Home arts Words & Music Words & Music



Words & Music

March 2013

  • Phil Kakulas

State Trooper
Bruce Springsteen

Before Bruce Springsteen could become ‘The Boss’, he had to spend some time out in the badlands. His ‘dark night of the soul’ resulted in Nebraska; a home recorded album populated by killers, criminals and others living on the edges of society. Released in 1982, it remains the black sheep of his back catalogue – a folk noir masterpiece that boasts the intense, acoustic psychodrama of State Trooper.

State Trooper is the tale of a man on the run, as told from the point of view of one very disturbed and desperate individual. As he drives through the wet, New Jersey night, without ‘license (or) registration’, he prays the police don’t pull him over. What or whom he’s running from we’re never told, but the palpable threat of violence and lack of remorse on his part are genuinely unnerving. There is little doubt what carnage would ensue, should some unlucky police officer try and stop him.

Maybe you got a kid, maybe you got a pretty wife
The only thing that I got, well it’s been bothering me my whole life
Mister state trooper, please don’t stop me
Please don’t stop me, please don’t stop me

Springsteen’s chugging guitar and lonesome voice loom out of the darkness. Steeped in reverb and echo, they sound ghostly and detached. The insistent two-chord progression propels the song into the night, but without rhythmic or melodic change, the pressure can only build with every verse.

In the wee, wee hours your mind gets hazy
Radio relay towers lead me to my baby
Radio’s jammed up with talk show stations
It’s just talk, talk, talk, talk, till you lose your patience

When Springsteen does crack, it’s with a yelp and a holler, in keeping with the wired rockabilly spookiness of the track. ‘Deliver me from nowhere’ he cries, before a cathartic scream blows the lid off a head full of trouble.

State Trooper owes much of its otherworldly sound and atmosphere to the unusual manner in which it was recorded. Frustrated with spending large amounts of time and money in expensive studios, Springsteen took the then unusual step of recording solo demo versions of Nebraska’s songs first at home. This, he hoped, would streamline the process of re-recording the songs with the E Street band in a professional studio later.

Equipped with one of the first four-track cassette recorders available to the home recording enthusiast, Springsteen set up shop in a spare bedroom, finishing the demos in just a few days using what few musical instruments lay at hand. With no professional equipment for the mixdown, he compiled the master tape on the only other tape recorder available – a trusty beatbox not long rescued from a nearby muddy river.

Despite the extensive rehearsals and recording sessions with the E Street Band that followed, Springsteen could never better the intimate quality of those first recordings. At the urging of guitarist Stevie Van Zandt and others he shelved the ‘Electric Nebraska’ they had recorded together and instead released his home demo recordings as the official Nebraska album. Perhaps, unwittingly spearheading the lo-fi movement in the process.

“It’s amazing that it got there,” Springsteen has said, “’cause I was carryin’ that cassette around with me in my pocket without a case for a couple of weeks, just draggin’ it around. Finally, we realized – uh-oh, that’s the album.”

Inspiration for State Trooper came in part from Springsteen’s love of New York electro-punk duo, Suicide. In particular, the hypnotic Frankie Teardrop – a punishing ten minute saga about a man who kills his wife and child, and then himself. Awash in the same slap-back echo as State Trooper, its relentless rhythmic pulse and brutal synth parts are similarly punctuated by screams of recognition at the horror done. (When The Blackeyed Susans covered Trooper, we couldn’t help but try and bring the song full circle by giving it a Suicide-like treatment.)

The making of State Trooper and Nebraska was a cathartic experience for Springsteen; a way of better understanding whatever had been bothering him his whole life. A rite of passage perhaps, toward a brighter future. His next album would be Born In The USA. It brought him different rewards, such as mega-stardom, untold riches and the title of ‘The Boss’.


Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band play Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne on March 24, 26 and 27, and Hanging Rock, Victoria on March 30 and 31.

Phil Kakulas is a songwriter and teacher who plays double bass in The Blackeyed Susans.




Latest Edition

February Issue
February Issue
January Issue
January Issue
December Issue
December Issue


Paco de Lucia – Cepa Andaluza