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Bruce Springsteen: Rising Up Out of the Darkness

Bruce Springsteen: Rising Up Out of the Darkness

By Anthony Kuzminski

Four-years ago today, I sent out my first review under the moniker of “The Screen Door”. For those of you who always wondered where it came from, it’s a lyric from one of my favorite Springsteen songs (“Thunder Road”). However, besides the Springsteen connection, I felt it was the perfect name for covering both music and movies. Over the last few years I believe I’ve written close to one-hundred articles which hopefully gave insight and how art has the power to heal, shelter, confront and escape the world. When I sit down to write, I merely want to express what I’m feeling and if I have done my job properly, one or two people will walk away with a new appreciation or perspective.

Recently, with the release of two movies; “United 93” and “World Trade Center” I have seen numerous people shun these two films for various reasons. For some, they are simply too close to the events to sit down and watch them…which is completely understandable. However, having seen both films, I can tell you that directors Paul Greengrass and Oliver Stone exceeded expectations by paying tribute to those who made great sacrifices on that tragic day. Both of these films honor their subjects and I’m glad these films exist as these stories are preserved for future generations. Despite the dark moods of both of these films, in the end, I walked away seeing more light than darkness as I was reminded of the good in everyday people. While films like these may be depressing, they help me make sense of these tragic events and it serves as a reminder to truly cherish those people whom I am blessed to have in my life. Sometimes it takes a film, album, song and even a simple lyric to tug on your heart and give you perspective.

While I don’t have the strength to truly give “United 93” and “World Trade Center” their due, I did write an article four-years ago today that is relevant to these two films and how art can heal. Bruce Springsteen released The Rising in July of 2002, just shy of the first anniversary of 9/11. What you will find below was the first major in-depth review I ever wrote and one I am still proud of. Aside from a few grammatical errors I fixed, I left the piece largely untouched. There are a few songs which resonate even stronger today and a few less, but none of that matters because during a very specific period, the album was a source of comfort to many, including myself, and should still be viewed as a compelling set of anthems despite largely being written in the shadows of 9/11. While some world events are too devastating to be reminded of, I find solace in art because not only does it remind me of how blessed I am, but it makes me realize how precious life truly is.

Anthony Kuzminski
August 22, 2006

May the living let us in, before the dead tear us apart-“Worlds Apart”

Preeminent music stirs your soul. Significant art has a way of communicating things that we, as humans, sometimes have tribulations communicating ourselves. This is simply a fact of life. People often have a high regard for influential art because it is an expression of the artist’s psyche. However, when it comes to their own lives it is often complicated to express those feelings and in many cases, to make sense of them. The landscape of music the last few years have been like a desert. We have searched for something to satiate our thirst, yet when we reach the other side, we become conscious that there is nothing to drink but sand, which we imbibe anyways because it’s our only choice.

The drought is now over…E Street is back on track…with the arrival of Bruce Springsteen’sThe Rising. Out of the darkness has emerged an album of devastation, uncertainty, redemption, hope and resurrection. It is a carefully structured album with every song being essential and fitting to its place on the album. Springsteen has somehow managed to make sense of traumatic events that encompass our lives with 73 minutes that will move you and somehow bring tranquility to the soul.

Springsteen was the last of the blessed trinity that defines American rock ‘n roll. First came Elvis who shook your hips, and then Dylan came who stimulated the soul. By the time Springsteen released . Born To Run in 1975, it was evident that he was the first rocker to stir your body like Elvis and satiate your soul with Dylan-like poeticism. Very few performers can evoke such personal reactions from their fans the way Bruce can. His classic albums Born To Run and Darkness On The Edge of Town are scripture to me. These two albums defined his spot in the trinity of great American rock n’ roll. The characters and their hopes, dreams and struggles are mine. No other musician has been able to profoundly tell stories about ordinary people the way Springsteen can. He makes everyday people’s lives seem extraordinary.

