The Pearson family have a few defining connective features: their love for the Steelers, their shared grief over the loss of superdad Jack Pearson, and now, in this week’s funeral episode, we learned of a mutual appreciation of Bruce Springsteen.
In the days before his sudden death, Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) bought tickets to a Springsteen show to surprise the entire family, and the concert ended up coinciding with the day of his funeral. It seemed his surprise might die with him, but in the last moments, Rebecca (Mandy Moore) and the Big Three were headed to see Bruce in Jack’s honor.
It’s not shocking that blue-collar working man and Vietnam vet Jack has a thing for the Boss. The two were practically made for each other (and it doesn’t hurt that Ventimiglia strongly resembles a young Springsteen and could easily play him in a biopic).
Moore told EW that she thinks “Thunder Road” was likely Jack and Rebecca’s favorite song (though we find it hard to believe Jack would ever tell her, “You’re not a beauty, but hey, you’re all right”), which got us wondering which Springsteen song best captures the essence of each This is Us character. So join us on this runaway American dream, because tramps like us, baby, we were born to dissect television characters and their musical counterparts.
Jack and Rebecca: “If I Should Fall Behind”
“We said we’d walk together, baby, come what may,” begins this beautiful love ballad that practically was written for a relationship like Jack and Rebecca’s. The tale of two lovers with different strides who wait for each other if they fall behind and travel side-by-side perfectly captures the realistic nature of Jack and Rebecca’s love and how hard they work to make their marriage a success. “If I should fall behind, wait for me.” We know Rebecca wishes she could, Jack (sob).
Jack: “Born in the USA”
This Vietnam protest song disguised as a patriotic rock anthem is surely Jack’s theme song. The tale of a Vietnam vet who lost a brother in the war after suffering a through a childhood like “a dog that’s been been beat too much” is all too familiar for the Pearson patriarch. It helps that the song is as complex and layered in its meanings as the man himself — he’s a “cool rockin’ daddy in the USA,” all right.
Young Rebecca: “Tougher Than the Rest”
While Rebecca always insists that Jack was the one who didn’t have to try as a parent, she’s the backbone of the family, possessing an inner strength that keeps the family and her marriage together through good times and bad. Jack fell in love with her spirit, which comes out in moments like the now infamous “Jack, get in the car!” scene. Rebecca is rough and ready for love — and indeed tougher than the rest.
Old Rebecca: “Secret Garden”
Death and grief change people, especially when the circumstances are as tragic and monumental as Jack’s sudden passing. Afterward, Rebecca leads her life with a hole in her heart that will never go away. She may have opened her heart to Miguel, but she has a host of secrets and pain she would never burden her family with — a secret garden she keeps locked away, if you will.
Kevin: “Hungry Heart”
Kevin is the king of avoidance, and there is perhaps no greater method of ignoring one’s problems than going out for a ride and never coming back. Like the hero of this song, Kevin takes what he has and rips it apart, all because he has a hungry heart, yearning to find peace and wholeness. He’s been facing his demons of late, so we can only hope that hungry heart soon finds a place to rest.
Kate: “Leap of Faith”
Kate’s entire life has been about taking a leap of faith in herself — in her voice, in her appearance, in love. Present-day Kate is working on trusting her heart (as the song says) and her relationship day after day.
Randall: “The Promised Land”
“Mister, I ain’t a boy, no I’m a man, and I believe in the promised land” is Randall to a T. While Kevin is arguably still a boy in many ways, Randall is a grown-up who has confronted his grief and identity crisis to make a better future — for himself, for his family, for the biological father he never knew growing up, and for the foster children he brings into his home. Though he arguably sometimes “feels so weak he just wants to explode,” in the end he always believes in that promised land. This song distills Randall’s unique blend of inner turmoil and kindness, optimism, and generosity.
Beth: “Cover Me”
A love song about someone who will shield you from the rough world outside and always have your back? Oh yeah, that’s Beth. Without question. She has covered Randall more times than we can count.
William: “Atlantic City”
Like Springsteen, William is a musician and a poet of the towns and milieus he inhabits. The lyrics of this New Jersey fable about winners and losers getting caught on the wrong side sound like something William might have written. Even more poignant, the refrain “Everything dies, baby that’s a fact, but baby everything that dies someday comes back” is an apt metaphor for William’s life — the people who exit and enter it, as well as the impact he left on others once he passed.
Toby: “Dancing in the Dark”
This song both captures Toby’s essence and feels like something he would try to dance to, alone, in the corner, when no one else wants to dance. You can’t start a fire without a spark, and he’s constantly trying to be the spark in Kate’s life, as well as turning to her for the same support to end to his feeling of being stuck in a rut.
Miguel: “Glory Days”
A man who calls on a beautiful woman after she’s lost her husband just to talk about the old times and laugh when they feel like crying — we see where you got your moves, Miguel. While the whole Pearson clan has romanticized Jack over time, nobody looks back more wistfully than Miguel when he’s talking about the good old glory days with a heavy whiff of nostalgia. And his bar adventures with the alternate Big Three sure feel like an attempt at recapturing something.
Sophie: “Brilliant Disguise”
“Is that you, baby, or just a brilliant disguise?” Sophie and Kevin probably both wonder this about each other at various points in their relationship. And though they’re “struggling to do everything right,” this sense of duplicity and inadequacy undercutting a love story is their tragic tale too.
Dr. K: “My Best Was Never Good Enough”
This song contains the lyric “If God gives you nothin’ but lemons, then you make some lemonade.” Obviously, it’s Dr. K’s theme song.
The Slow Cooker: “I’m on Fire”
I mean … yeah.