with our mistakes, had to deal with the failures of our own creation. The evils we cooked up and released on the world out of boredom, out of fear, out of youthful stupidity. Trouble follows youth, it stalks it and holds onto it until it forms it into the adult it chooses to be. I can still remember the feelings I felt when my brothers found trouble, how helpless and how sad I was. They were the strong ones, the athletic ones, the tough-working, grease caked between their fingers kids. I was the quiet one, the weak one, physically. But, when they found trouble and when I couldn't help them, that's when I felt weakest. It's like the first time you realize that your father is not a superhero. It hits you hard and crushes your guts and shows you just exactly how mean and awful and terrifying the world can be.
I remember hitting just one person in my adult life, and it was in defense of my younger brother, as a friend made a crack about him when he was down. I am by no means a violent person, in fact I detest violence. A kid in 5th grade walked up behind me in the bathroom once because I had laughed at a crack another kid made to him, and he pushed my head into the pipe above the urinal - I didn't fight back then. I didn't fight back in elementary school when, on the playground a kid offered to help me up, holding out his hand, and when I grabbed hold, he just let me fall. But when some dumb kid made a crack about my little brother when he was down I grabbed that kid by the shirt, pushed his head into a car and hit him in the face a few times. I even remember one time when two kids down the street were picking on me, while we were over at a friend's house. Well, my younger brother attacked both of this kids, and they happened to be several years older than us.
We didn't care. For all of the beatings we gave each other, none of it mattered. When it came down to defending family, no matter what the situation was, no matter if you knew your family made a mistake or not you still stuck by your family. And that is why this song gets to me, because it cuts through all of the bullshit, all of the warm fuzzy feelings and lays it out plain and simple - and it crushes me every single time.
The story of a highway patrolman with a brother who's trouble, a brother who shoots a young boy and runs. The same highway patrolman who watches his brother escape, in spite of duty. For this patrolman there was a greater duty: Brotherhood. It's the stuff of classic literature, classic films, it's what lays underneath almost every Hemingway book, every great war film. But the thing is, the reason why this feeling resonates so much with people, why it is the backbone to so many great songs and stories and films is because it's actually there. It actually exists. And sometimes, when we've lost our love and our hope and everything we thought we knew it's the one and only thing that keeps us going, that keeps us up.
The duty to protect the people you grew up with, who drove you crazy, who embarrassed you, who fought with you, who loved you, despite everything. Because they stayed up late with you watching movies and because they taught you about every band, every movie, every football player that still holds a place in your heart. They were your rivals and they were your best friends. They were your family and they were your brothers. This song crushes me every single time, I know I've said that a lot now, but I say it, because it does. Because when I listen to it all I can think about are my brothers and how easy things can go wrong and how helpless I can feel in the wheels of time, without them safe and sound.