Sparks Fly On E Street: Bruce Springsteen, "Used Cars" (1982)

Is the automobile used too often in American songwriting? Some folks say so. Those complaints — particularly the ones aimed at Springsteen — have always made me wonder just how blind people can be to culture. The car has been a symbol of freedom and free spirit for as long as pop music has been around. The thing is, you’ve got to maybe separate the songs that are purely about vehicles from those employing them either as metaphor or to attach crucial detail to a setting.

and the car still has that new car smell
and dad looks like he might smile
and the world is big and full of Autumn
– Greg Brown

Bruce’s “Used Cars” reminds me of folk singer Greg Brown’s “Brand New 64 Dodge.” The car itself is secondary to the event — in this case the actual purchase of the Dodge — and how it made that family feel. The kid in Springsteen’s tune, in contrast, longs for better days…when he’ll be well enough off to be able to avoid this embarrassment…when a supposed symbol of freedom and prosperity won’t feel like a badge of dishonour.

Now, mister, the day the lottery I win I ain’t ever gonna ride in no used car again

Next up: Open All Night

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to, and Salon, he writes several weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at