Bruce Springsteen, New Jersey’s legendary rocker, recently celebrated his 71st birthday –Sept. 23rd, to be exact — and as such, I thought it a good time to explore the possible connection between the man’s music (one song in particular), and a possible Lee Marvin connection.
Readers of Lee Marvin Point Blank know why I titled the book what I did as it’s explained in the introduction. Yes, it’s partly due to the title of one of his signature films, but there’s actually more to it than that.
What does any of this have to do with Bruce Springsteen, you may ask? Well, to start with, Springsteen has often utilized imagery from films in his work, which is why I thought there may indeed be a Lee Marvin connection. For example, having been a long time fan, I was amazed the way in which he opened the first concert I ever saw. The arena went dark and over the sound system came the following dialog: “Me and the boys got us some work to do. Wanna come along? Won’t be like the old days….but it’ll do.” That end dialog from The Wild Bunch (a film Lee Marvin almost made, by the way), lead to the stage lights coming up and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band launching into Buddy Holly’s rocking “Oh Boy!” For the next four hours, I was enthralled and then exhausted by evening’s end. “The Boss’ put on one hell of a show!
That aside, Springsteen’s film references include everything from titling one of his signature songs “Thunder Road,” after the 1958 cult Robert Mitchum film, to to the title of his album The Ghost of Tom Joad, as in the character Henry Fonda played in the John Steinbeck adapted film, The Grapes of Wrath.
Even more pervasive are the lyrics chosen for some of his songs. Take for example, “Cadillac Ranch” in which he borrows imagery from the likes Rebel Without a Cause, The Last American Hero and Smokey & The Bandit:
“James Dean in that Mercury ’49
Junior Johnson runnin’ thru the woods of Caroline
Even Burt Reynolds in that black Trans Am
all gonna meet down at the Cadillac Ranch.”
Which brings us to the haunting lyrics of “Point Blank” from his 1980 double album, “The River.” The song concerns the end of a romance in which the narrator describes how his ex-lover has been destroyed by her experiences. At one point in the song, he dreams they are dancing together again, only to wake up and discover she’s standing in the doorway trying to stay out of the rain “looking like just another stranger waitin’ to get blown away.” Hence the title and chorus, “Point Blank”.
Granted, it’s hardly the same premise or theme as the Marvin film. However, creative entities, such as Springsteen can be motivated in the most interesting of ways. Since he clearly is quite literate when it comes to film iconography, one can easily picture him watching the film one night and grabbing a pad and pencil with an idea once the premise of the film is established. Is Walker alive or dead? As Walker himself asks, what is all a dream that he was double-crossed by his wife and best friend then left for dead?
It certainly is not a new premise for a writer to create a theme of blurred lines between life and death, or dreams and reality. I believe Ambrose Bierce’s classic 1890 short story “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” set the standard for such a theme. A personal favorite is Dalton Trumbo’s “Johnny Got His Gun,” which realistically established a character grappling with the ability to know whether he is asleep or awake. In other words, Walker of Point Blank may have very well inspired Springsteen to use the premise as a springboard for what he would utilize as a dark concept of a tortured romance. Pure supposition, for sure, but certainly not unlikely. Judge for yourself in the video below and in closing, happy birthday, Bruce Springsteen!
– Dwayne Epstein