In the weeks leading up to the release date of Shut Down Strangers & Hot Rod Angels, I'll be featuring some of the pieces and authors here on the blog! Our seventh feature is Ellie Campbell and her story "Rosalita's Gonna Bust This City in Half."
Ellie Campbell is an ace writer, teacher, lawyer, librarian, and labor organizer. She is from Anniston, Alabama, and wrote this story while moving from Oxford, Mississippi, to Carrboro, North Carolina.
Which Springsteen song(s) inspired your story?
It's pretty obvious that "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)" is a direct inspiration for this story. I've loved "Rosalita" since the first time I heard it - it was the fall of 2000 and I was a freshman in college and I used to play it on repeat in the costume shop in the campus theater department, and my shop director would get mad that I didn't like "Sandy" as much. I love the portrait it paints of all the people in the song, and I used to imagine that they were my friends, too, and that I got to run around town with them.
Also his cover of Eddie Floyd's "Raise Your Hand" from the Live 75-85 box set, for how it incorporates 60s Southern soul, references the Civil Rights Movement, and models a kind of collective action, but adapts it for a different vernacular.
Beyond "Rosalita" and "Raise Your Hand," the story was inspired by themes that run through a lot of Springsteen's songs - friendship and companionship, growing up in a dying town and how that affects how you see the world, trying to move from that towards finding a better and more open way to live.
What is it about these songs in particular and/or Bruce’s music in general that inspires you?
Not forgetting the past but not being beholden to it. Holding the joy and the pain of living simultaneously. Finding a way to grow old without losing yourself. Constantly expanding the vision of what America is and who it can be. Reminding myself, as the Hold Steady once said in an album that sounded very much like Springsteen, that we can all be something bigger. Love and trust and friends and hammers.
What five Springsteen songs do you think everyone should listen to? (This list can include the song(s) that inspired your story, but doesn’t have to.)
I've already gone on about "Rosalita," so I'll pick five more.
1) Glory Days - In my head, this is the quintessential Springsteen song, which I realize is a product of my own experience and probably not accurate for anyone else, but also I don't care. I love this song so much - mostly the guitar parts - but I couldn't listen to it for most of high school because I was so afraid I would end up like its characters. Thankful to have moved past that!
2) I'm On Fire - I've weirdly proud of the joke about this song I worked into the story. I also love this one so much but, like my narrator, genuinely have no idea what he's talking about.
3) Born In the USA - Listen to the words, y'all! I cannot tell you how many times I have had to explain to people that this is a song about Vietnam, and about how badly the U.S. treated its veterans in the wake of that war. My father barely escaped getting drafted by joining the Army Reserve, and my mother grew up an Army brat, so many of her high school classmates followed their fathers into service and died in Vietnam. This song, and my teenage obsession with 60s rock and watching the Woodstock documentary on repeat, meant that war was a reality to me in ways that I've come to realize it wasn't for others.
Much like "Glory Days," the older I get, the more I appreciate how joyful this song manages to be in spite of the pain and disappointment it expresses.
4) She's the One - The first time I realized that the album cuts were as good as the singles, though this could be said for pretty much all of Born to Run.
5) Mary's Place - I actually really love The Rising. I was in a terrible job the summer it came out and didn't do much beyond work and listen to music, so I played that album a lot. It's so weird to think about that time now - less than a year after 9/11. I found out later that he pulled parts of this song directly from a Sam Cooke song, also called "Mary's Place," which you should all go listen to right now. One of the things I love most about Springsteen - and that I tried to capture in this story - is that his music so often is of a particular time and place, reminds me of a time and place from my own life, encompasses a past and history while trying to find a way out of it, and is somehow bigger than all of those things at once.
6) For a bonus sixth song, I will tell you my least favorite Springsteen song, which is "My Hometown." Because I vastly over identify with it. I cannot listen to it. My hometown is dying in much the same way and has not and probably will not ever come back. I've only seen Springsteen in concert once - actually in Birmingham, AL - and he played this song, and when he played this song he brought Emmylou Harris out to sing it with him, and I love her too and she is from Birmingham, and I still got up and went to the bathroom because I just cannot. It is too sad.
What’s your favorite line/section from this story?
The last paragraph is my prayer for Birmingham, and probably for myself as well. And I'm happy to have worked in a reference to Joe Strummer, because there's a lot of the Clash's DNA in this story, too.
Anything else you’d like to say, either about Bruce or about your story?
Most of the places in the story are actually real. I am not a good enough writer to make them up! If you're ever in Birmingham, there is indeed great drag at Al's on Seventh. Go see Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires at the Nick if you can, and anybody else at the Nick if you can't. Throw some support to the Birmingham DSA or Southerners on New Ground or the Magic City Acceptance Center or the Invisible Histories Project or TAKE (Transgender Advocates Knowledgable Empowering) or HICA (Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama) or any one of the many other groups doing the real work that I only imagine here.