Been listening to the song from 6/8/84 today and tonight and for the first time ever (I think) I caught what are clearly massively important words that have always passed me by.
"a sawed off 4.10 on my lap"
I don't know if I've been zoning out or mishearing every time Bruce has sang those final three words, but tonight I did neither and it's changed how I perceive the song quite a bit - I expect you all know where I'm going with this.
What I've never misheard or zoned out for in the past is the lyric, "you make sure my pretty baby is sittin' right there on my lap", and I've always heard it as this unrepentant antagonist not wanting to take sole blame and damnation for his sins. Yeah, he's in love with this woman he murdered innocent people with, but he really couldn't care less about her and if he's going to get his neck snapped back she sure as hell better get hers too.
Tonight I put two and two together, though, and realised it's not this woman he wants to die with, but his 4.10, because he's insane. He's long lost all sanity and, in what's left of his mind, his true love is the shotgun he had his fun with.
Sorry if I've wasted your time/annoyed you in writing a relatively lengthy post about something you've known since 1982 (or whenever you first heard the song), I just felt ashamed of my ignorance and fascinated by my realisation, and had to quickly talk about this.
Bruce didn't learn to drive until relatively late. He would've had trouble getting the bodies to the woods to bury them😎
I remember, from interviews or between song banter, Bruce (jokingly?) saying that he probably would have turned into a serial killer if he didn't became a rock star. And he sure shows a lot of fascination for murderers of different kinds.
Fascinating song. One of his best and it sheds light on that isolated feeling he wrote about through out that record. That idea that without a connection to the community you get lost and the rules get thrown out the window. I read that Starkweather felt like he was untouchable after his first murder. That untethering must have been in Bruce's mind to be connected to his isolation after the success of the Tour in 80/81, He was alone on that farm and those ideas came to mind.
Charles Starkweather's quote:
I had hated and been hated. I had my little world to keep alive as long as possible and my gun. That was my answer.
I still think the second use of the in my lap line refers to the girl, but you raise an interesting point @Mario Brega. Bruce is pretty pedantic with his language and the repetition of the phrase must be deliberate. Perhaps the intention is to highlight that the protagonist has no feelings towards the girl... in his mind, the gun in his lap and the girl in his lap are no different, he has no deeper connection to a fellow human than to a piece of metal.
With the typical male arrogance of criminals like Starkweather, there is no doubt in my mind he wanted the girl to die, too. For heaven's sake, he killed people and enjoyed it (""having us some fun"), and probably she did as well. It just fits his mindset that he thought she should die along with him.
She was almost a kid still, and impressionable, and he probably dominated her with his macho actions and his gun. But when the game was over, he wanted her to take part of the blame.
I've spent some time googling the original story, ended up watching a documentary.
I've discovered that there's a site called Murderphedia...
This is interesting trivia.
The 1973 movie Badlands, starring Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek, was inspired by Starkweather's story. After seeing a poster for the movie in a theater lobby, Springsteen used the title for his 1978 song, but did not see it until 1980.
The Springsteen characters is notoriously known for refering to their women or "girls" as "pretty". "My pretty baby" is the girl. A guy in a Nick Cave song would most probably ask for his shot-gun in the lap when executed but this guy is bad Springsteen style and wants to go down with an under aged girl in his lap. (The actual girl was 14 years old at the time of the murders. )
I did and do believe it's her, not the shotgun, he's referring to in that second instance.
I too always thought of that line as he wanting the girl there. For some reason, it never sounded particularly loving or particularly vengeful. I always heard is a matter-of-fact thing, as if saying “we both did it, so it‘s only logical that she’s right there with me”.
It is widely believed that Charles Starkweather was resentful that he was to be executed but Caril Fugate was not. Fugate claimed that she was Starkweather's hostage. Starkweather disputed this. Bruce talked to the journalist who wrote a book on the killing spree so I think it is deliberate when he writes "me and her went for a ride sir and ten innocent people died". The rest of the time it is "I" but the song makes it clear (from the first person perspective) that she was a willing companion.Therefore it is Fugate he wants on his lap which also reflects the the warped sexual relationship between the two.
As a sidebar, how brave or at least challenging for Bruce to write a song from the perspective of a particularly notorious serial killer. Something he has demonstrated since,
First off, don't put yourself down! Your interpretations are always interesting. Oddly enough, I listened to Nebraska yesterday as well. I have always assumed the 'pretty baby' was the girl and I'm not sure what I thought about that. Did he just not care, or did he love her and wanted them to die together? Now you have put that idea in my head, it does fit.
GREAT catch. Never thought of it that way myself, but it fits nicely.