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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

"Glory Days" and why it shouldn't be played at baseball games

...ehh, who cares? Enough people have already misheard it that it doesn't even matter.

Today's post is about a song that I've heard a hundred times over, but never bothered to listen to just how little sense it made for it to be played where it was.

I find it fascinating when so many people misunderstand, or simply don't hear, a song's lyrical narrative. Usually, it's because the song instrumentally sounds quite different from what its words convey. In more recent times, Foster the People's "Pumped Up Kicks" comes to mind as Exhibit A, but back in the 1980s, that distinction fell on Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." While I could definitely talk about that song and its incongruities between its instrumental tone and lyrical message, that's been done enough to last until the heat death of the universe. Instead, I'm going to look at another song off the same album which, from everything I've experienced and learned regarding the track, seems to have a similar tale of mishearing: "Glory Days."

I've heard "Glory Days" at so many baseball games of all levels, from high school to the major leagues. I get why for multiple surface-level reasons: it's an upbeat-sounding track by an American icon; its main keyboard riff, played by Roy Bittan, sounds somewhat organ-like; and, of course, the first verse speaks of baseball and equates it to the title "glory days." The final point is fine and dandy... if you don't really pay attention to the lyrics, that is. The song's title days refer to a time decades in the past, when the characters were in high school and had little to no worries compared to the stressors and constraints of contemporary adult life. It's a very bittersweet narrative, as Springsteen tries to capture their bygone heyday but can only think about it in the context of seeing himself and his classmates in the modern day.

At the very least, the first verse is autobiographical — it's about a bar encounter Springsteen had with former classmate Joe DePugh, who was given a tryout by the Dodgers while still in high school. While the reunion was undoubtedly a welcome moment for both of them, Springsteen uses the meetup to describe how DePugh and others are stuck in the past, talking about their peaks as if they're trying to relive them through their conversations. The same goes for the topic of the second verse, the former "popular girl" who now tries to make ends meet as a bartender at the same place where Springsteen and DePugh saw each other. While the second verse isn't known to be autobiographical, the detail in it might at least present that illusion.

I never noticed until recently how much the track sounds like it's being played in a bar, at least from my perspective. Springsteen's vocal delivery is powerful, yet casual, setting the tone for the the E Street Band underneath him. His and Steven van Zandt's guitar power chords take precedence over the other pitched instruments, leaving just enough space for Bittan's piano line in the verses. More than any other instrument, it's the honky-tonk esque piano that gives me dive bar vibes. It's just got an attack and a tone to it that evokes feelings of crowded bars where nobody can quite hear themselves think. All in all, the instrumentation just seems to fit the song, whether intentionally or not.

As interesting as the first couple verses are, it's the third and final verse that always gets to me the most when I listen to "Glory Days." It's the point at which Springsteen turns the camera toward himself. In the aftermath of his other conversations, Springsteen remarks that, try as he might, he knows he'll end up looking back on those good times as well as he ages. It's inevitable that we end up "trying to recapture / A little bit of the glory" of the past, despite our best efforts to live in the present day. The question is how much of that glory we let get to our head, and whether we can avoid only looking backward while current life and opportunities pass us by.

The music video also serves to capture this same atmosphere and an answer to the above question. In going along with the song's narrative, Springsteen imagines himself playing baseball with his son — but even his fantasies of a bygone era are grounded in the realization that he didn't make it (curse you, Graig Nettles). In that sense, perhaps Springsteen and the character he created for himself have the most understanding perspective: our old dreams are just that, and after a while it gets tired of thinking of the "what could have been"s. As his wife pulls in to pick up him and his son in the video, he seems to come to terms with the life he's currently living, for the sake of being able to live in the moment.

So... yeah, maybe "Glory Days" isn't the greatest song to play at a ballpark, looking at what it's really about. In a place where people get captured by the present moment of the game, its lyrics are incongruous; they don't fit the scenery. Of course, one can be angry about hearing it in that context, or — as I am — one can see (or hear) the humor in a song being so sorely misunderstood. I don't know what this all really says about myself or the song, other than the fact that maybe the people in charge of the music at those games are looking back on their glory days themselves, wondering why they aren't the ones on the field.

...Honestly, that would be a cool perspective for an alternate video. I might want to make that someday.

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