Written by Lucky Wilbury
and Charlie T. Wilbury, Jr.
and performed by their band of musical siblings
, Tweeter And The Monkey Man
to the fact that Bruce Springsteen
was considered 'the new Dylan
' on his debut
by jamming every Springsteen cliche
they could think of into a song that Lucky
sings. The brothers
made it even more obvious
several of Bruce
's song titles in the lyrics
The song itself takes place somewhere near New Jersey. Most of the references Wilbury makes are to places in North and Central Jersey: Rahway and Jersey City, New Jersey are the only places explicitly mentioned. The "souvenir stand by the old abandoned factory" is probably in Asbury Park, or at least the romanticised version which Springsteen sings about.
and the Monkey Man
are the titular characters, a couple of small-time drug dealer
s looking to expand their horizons
by crossing from their unnamed home state
into the lawless lands
of Jersey. Tweeter was a fine upstanding citizen
until, like he who was Born in the U.S.A.
, he returned home from Vietnam
and "found out the hard way that nobody gives a damn
". The Monkey Man has a far more checkered past
, as we will see. The two steal a car
and are on their way.
(The song makes reference to a "Highway 99" as their main route; however, there is no Highway 99 in New Jersey. Interstate 99, in the middle of Pennsylvania, is the result of bad politics, but A) it's nowhere near Jersey; B) Springsteen didn't sing often about stupid political decisions; C) it happened in 1991, three years after this album was released. However, there is a Springsteen song, "Johnny 99", about a petty criminal. This could be the reference, or it could be Highway 9 which runs by Springsteen's old neighborhoods and shows up a lot in his earlier songs. Or it could just be a nice rhyme. On the other hand, said interstate runs near Jersey Shore, PA. Which is nowhere near the Jersey Shore.)
Unbeknownst to our heroes, one of their major customers is a police officer working undercover and apparently blessed with a jurisdiction which spans several states. Further complicating the plot is the unnamed cop's sister, Jan, who is in love with the Monkey Man. The three obviously go back a way; "even back in childhood, he wanted to see him in the can". Jan, as do many Springsteen protagonists, married young, to a "racketeer named Bill" who at least was doing fairly well for himself, as the couple lived in a "Mansion on the Hill"
The dealers soon find themselves in what appears to be a Gangster's Paradise, reaching it by way of Thunder Road (which Springsteen indeed promised would take them to The Promised Land). Unfortunately, they were tailed by the cop, who brought state troopers with him. Tweeter kills the trooper and the two tie the cop to a tree and make their escape.
Driving north, they are forced to abandon their car near Rahway Prison. As the cop closes in on them, his sister somehow senses the approaching danger. She arms herself to defend her secret lover, quietly reassures her husband, and heads downhill. By the time she arrives, the undercover cop is dead, and the Monkey Man is engaged in a last stand. He uses his erstwhile partner, perhaps already dead, as a human shield, and holds off the oncoming forces from his perch on a bridge over the Rahway river.
The scene changes to a bar in Jersey City, where the narrator sits, presumably with his brothers. All that is known of the exploits of the gangster duo is that the Monkey Man was mentioned on the news one night, which incensed the patrons to the point of destroying the TV. The narrator then expresses disgust with the state of the world and proclaims, like many of Springsteen's characters, that "there ain't no more opportunity here, everything been done". And the walls come down...
It is worth noticing that Wilbury
also takes his garbled pronunciation
to an extreme
here, pronouncing "state trooper" as "stray troopa" and nasalising
nearly every vowel
into a y
. Admittedly, this wasn't the greatest of times for him vocally
, but this is almost self-parody
. He also changes Tweeter's gender
randomly throughout the song (often on the same line
), lending a strange subtext
to the song. But that may be reading too much into it.
are titles of Springsteen songs mentioned in the lyrics. Italicised lines
are direct quotes from the song. And now presented to you CST Approved