FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Springsteen’s The Rising

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.

DeskScan

(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

 

More articles by:

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/

Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
Victor Grossman
Red Flowers for Rosa and Karl
Cesar Chelala
President Donald Trump’s “Magical Realism”
Christopher Brauchli
An Education in Fraud
Paul Bentley
The Death Penalty for Canada’s Foreign Policy?
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Not to Love NATO
Louis Proyect
Breaking the Left’s Gay Taboo
Kani Xulam
A Saudi Teen and Freedom’s Shining Moment
Ralph Nader
Bar Barr or Regret this Dictatorial Attorney General
Jessicah Pierre
A Dream Deferred: MLK’s Dream of Economic Justice is Far From Reality
Edward J. Martin
Glossip v. Gross, the Eighth Amendment and the Torture Court of the United States
Chuck Collins
Shutdown Expands the Ranks of the “Underwater Nation”
Paul Edwards
War Whores
Peter Crowley
Outsourcing Still Affects Us: This and AI Worker Displacement Need Not be Inevitable
Alycee Lane
Trump’s Federal Government Shutdown and Unpaid Dishwashers
Martha Rosenberg
New Questions About Ritual Slaughter as Belgium Bans the Practice
Wim Laven
The Annual Whitewashing of Martin Luther King Jr.
Nicky Reid
Panarchy as Full Spectrum Intersectionality
Jill Richardson
Hollywood’s Fat Shaming is Getting Old
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Wide Sphere of Influence Within Folklore and Social Practices
Richard Klin
Dial Israel: Amos Oz, 1939-2018
David Rovics
Of Triggers and Bullets
David Yearsley
Bass on Top: the Genius of Paul Chambers
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail