For all of its problems, its chortling suburbia, the fringe, anti-realist politics, and its occasional lack of culture, American music can certainly seem seductive to the average teenager. I’ve recently found myself going through the back catalogue of Bruce Springsteen, in parts out of curiosity, but mainly from faded nostalgia, and the fact that ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ has found itself in a certain renaissance following that widely acclaimed reissue. Naturally there’s a constant emphasis on escapist anthems, teenage love on the road, dissolving unjust hindrances with the power of miles and miles of pavement. It’s so well ingrained in pop music it’s almost redundant mentioning, but then I look outside my dorm room and I see stretches of highway blending with a warm, sunshine horizon. The open plains of Texas only accentuate that effect – for every deadbeat small town lays a car, a couple, an ambition, and an endless, interconnected highway escape route.

The interstate highway system is estimated to run 46,876 miles, across all 50 states, and it serves as the primary means of transportation for almost every American. That beckoning freedom has permeated every aspect of classic American pop. Our most universal heroes are something of road-poets; Dylan, the surrogate adoption of Neil Young – and even in modern times the vigour of icons like Craig Finn or Josh Ritter have inspired similar, if more bated critical respect. The prose of U.S. pop is always tied to landscape; Sufjan “drove to Chicago,” Doug Martsch wanted to see “their faces turn to backs of heads and slowly get smaller,” and Springsteen’s own “tramps like us, baby we were born to run” has become one of the most cited singular lyrics in music history. These little quips have planted seeds of rosy anarchy in the cores of millions of young people.

The sheer scale of this country is tempting. America is one of the only places on earth that offers unbridled escape, diverse society, divergent landscapes – all unified in the same borders. Sure, plenty of wanderlust-pop has surfaced from other nations, but never to the power and unbridled irresponsibility of the States. Often, outside my dorm room a collection of homeless runaways gather and peddle for change. We call these fellows ‘drag rats’, given their dishevelled demeanours, but it’s easy to drum up some sympathy. I see them as the train-wreck of the American teenage dream, inspired more literally by the same music that inspired me, but brave enough to act on it.

Some do find that erstwhile enlightenment that Springsteen talked about, but others crash and burn, shredded to bits by the weight of their undertaking – so they huddle together, finding some solace in the embrace of their fellow’s broken wings. We can all attest to the dangerousness of this rampant, music-fuelled idealism, but I certainly think we can lift a toast to the times when we were green enough for it to make sense.

By Luke Winkie

Originally published in issue 28 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. May 2011