Please Don’t Stop Me
Bruce Springsteen, Lana Del Rey, and Race in Americana
I’m on the light rail to the Mall of America listening to “Ride.” Lana Del Rey’s throaty croon in my ear, the flat winter-gray grids of suburban Minnesota sliding past, birds flying high, riding a chill breeze I can’t feel. I’m excited to get to the mall, and disturbed by my excitement. I don’t often go to the Mall of America. Two and a half years ago, I attended a Black Lives Matter protest there, where hundreds of us chanted and sang in the rotunda.
I lay down on the sleek, cold ground of the Mall floor as we staged a die-in. I later attended the court hearing for the organizers of this protest, in solidarity and support. I didn’t return to the Mall of America until several months later, when my friend suggested we go. I’ll go, I said to myself, but I won’t buy anything. I came back a couple times in the winter, when I wanted to be able to take a long walk in a climate-controlled environment. Each level of the Mall is a 0.57 mile lap. And, as its website boasts, it’s exactly seventy degrees, “whether its [sic] spring, summer, winter, or fall.” Perhaps that’s why I was returning again and again as if bewitched. The slick consistency, the sheen of seasonlessness. You don’t have to buy anything at the Mall to enjoy its sunlights, its endless corridors, its opportunities for people-watching. Its genius is that you inevitably do.
I usually ended up getting a cup of coffee from one of the several Starbucks or Caribou. These gateway purchases enabled others: a shirt from Ragstock, a meal from a sushi restaurant. Now I’m on my way to buy a swimsuit. A year ago, the idea would have been offensive to me.
I’ve got a war in my mind, Lana is singing, so I just ride... There are only a handful of us left in this train car. After a certain point on the route, everyone who’s going somewhere else in Minneapolis deboards. Now it’s just me and teenagers and several of the Mall’s eleven thousand employees. Everyone else who goes to the Mall drives there. There are 12,550 parking spots in two parking ramps.
“Ride” ends and the next track begins: “American.” Lana singing Springsteen is the king, don’t you think? I’d seen The Boss live, a few weeks ago. I went by myself, up in the nosebleed seats, surrounded by people my parents’ age. Everyone was white, except for me. I’m Asian, and a woman, and alone, and I found myself wondering why I was there. I was literally not Born In The USA. I wouldn’t have even started listening to Springsteen if I hadn’t borrowed my mom’s car last year. Driving is a prerequisite to listening to his music. Top 40 belongs to the club; Springsteen belongs to the road.
When I saw Bruce and Lana Del Rey were performing together at the Rock Werchter festival, at first I was surprised. Lana sings about cocaine and champagne. Springsteen sings about hard work and family values. She’s cynical; he’s idealistic. She’s wealthy; he’s working class. But then I remembered the music video responsible for Lana’s break-out fame: “Video Games,” the fuzzy clips of American flags spliced together with teens jumping into pools and boys driving their girls around on motorcycles. And her more recent song, “Ride,” the one I’d been listening to on the train, where she makes out with an aging biker and wears a misappropriated Native American headdress.
If Bruce and Lana were two circles on a Venn Diagram, the intersecting area would say, in all-caps: DRIVING. Which itself evokes a thistly, windblown cluster of other words: Americana. Lonely. Frontier. Pioneer. Escape. Lost. Freedom.
On my way into the Springsteen concert, my steel-toed boots set off the metal detector, an occurrence I found funny and fitting at the time. It was a relic from last summer. I’d just gotten back to Minnesota from a job as a deckhand and educator aboard an eighty-foot schooner. My duties included everything from teaching science labs to scrubbing the deck on my hands and knees, hauling line, and sponging out the bilges. After we took the boat out of the water, we spent long days sanding the paint from the hull, and then repainting it. We wore kneepads and safety glasses and masks over our mouths. I had my crewmate take a photo of me, covered in red paint dust, respirator and poncho on, carrying three Shop-Vacs across the boatyard. Later, I posed next to an abandoned semi-truck. I uploaded these photos to Instagram. “You’re so cool,” my friends all commented, heart eyes emoji!