Earlier in this blog I posted Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia,” which I quote (with permission, which was fun in itself to get) in Holding Breath, and whose video I called (only partly in jest) “required watching” for anyone reading the book.
There’s a second Springsteen song on the book’s playlist–“For You,” which may have been the first song to really make me pay attention to Springsteen way back in 1973 when it came out on the album “Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.” (I was twelve at the time), or perhaps a few years later. I’d say that it’s my second-favorite Springsteen song (it was my first until I heard “Streets of Philadelphia”; “I’m On Fire” is also way up there on the list).
Of course it wasn’t until many years later, after I’d met, loved, and lost David, that I thought of “For You” in terms of my time with him. Not all of it applies, of course, but the lines about the ambulance and Bellevue (where David spent the last two nights of his life), and the one about salt on the tongue, always bring back those memories very clearly. Springsteen is really a poet, with a knack for the details that can smack me upside the head with recognition, and then make me smile or cry.
Here’s a video of the song:
I’d never heard this song–either the original version by Nine Inch Nails or this cover by Johnny Cash–until the latter somehow accidentally showed up on my iPod one day while I was going through some of the worst of my delayed grief, seventeen years after David passed away as a result of AIDS. Like “Streets of Philadelphia,” it knocked the breath out of me the first time I heard it (and often still does). I don’t know everything that was going through David’s mind during the last eight months of his life, but, like the lyrics of “Streets of Philadelphia,” the lyrics of “Hurt” (and the way Cash sings them, and the video itself) seem very likely to be the kinds of thoughts that a man–an almost lifelong heroin addict–who knows that he is dying might have.
Still, I will never see David’s life as an “empire of dirt”; I will always believe that it was worth much more than he had, I think, come to believe it was. As I write in Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days, “Like any life, it mattered.” That’s actually kind of the point of the book.
The song is here:
(Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days is available at:
Bruce Springsteen’s song, “Streets of Philadelphia,” had a LOT of emotional impact on me as I began to write Holding Breath–I mention it, and the video Springsteen made for it and the film (see below), several times. Not only are the lyrics almost eerily insightful into the mind of someone with full-blown AIDS back in the 1980’s, but in the video Springsteen looks so much like David did back when he could still walk the streets of New York (something he loved to do), that for a long time I couldn’t watch it without crying.
I’d almost call it “required watching” for anyone who reads the book. 🙂