The Rising .is a triumph in expressing and empathizing emotions. We are living in problematic times and Springsteen has somehow managed to take these feelings we all experience and has crafted fifteen songs for us. His words extend into one’s soul than most men of the cloth. This is an album that all other albums can be judged by. It’s a triumph in its heartfelt meaning and better yet, its music evokes a sense of community rarely felt. These songs have resonated with me more than any other album in quite some time. More importantly, while listening to the disc, I don't cogitate about these songs...I feel them. This may very well be Springsteen's best-constructed album ever and easily his best since Tunnel of Love back in 1987. This is an album brewing over with emotion.

What makes The Rising different from his albums of the last fifteen years is that Springsteen has finally recorded an album of new material with the E Street Band. While Springsteen is easily one of the best storytellers around, he is always in peak form when his “Blood Brothers” are backing him. The themes on this album are ones he has only touched on briefly since disbanding the E Street band in the late 80's. His follow-up albums, Human Touch and Lucky Town, were largely relationship based. He ventured back to social issues with "Streets of Philadelphia" and The Ghost of Tom Joad, but those were both largely solo affairs, that the average person could not connect with. Springsteen has returned to what he does best, preaching to the masses backed by his homegrown choir, the E Street Band! For the last twenty years he has used them in a limited role. This is not necessarily a bad thing, he has made some incredible albums with them in a restricted role ( Tunnel of Love) and others with them virtually missing ( Nebraska and Lucky Town). However, he also made an album that could have been improved upon by their participation ( Human Touch).

Bringing the E Street back into the fold has helped Springsteen’s writing. His topics are broader than most of his work from the last fifteen years. More importantly, they have fleshed out these songs. His two solo albums in ’92 lacked the extra punch the E Street Band may have given them. Human Touch was an album that fell flat mostly because of it’s slick production style, whereas the greatly under appreciated Lucky Town suffered from the opposite effect, it was under produced. Lucky Town may be his most personal album and arguably some of the best songs he has ever written came from it (“If I Should Fall Behind” & “Living Proof”) but at the end of the day, it is essentially an elaborate home demo.

If Bruce had decided to take the songs from The Rising down the same road as he did with Joad, this would have been a tough album to listen to. However, the E Street Band ventilates life to these songs. Instead of hearing defeat, you hear victory through Max Weinberg’s roaring drums, Clarence Clemons’s earnest saxophone, Steve Van Zandt’s evocative backing vocals, Nils Lofgren’s scrupulous guitar playing, Garry Tallent’s driving beat, Patti Scialfa’s harmonious and enduring voice, new member Soozie Tyrell adds color to the harmonies with her violin, Danny Federici’s expressive organ playing and the fleshing out of melodies by Roy Bittan. They turn these songs from ones that could have been about a downfall into conquest.

All of these instruments are brought together by the visualization of producer Brendan O’Brien, who has previously worked with Rage Against The Machine, Stone Temple Pilots, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Pearl Jam. For my money, he produced what may have been the best album of the 1990’s, Pearl Jam’s Vs. He has also helped Springsteen, an artist thirty years into his profession; once again make a career-defining album. This is something that very few great artists have been able to do twenty years into their calling. In my opinion, only U2 ( All That You Can’t Leave Behind) and Bob Dylan ( Oh Mercy, Time Out of Mind & Love and Theft) have made albums in the latter part of their career that can be the equivalent of their earlier music. The E Street sound is updated without alienating the core fan base. They were pushed further than they have ever gone before and the end result is a harmonious sounding album in which the ambiance is resonant.

Many people have spoken of how this album is a bit all over the map in terms of sound and structure; nothing could be further from the truth. It may appear that way on an initial listen, but you have to listen closer. Springsteen has chosen to take 15 songs to tell a story in the same way a director piece together a film from numerous scenes. Some scenes work better in the context of the whole film, which is true of a few songs on The Rising. By themselves, they may fall flat on first listen, but within the framework of the album, not one song could be sacrificed. One must listen to this album from beginning to end, mush in the same way you will read a book.

Being Catholic has affected Springsteen’s life and work the same way it has affected director Martin Scorsese. Neither may be practicing Catholics, but the tones of their work are defined by this religion, which was tattooed on their souls as children. Whereas maybe Scorsese’s films are a too much Good Friday and not enough Easter Sunday, Springsteen finds the perfect balance empathizing a resurrection at the end.

