In recent years, Springsteen's themes have revolved around family and the redemption of the individual spirit, despite the disillusionment brought on by failed ideals. He's brought together the themes of Work, Family, and Saturday Night and has bound them with the basic human tenets of hope, faith, and community. He's developed a more subtle style of storytelling that allows listeners to paint their own details onto the broad, vivid backgrounds he provides.
During his solo Ghost of Tom Joad tour a few years back, Springsteen explained the philosophy behind his songs from the stage. "Faith and hope are our salvation, and they are found in the smallest actions of good people. Salvation is not an individual thing, but a collective one, and each of us is responsible for all others. Our mission is a search for beauty, and in beauty there is hope, and in hope there is some sense of divine love, of faith, of community and possibility, of things that would combat the brutality and the violence and the suffering."
The Rising is a collection of 15 songs and stories not so much directly about September 11 as it is about life in the context of September 11, painted onto that philosophical tapestry. It's a look at average Americans as humans who still search out joy despite suffering despair, who through will and determination face down the reality of death with the strength of faith in resurrection, and who rise up to be heroes simply by doing their jobs.
The album began with two songs that came fairly quickly to Springsteen, "Into The Fire" and "You're Missing." Springsteen had actually hoped to perform "Into The Fire" on the Tribute To Heroes telethon which was broadcast live on September 21, but he wasn't completely satisfied with it at the time. He chose to instead do "My City of Ruins," a song originally written about his old hometown of Asbury Park, but which fit post-9/11 NYC well and felt so right with its imploring chorus of "Come on and rise up." A studio version of "My City of Ruins" concludes The Rising.
There can be no doubt about what "Into The Fire" is about and how Springsteen feels from the very first words, "The sky was falling and streaked with blood / I heard you calling me then you disappeared into the dust / Up the stairs, into the fire / Up the stairs, into the fire / I need your kiss, but love and duty called you someplace higher / Somewhere up the stairs into the fire." Still, the repetitive chorus both lifts up and provides benediction, "May your strength give us strength / May your faith give us faith / May your hope give us hope / May your love give us love."
"The verses are the blues, the chorus is the gospel," Springsteen said in a rare interview with Jon Pareles of the New York Times. It's this Gospel-revival sense of hope that allows Springsteen to pull off a record about such a tragic subject without sounding opportunistic.
He mourns in the very Lennon-esque "You're Missing," a song which sounds sort of like "Streets of Philadelphia" meets the Beatles' "Blue Jay Way" ("Your house is waiting for you to walk in / But you're missing / When I shut out the lights you're missing / When I close my eyes you're missing / When I see the sunrise you're missing"). But he also celebrates life in the joyous "Mary's Place," and defines it perfectly in the title song as "A catfish dancin' on the end of my line" -- the joy in life being the struggle, not so much the reeling it in; a joy is not diminished if the fish breaks away too early, it's only vitiated by a refusal to fight.
When he was getting ready to do a new record with the E Street Band last year, Springsteen learned that producer Brendan O'Brien (Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine, among others) had expressed an interest in working with him and the band. They got together, did some preliminary things, and hit it off well.
In the Pareles interview, Springsteen related that working with O'Brien was "inspirational" and that he hadn't felt a similar electricity since he first worked with Jon Landau on Born to Run. "It was somebody brand new who was excited about what we could do together. . .You're just looking and searching to see how you could WOW the other guy. It was just fun." He described O'Brien as a "catalyst" who helped bring things together quickly. That much is apparent since this record came together in several weeks, rather than the several months or even years previous efforts had taken.
O'Brien brings a new sound to the E Street Band. Said Springsteen, ""The sound is very recognizable and very different. If you have all of our other records, you don't have this one. We picked up the level of intensity. I can't wait for people to hear this record."
While the production is different, Springsteen's approach to playing hasn't changed. He and the band sound tighter and more polished than ever and you can sense the work-ethic energy level.
Springsteen's writing, though deceptively simple, may in fact be some of his best lyrical writing in years. He goes down some new sonic roads, too, with songs that embrace a broad range of styles from the expected rock and soul to world music to country to the aforementioned John Lennon influence.
The Rising has the potential to match or exceed any of Springsteen's considerable past accomplishments. Sony is clearly behind the record with a new and proven producer who's given a crisp hone to what was already a razor sharp band. Springsteen's writing is some of the best he's ever created, and he's approached a difficult topic with insight and compassion without a hint of treacle.
Which brings us back to the original question, why call it "The Rising"?
On this record, Springsteen's stories and characters show us that no matter how evil or sad or despairing a situation, human hope and faith give us cause to rise up. Human bravery and courage cause us to rise up. Selflessness and community cause us to rise up. There's a nobility in the everyday work we do, whether it involves running into a burning building when everyone else is running out, playing guitar in a rock & roll band, or being a clerk who does his best to provide for his family. At our best, we provide salvation not only for ourselves, but for our families and our neighbors. I can't imagine a stronger artistic statement.
A barnstorming arena tour opens August 7 in New Jersey with 39 shows scheduled in 39 cities (he visits Greensboro on November 16, Tampa on November 24, Atlanta on December 2, and Charlotte on December 8). Kicking off the release of The Rising, Springsteen and the E Street Band are to appear on Letterman August 1. Next year, they venture to Australia and then back to Europe before coming back to the US for a series of multi-night shows in major cities through the summer of 2003.
Gene Lazo is proud to be a native of the great state of New Jersey and can be reached via email at GeneYouIgnorantSlut@Yahoo.com