Sparks Fly On E Street: Bruce Springsteen, “Black Cowboys” (2005)

I’ve got to admit that I can’t really imagine living in the circumstances portrayed in “Black Cowboys.” While I’ve known people who’ve had to deal with such things (including my own sister), the idea of living with the constant pressure of stray bullets and wasted lives? It’s totally foreign. I’m a kid from the middle of nowhere, where this stuff doesn’t happen. Does it?

This is what makes Bruce’s song so powerful: I don’t have a direct connection to this scenario and yet I can feel both the despair and the hope (of which there is very little). The parallel that’s loosely drawn between the arc of Rainey Williams’ life and that of the black cowboys of Oklahoma is a masterful storytelling move. It’s concise, subtle, and focused. But what’s going to happen to Rainey out west? Will his life be better? We just don’t know, but it would seem that his chances have been improved slightly.

Looking back at the ideas presented here, I’ve often wished that my sister had been given such a chance. It seemed like she’d finally managed to conquer the gravitational pull of that white powder, but the years of stress related to her various situations took their toll. Like a lot of people, she left the planet never seeing the light of hope that might have been just over the horizon.

Up next: Maria’s Bed

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 originated several of our 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