Springsteen’s The Rising

by Dave Marsh

I’ve avoided talking in detail about The Rising but not because there’s nothing left to say. To start with, someone needs to get around to the music and relating it to Springsteen’s previous work, particularly the wordy, rhythmically static, melodically parched recent work. To me, the rejuvenation that produced The Rising resembles Bob Dylan’s recent records and U2’s All That You Can’t Leave. Each of these is anchored in the artist’s classic musical approach, with slight modifications that in some sense-this is hardest to hear with Dylan, easiest with Bruce-modernize it. On The Rising, Brendan O’Brien provides the key by getting get Bruce to rely on guitar, rather than letting the keyboards dominate.

I heard The Rising about 25 times before I ever read the lyric sheet (doing which cost me my favorite line, “Musta been your science degree,” which turned out to be merely “musta been you sighin’ so deep”). My favorites tracks here are “Sunny Day,” “Mary’s Place,” “Worlds Apart,” “You’re Missing,” and “My City of Ruins,” each except “Misising” registering as sound more than story. I still don’t know or care very much about what “Worlds Apart” says; I do care about the way the voices and instruments crash into each other.

Most of what’s been written about The Rising mentions the music only in passing but set these lyrics down as poetry and they aren’t very interesting. As statements about 9/11 or 9/12, you could even call them evasive. Nevertheless, the lyrics of “You’re Missing” and “Paradise” rank with Springsteen’s best. They sing beautifully–there are no false steps, no attempts to cram too many syllables into a line (“hy-dree-ot-ic acid” anyone?). Bruce does the best singing of his career here, which can be demonstrated by comparing songs like “Mary’s Place,” “Sunny Day” and “Countin’ on a Miracle” with their obvious antecedents–“Rosalita,” “Hungry Heart,” “Leap of Faith” (the last a stretch).

The evasions make Springsteen’s point. Fans commonly explain that The Rising’s topic is not 9/11 but 9/12. But that’s not really it, either. The 9/11 attacks and fragments of their aftermath provide Springsteen a setting but The Rising isn’t trying to be Guernica or even Born in the U.S.A. The Rising’s really returns Springsteen to one of his central preoccupations, the war about choosing life or death that rages in his everyman.

Springsteen eschews the politics of the attacks in part because he’s pretty conservative personally, but also because they’re a distraction from his real interests. Compare “Paradise” to Steve Earle’s controversial “John Walker Blues.” Both do the same thing, which is restore humanity to a character presumed to be inhuman-in this case, the suicide bomber of the first verse. But Springsteen’s focused on a whole other drama. In the second verse, he unequivocally equates the bomber with a character mourning a loved one. There are a batch of different ways to read the third verse-it could be either of the characters in the first two verses, it could be both of them, it could be anybody trapped by a false vision of paradise, who dives into the treacherous waters.

What matters is that the swimmer in that verse lets himself see that paradise is empty. So he fights back into the sunlight of the everyday.

The next thing you know, he’s back on the night-lit streets of Asbury Park, another symbol of false paradise, where young men rot away without anyone’s second glance. If these men’s strength gave you strength, their hope gave you hope, their love gave you love, you’d be hollowed out.

Does Springsteen understand what it really means to encourage such people to “rise up”? It’ll take an album good enough to follow in this one’s footsteps to find out. Meantime, we are left, as always at the end of a gospel song, with some choices to make for ourselves.


(what’s playing in my office)

1. The Rising, Bruce Springsteen (Sony)-Everybody who understands why that catfish dances on the end of his line, raise your hand. The rest of you, back to the last verse of “Paradise.”

2. Jerusalem, Steve Earle (E Squared)-The sound goes back to “Copperhead Road.” The politics come out of a future we’d hoped to avoid.

3. Adult World, Wayne Kramer (MuscleTone).

4. White Lightnin’ Struck the Pine, Cedell Davis (Fast Horse Recordings)-The most rockin’ record Peter Buck ever played on, for sure. Maybe the deepest musical statement of the Mississippi hill country blues aesthetic, too.

5. Rockin’ the Blues, Wynonie Harris (ProperUK) 4 disc box set from the greatest R&B shouter of the late ’40s, originator of “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” among many others. Bargain price–$25 or less. (Try rootsandrhythm.com)

6. Plenty Good Lovin’, Sam Moore (2KSounds/EMI)

7. Imagine, Eva Cassidy (Blix Street)-Cassidy finds angles on overdone songs like “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” and “Who Knows Where the Times Goes, even “Tennessee Waltz,” that refreshes our interest in them, as well as her, an achievement both modest and monumental Here, she gets that far even with Billie’s “You’ve Changed” (though not the title track).

8. Easy, Kelly Willis (Rykodisc)

9. Down in the Alley, Alvin Youngblood-Hart (Memphis International)

10. Jesus Is the Name: The Tender Female Gospel 1947-1952 (P-Vine, Japan; rootsandrhythm.com) – Features Willie Mae Ford Smith and at least a dozen other great singers you’ve never even heard *of*.

11. Essential Collection, Shorty Long (Spectrum UK)-Funkiest of all Motown artists, as in “We servin’ egg foo yung and barbecue, and then chicken’n’dumplings ‘n’ kidney stew, ‘n’ then heap big fun ’til the break of dawn…Pull a shotgun on the rooster and draw him to crow.” But mainly, it’s the bass lines.

12. It’s All Relative: Tillis Sings Tillis, Pam Tillis (Epic/Lucky Dog)-That means she gets to sing “Detroit City” and “I Ain’t Never,” as well as another 11 songs by her daddy.

13. 1000 Kisses, Patty Griffin (ATO) 14. Viva El Mariachi: Nati Cano’s Mariachi Los Camperos (Smithsonian Folkways)

15. American Breakdown, Troy Campbell (M. Ray)

16. A Cellarful of Motown: Rarest Motown Grooves (Motown)

17. Stax Instrumentals, Booker T. & the MGs/The Mar-Keys (Ace UK)

18. A History of Garage and Frat Bands in Memphis 1960-1975, Vol. 2 (Shangri-La Projects)-Sixties Seattle, with okra.

19. Hard Candy, Counting Crows (Geffen)

20. Irony Lives, Paul Krassner (Artemis) 20. One All, Neil Finn (Netwerk)

Dave Marsh coedits Rock and Rap Confidential. Marsh is the author of The Heart of Rock and Soul: the 1001 Greatest Singles.

He can be reached at: marsh6@optonline.net


Dave Marsh edits Rock & Rap Confidential, one of CounterPunch’s favorite newsletters, now available for free by emailing: rockrap@aol.com. Dave blogs at http://davemarsh.us/

November 30, 2015
Henry Giroux
Trump’s Embrace of Totalitarianism is America’s Dirty Little Secret
Omur Sahin Keyif
An Assassination in Turkey: the Killing of Tahir Elci
Robert Fisk
70,000 Kalashnikovs: Cameron’s “Moderate” Rebels
Jamie Davidson
Distortion, Revisionism & the Liberal Media
Norman Pollack
Israel and ISIS: Needed, a Thorough Accounting
Robert Hunziker
The Looming Transnational Battlefield
Ahmed Gaya
Breaking the Climate Mold: Fighting for the Planet and Justice
Matt Peppe
Alan Gross’s Improbable Tales on 60 Minutes
Colin Todhunter
India – Procession of the Dead: Shopping Malls and Shit
Roger Annis
Canada’s New Climate-Denying National Government
Binoy Kampmark
Straining the Republic: France’s State of Emergency
Jack Rasmus
Japan’s 5th Recession in 7 Years
Charles R. Larson
Twofers for Carly Fiorina
John Dear
An Eye for an Eye Makes the Whole World Blind
Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Andrew Levine
The Real Trouble With Bernie
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
John Whitbeck
Who’s Afraid of ISIS?
Michael Brenner
Europe’s Crisis: Terror, Refugees and Impotence
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Vijay Prashad
Showdown on the Syrian Border
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Colin Todhunter
Class, War and David Cameron
Jean Bricmont
The Ideology of Humanitarian Imperialism
Dan Glazebrook
Deadliest Terror in the World: the West’s Latest Gift to Africa
Mark Hand
Escape From New York: the Emancipation of Activist Cecily McMillan
Karl Grossman
Our Solar Bonanza!
Mats Svensson
Madness in Hebron: Hashem Had No Enemies, Yet Hashem Was Hated
Walter Brasch
Terrorism on American Soil
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Bears, Dreaming and the Frontier of Wonder
Michael Welton
Yahweh is Not Exactly Politically Correct
Joseph Natoli
A Politics of Stupid and How to Leave It Behind
John Cox
You Should Fear Racism and Xenophobia, Not Syrian Refugees or Muslims
Barrie Gilbert
Sacrificing the Grizzlies of Katmai Park: the Plan to Turn Brooks Camp Into a Theme
Rev. William Alberts
The Church of “Something Else” in “an Ecclesiastical Desert”
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Bank Crimes Pay
Elliot Murphy
Cameron’s Syrian Strategy
Gareth Porter
How Terror in Paris Calls for Revising US Syria Policy
Thomas S. Harrington
Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe and the Death of Ezra Schwartz
Michael Perino
The Arc of Instability
Yves Engler
Justin Trudeau and Canada’s Mining Industry
Tom H. Hastings
ISIS and Changing the Game
Lars Jørgensen
Vive la Résistance
John Halle
A Yale Education as a Tool of Power and Privilege
Norman Pollack
Syrian “Civil War”?: No, A Proxy War of Global Confrontation