A few years ago, my brother-in-law handed me Springsteen’s Nebraska, simply telling me that I “needed this.” He is one of my Unquestionable Musical Directors, so I slid it in the car’s CD player to get acquainted. And I immediately heard what Tim heard: heartfelt songs of longing and pain. Stories of people with “debts no honest man could pay”, trying to find their way through this life. Songs, to quote our dear Aunt Faye, that are “real sad.” I loved, it, but for some reason I left it there.
But after finally submitting to extensive podcast pestering by Springsteen loyalist Doug Pagitt, I decided to dive back in with some fresh music for my workin’ man’s remodeling project next door. In between screaming saw cuts, whining screw guns, and pounding nails, I’ve fallen in love.
The Rising is an album that was begun shortly after 9/11, and includes some adaptations of true stories of victims and survivors of the attacks in New York. As such, it is moving and powerful in its bitter realism and vivid depiction of death and loss. But what struck me even more was how after several listens, a strong sense of hope came to the fore, binding all 15 songs together. Not optimism exactly, but hope. A hope that somehow includes and encompasses the pain, then rises above it.
But even better is the more recent Devils and Dust. I’d heard the title track a few times, and loved it for its visceral description of moral ambiguity and swirling decision-making in the desert of the Middle East. The chorus:
I got God on my side
I’m just trying to survive
What if what you do to survive
Kills the things you love
Fear’s a powerful thing
It can turn your heart black you can trust
It’ll take your God filled soul
And fill it with devils and dust
But I was blown away by the depth and breadth of the other songs here, too. ‘Metamoros Banks’ is a lament from a departed soul, ‘Black Cowboys’ is a touching story of an escape from the inner city, and ‘The Hitter’ is a shot to the gut from the dark side of life. Never at a loss for words or metaphors, Springsteen will often give away the best lines of a song in the introduction, rather than saving them for the climax or resolution. Which keeps the listener on our toes, also serves to spare us of any flimsy happy endings.
But good as the rest of the album is, Long Time Comin’ might just be my new anthem for life, with powerful turn after turn of phrase, but perhaps none better than this:
Tonight I’m gonna get birth naked and bury my old soul
And dance on its grave
It’s a beautiful world, shot through with pain and hope and yearning for more, and Bruce makes me want to embrace the whole lovely mix. Next up is the Seeger Sessions and Darkness on the Edge of Town. Or Magic, whichever comes first.
Posted in: Springsteen