Bruce, Bourbon, and Books: Jungleland

This semi-regular series alternates between Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen songs that perfectly complement a good bourbon and a quality book. You can make your own suggestions and recommendations in the comments section or by tweeting @WritersBone.


Daniel Ford: Big Man. He’s all I can think about when I hear “Jungleland.” Clarence Clemons’ desperate, aching, urban, gritty, and spiritual saxophone solo transforms a solid Bruce short story into a musical masterpiece. Here’s what Clemons told Rolling Stone about recording the finale of 1975’s iconic “Born to Run:” "All we could do was hold on—smoke a lot of pot and try to stay calm." Considering that this album was Bruce and the band’s last shot at achieving musical relevance, it’s no surprise the recording scene was filled with anxiety, drugs, booze, and the pull-out-all-the-stops determination only artists who have everything to lose find to create something epic and lasting.

I’ve replayed Clemons’ solo a couple of times now, and each time I forget the rest of the song exists. And the rest of the song is a brilliant display of songwriting and musicianship! Clemons doesn’t suck the air out of the room; he supercharges it with a throaty exhale that cuts through Bruce’s preaching like a serrated knife to the belly. And then the song goes on! There’s a rightful few moments of pause, articulated with a few wistful piano notes. Bruce’s voice then reminds everyone that the sermon isn’t over and that the story must go on even though the come-to-Jesus moment has already passed. Like any good preacher, Bruce saves one of his best lines for the final stanza: “Outside the street's on fire/In a real death waltz/Between what's flesh and what's fantasy /And the poets down here/Don't write nothing at all.”

Jesus Christ, indeed.  

Clemons died at the age of 69 in June 2011, leaving us without the E Street Band’s thumping heart and brassy onstage presence. You’d think that songs like “Jungleland” and “Tenth-Avenue Freeze-Out” would be tough to get through during live shows, but thanks to the spirited play of Jake Clemons (the Big Man’s nephew) the tunes have become celebrations of Clemons and the sweet music he made with his energetic front man. Start your happy hour today off with a shot for Big Man and then hold on, try to stay calm, and craft something brilliant with your words.

Dave Pezza: Yep. That about says it all. Anything I would add would be a weepy tale of lost college love…and no one wants to read that shit just before the freakin’ weekin’. So drink up!


Daniel: Last August, I regaled our Happy Hour audience with the tale of me besting a former co-worker in a dark alcohol drink off.

After vanquishing my opponent, I thirsted for a fitting night cap. I approached the makeshift bar that had been set up in my former employer’s living room and pointed at the bottle of Pappy Van Winkle.

“Um, you’re the only one who has asked for it,” the bartender said, looking around for help as if I were holding a gun and demanding money from the register. “Are you really going to make me open it?”

I glanced around. The party had fizzled, but I was still loitering on the premises like a vagrant alcoholic who had just gotten $20 shoved into his change cup.

“Why don’t you go ahead and pop that thing open,” I said, nodding my head as if I had more power than my asshole demeanor conveyed.

The guy sighed, opened it, and poured the bourbon into a glass. He handed it to me roughly, and I took a satisfying sip right in front of him. I left him a couple bucks and enjoyed the best glass of bourbon I’ve ever had in my life while the hosts gently suggested I should get the hell out (and take my defeated coworker with me).  

Soon after, I stood in the rain with several young women (including the glamorously dressed Stephanie Schaefer, who would eventually ignore my boorishness and become my anchor in life) and waited for a cab that took at least 30 minutes to arrive. However, I still felt the warm aftereffects of the smooth, almost soulful, glass of Pappy Van Winkle. That’s the thing about great bourbons, all the good stuff happens after you drink them. Well, except if you’re Dave Pezza that is…

Dave: Pappy! You have to love Pappy, arguable the best bourbon out there (if you can find a bottle of the damn stuff). I’ve only had Pappy once. Some family and friends of mine got together last winter for a bourbon and steak night. Yeah, you read that right. Needless to say it was freakin’ awesome. One of the guys works at a local packy (what we call mom and pop liquor stores in Rhode Island) and had been on the list to buy the next bottle of Pappy that came through. Like fine gentlemen of worth, he brought that bottle with him. This stuff is smooth, warming, and highly addictive. It hits all the right notes: it’s rough like brown liquor should be, it’s easy on the way down, and it warms just below burning once it’s in your gullet. If you have the opportunity to try some, try as much as you possibly can. Just don’t have three fingers after a night full of steak and five other bourbons, because despite its high pedigree, it doesn’t taste half as good on the way back up.


Dave: Green on Blue, Eliot Ackerman’s debut novel, follows a young Afghan by the name of Aziz. Aziz and his older brother are orphaned by Afghan militants. Soon Ali, Aziz’s brother, is maimed by the same men, and Aziz is recruited by a freedom fighting group funded by the CIA, who offer to pay for his brother’s medical expenses in return for his service. Green on Blue offers a rare perspective of the War in Afghanistan: the perspective of the Afghans who found themselves caught between violent, religious extremists and American sentiments of freedom and self-preservation. The result is a captivating narrative of a young teenage boy who wishes only to do right by his family and honor. Ackerman perfectly balances on the line of critiquing American ideals in a Middle Eastern society and the illuminating the struggle of the honest Afghan men and women who try only to survive in this contested land they call home. As America tries to put behind its recent wars in the Middle East, Green on Blue give us an understanding of the country and its people that we wish we could have had 14 years ago.

For more Bruce/Bob, Bourbon, and Books, check out our full archive.