Springsteen broke the album up into three sections: Good Friday, Holy Saturday and the Resurrection...Easter Sunday. The album is split into fifteen chapters with each one telling a different story. It is rare that you have a piece of music that is more like a piece of cinema rather than fifteen individual tracks. The summation of the albums parts adds up to more than each song by itself. You will have to listen to it a few times for it to resonate in your thoughts and emotions.

Part I: Good Friday

Let kingdom come, I'm gonna find my way, Yeah, through this lonesome day - Lonesome Day

When Christ died on the cross, those devoted to him could think about nothing other than tremendous anguish. Little did they know, the three days later, he would rise from the dead. He sacrificed himself to cleanse the world of its sins. In the past year we have witnessed great tragedies much like those of Good Friday. Average ordinary people have made extraordinary sacrifices. In the midst of a tragedy, we try to make sense of what is going on and how long that feeling of hopelessness will stick with us.

The first five songs on The Rising deal with misfortune and heartbreak. The characters in these songs are trying to find their way through the wreckage of their personal lives. In “Lonesome Day” the narrator simply tries to tell themselves that it will all be all right if they can just make it through the day. “Waiting On A Sunny Day” is a song that reminds me of “Hungry Heart”, a great big hook and radio ready song, but with dark lyrics; “It's rainin' but there ain't a cloud in the sky Must of been a tear from your eye”. The voice in “Nothing Man” is someone who has become a hero through surviving a tragedy. They did not save anyone or do anything, but has become a hero through survival. His guilt leads him to despair and an identity crisis. What is arguably the most powerful song on the album, “Into The Fire”, is about a wife trying to make sense of the death of her husband, a fireman.

I need your kiss, but love and duty called you someplace higher Somewhere up the stairs, into the fire

This first group of songs tries to make sense of the tragedies in our lives whether it is alienation, loss of hope or death. Much like Christ’s followers, the pain clouds the light at the end of the tunnel. The good news is that, there is always tomorrow.

Part II: Holy Saturday

The day in between Good Friday and Easter Sunday is one of reflection for most Catholics. For the characters in the Rising, this is where they take stock of their lives. They have come to the realization of their specific tragedy and are deciding where to go from there.

I woke up this morning
I could barely breathe
Just an empty impression
In the bed there you used to be
-“Empty Sky”

The images Springsteen paints with his music are greater than any painting ever could be. The emptiness of someone missing from your life (“Empty Sky”); lovers divided by society (“Worlds Apart”); reconciliation (“Let’s Be Friends”), to the release of sexual energies as remedy (“The Fuse”), these songs are all about trying to delineate where you are in your life, how to find reprieve from our predicament and most importantly and where we want to go.

Now I’ve been out in the desert, just doin' my time
Searching through the dust, looking for a sign
If there's a light up ahead, well brother I don't know
But I got this fever, burnin’ in my soul
So let's take the good times as they go
And I'll meet you further on up the road
-“Further On Up The Road”

Part III: Easter Sunday And on the third day…Christ rose from the dead. The Holy Weekend is the most important time in the Catholic Church. It’s a time of celebration for the savior has risen. This final section of The Rising is, for my money, some of the best songs Springsteen and the E Street Band have ever laid to tape. These songs are the culmination of resurrection. Poetically speaking, it may not be as triumphant as Christ rising from the dead, but you would never notice from listening to the E Street Band roll their way through these five hymns.

“Mary’s Place” is a song that many fans felt was out of place on an album of reflection and redemption. However, it’s essential to this album. It’s about friends gathering together to possibly remember a loved one who has passed on.

Familiar faces around me
Laughter fills the air
Your loving grace surrounds me
Everybody's here
Furniture's out on the front porch
Music's up loud
I dream of you in my arms
I lose myself in the crowd

It ends with the triumphant chant of “Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain, let it rain, let it rain”. This is the turning point on the album. Not only is it celebratory in its sound, a throw back to the 70’s E Street Band, but also in its lyrics. These lost souls have not only taken stock of their lives, but have decided to rise above the grief and the sorrow.

The album takes a slight down turn with “You’re Missing”, a song about a loved one coming to the realization that her partner is not coming back and the need for her to get on with her life.

