I've been a Patti Scialfa fan since she married my all-time favorite rocker Bruce Springsteen, at first mostly because she was a Jersey girl of his own after the breakup of his head-scratching marriage to actress Julianne Phillips. Seeing them singing and playing together in the E Street Band, you could see the connection between the guy who gave us "Born to Run" and the girl who named her brilliant and touching first album Rumble Doll.
But now, race fans, there's even more reason to love Patti Scialfa. Her new album, Play It As It Lays, contains a track, "Run Run Run," inspired by NHRA Drag Racing legend Shirley Muldowney. The opening line: "Shirley Muldowney, well that's my name, spinning down the road with a fistful of flames ..."
A girl driving dragsters is a sister of mine
Spin my motor over down that long straight line
I may be soft to the touch but I must confess
I'm hard underneath this speeding success.
That the wife of the guy who sang to us about 396s with fuelie heads and being chrome-wheeled and fuel injected on Highway 9 would dig racing is no surprise considering that "the Boss" has been a more than infrequent visitor to Old Bridge Township Raceway Park over the years. It's where, despite attending dozens of his concerts, I had my only meeting with him one memorable Summernationals Saturday.
Recalls Scialfa of the song's birth, inspired by Muldowney's 2003 visit to Raceway Park, "We used to take the kids there every summer when they were really young because they had this thing called a Robosaurus, a gigantic monstrosity three stories high on wheels that eats cars and shoots flames out of its mouth. The last time we were there, they brought Shirley Muldowney out. She’s the greatest female race driver of all time. This was like her last race and I was really inspired by her and wrote down all these lyrics on beer napkins. I stuffed them in my pocket and forgot about it. Then when I was doing my record, I was cleaning out some drawers and found them and remembered I wanted to do something with them. She was such a strong and fascinating character. I’m also a huge fan of Wanda Jackson, who sang unapologetically about strength and sexuality. So I thought let’s make a fun rocking song about Shirley Muldowney."
Scialfa also uses other strong women as themes throughout the album, including singer Aretha Franklin, poet Sylvia Plath, and author Joan Didion.
"I didn't realize I'd done that, believe me!" she told AP, laughing about the seemingly mismatched group. "I just like strong women. No matter how old you are, you still need your role models."
Meanwhile, the rest of us Bruce "tramps" are eagerly awaiting his new album, Magic, due in stores Oct. 2. It's his return to rocking after the somber 9/11-inspired The Rising, the moody Devils & Dust, and his folk-music explorations in The Seeger Sessions, so I'm hoping for an album full of Magic Rats and Thunder Roads.
This just in: I reached out to my longtime friend Shirley to see if she knew about the song, and, surprisingly, she did not. Below is a portion of her response: "That is such a compliment. Little did we know on that Wednesday night in E-town 2003 that the Springsteen family was in the stands. I only wish I would have known that ... they would have been on the starting line. I do remember that it was a standing-room-only crowd and that Jack Muldowney was also there to witness his first LIVE 300-plus-mph to come up on the board. He cried. "[This is] definitely a highlight in my career. If I must say so myself, this gives me even more of a 'push' to seal a deal for next season so that we can come back and shake up the competition. Having Mrs. Bruce Springsteen sing her newest song on the starting line next season would be a great way to start race day."