Picture's on the nightstand, TV's on in the den Your house is waiting . . . for you to walk in But you're missing, you're missing

However, the deep despair slowly rises into triumph and redemption with the title track of the album, “The Rising”. At first it may appear to be strange that the title track is buried near the end of this album, but it makes perfect sense. Here is the resurrection we have been hoping for. The E Street Band takes this song and brings gives you a feeling of triumph, hope and innocence that has not been felt since the opening notes of “Thunder Road” twenty-seven years earlier. It’s about a fireman who has lost his life and is now seeing visions of his life on his ascension.

There's spirits above and behind me Faces gone black, eyes burnin' bright May their precious blood bind me Lord, as I stand before your fiery light

It’s also no mistake that the only character Springsteen names throughout all fifteen songs is ‘Mary’. I believe the ‘Mary’ from “Mary’s Place” is the same one full of innocence and hope in “Thunder Road”. It’s essential that these songs be placed at the end of this album. The innocence of “Thunder Road” is gone-Springsteen’s characters grew up fast and they soon realized there is a very cold and harsh world out there to be dealt with. It brings Springsteen’s cannon of songs full circle back to a hymn of hope and redemption…yet looking and moving forward to the future at the same time.

“Paradise” is an evocative song in which the E Street Band is largely absent. It’s a song that sound-wise would have fit in on The Ghost of Tom Joad album. While some people may find this to be a turn off, this is one of the most picturesque tracks Springsteen has ever recorded. It begins from the point of view of a suicide bomber who believes they will reach paradise by sacrificing their life. As the song continues, the voice is that of a widow who has lost her husband and has decided to join him in “Paradise” only to realize that suicide is not an answer.

I sink `neath the water cool and clear
Drifting down, I disappear
I see you on the other side
I search for the peace in your eyes
But they're as empty as paradise
They're as empty as paradise
I break above the waves
I feel the sun upon my face

In the end, she chooses life. Despite all of the sorrow and pain, she realizes that life itself is a gift and gives us our greatest potential at “Paradise”. She can somehow see into the future and near the end of the long and winding tunnel, she sees a ray of light, something we too often don’t see during traumatic times.

The closing song on the album could be the recessional song at any religious ceremony, the stunning “My City of Ruins”. It’s a beautiful plea. The chanting chorus of “Come on, rise up” is as inspirational as any hymn ever composed. It’s about a community coming together to “rise up”. The sum of the people can outweigh grief and loneliness. It’s a fitting end for the album; these characters have been beaten down, yet they are optimistic and hopeful at the end. They feel there are better days to come. More importantly, they have decided to go down life’s road with vigor and passion even though they have been broken down. At life’s roughest moments, we have to look inward and find the strength to carry on. This is what The Rising is all about. Christ rose from the dead and continued on his mission. We need to continue on our mission as well.

While Springsteen may not be the savior like Christ was, he’s a great musical prophet preaching from the pulpit with electric guitar in hand and the E Street Band by his side. Is there anything greater than a communal group of friends preaching faith, hope, love and redemption during times of struggle? This is an extraordinary album for its songs of loss, hope and triumph. Nobody can touch these themes like Bruce.

This is more than just an album; these are fifteen prayers we should take with us on our continued journey. Springsteen’s poetic voice has found its stride and he has matched it perfectly with melodies that enhance the mood and feelings of the words. It is rare to find a piece of art that can evoke feeling so strong that...it gives you a redeeming feeling. The songs and emotions on this album are nothing short of a miracle.

The Rising sums up the basic human condition, the desire for ‘human touch’. In our life, it is the associations that we make with other humans that define our life-not our jobs, or the money we make, but when all is said and done, it is those feelings we share with others that tell us we are not alone. The community of friends and family can overcome life’s obstacles. Artists like Springsteen create art and unleash it into this world for us to savor in the hope that we may take it and encompass it into our daily lives. Then it is more than just one man’s journey, but my journey, your journey and those whom we choose to share our lives with. May the people we love inspire us to become greater people and to make life worth living…and on may we rise to the occasion of celebrating life right now, “Come on, rise up”!

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love
-“Into The Fire”