At the end of the 1990s, life was good for Bruce Springsteen. His reputation as a serious musician was well established, he had gotten an Oscar for the song "Streets of Philadelphia" for the Tom Hanks movie; and his E-Street-Band had been reunited and touring the world. On a personal note, his second marriage (with fellow musician and band member Patty Scialfi) had proved successful and lasting.
However, the last album Springsteen had recorded as a band project with the E-Street-Band dated back to 1984 - "Born in the USA." Though a number of albums had followed, they all were Springsteen's solo projects occasionally featuring select members of the Band. Fans around the world were looking forward to the long hoped-for release of new material of Springsteen and the E-Street-Band. There were reports that they were back in the studios together, but no new songs had been heard.
Then, in the morning hours of a beatiful late summer day in 2001, 19 yong men boarded four different planes, seized control over them and carried out the terrorist attacks of what became known as 9/11.
Lives were destroyed. Families were torn apart. Everyone was affected.
People reacted in all kinds of ways. Springsteen later commented that in the days and weeks following the attacks of September 11, he often found himself standing on the New Jersey shore line just across from Manhatten, looking at the empty sky where only days before, the World Trade Center had been. He took to reading the obituaries in the newspapers - and found himself part of many lives he had never known: a number of obituaries noted that during the funeral, a Springsteen song would play. Walking around his hometown, he often found himself spoken to by total strangers who simply said: "Bruce, we need you now."
And he did did what he is best at: he started writing songs about life and people and about trying to get by. He started writing songs about life and people in a post 9/11 world.
The resulting album was called "The Rising" and was released on July 30th, 2002.
The album contains 15 songs. Here is the complete list:
- Lonesome Day
- Into the Fire
- Waitin' on a Sunny Day
- Nothing Man
- Countin' on a Miracle
- Empty Sky
- Worlds Apart
- Let's Be Friends (Skin to Skin)
- Further On (Up the Road)
- The Fuse
- Mary's Place
- You're Missing
- The Rising
- My City of Ruins
Despite the album being recorded as a direct response to 9/11, the mood of the album is generally positive. Most songs talk about starting over, of coping rather than not being able to cope, of finding ways to live with a catastrophe.
Musically, the album is pure Springsteen, mostly. That is to say, the man you shouldn't call "Boss" anymore, did not invent Rock'n'Roll anew from scratch. Nor did he go for a change of style or expression. The album is founded on solid rock music principles, with songs that are never quite unexpected in terms of composition, while at the same time hardly being predictable or formulaic. There are some influences of country music as well as of gospel (notably in "My City of Ruins"). "Further On (Up the Road)" is a driving rock song, whereas "Paradise" is a slow, almost bleak but very haunting number. The song after which the album was named is very simple in its composition (for the most part, only a repetition of a two chord pattern), while "Worlds Apart" is a collaboration with Asif Ali Khan and Group, which gives the song its Arabic feel.
The opening track of the album starts off with a few quiet bars of synthesizer and guitar, only to kick off for good with the entire band playing. A remarkable textual feature of the song is the continual repitition of the phrase "it's alright". However, there is a snag. Things can only be alright "If I can just get through this lonesome day." There is quite a long list of unpleasant things ("House is on fire, viper's in the grass"), all of which can be overcome if the the lonesome day can be left behind.
Into the Fire
The second song of the album is a quieter matter than the first one. It tells the story of a firefighter who went up the burning towers of the World Trade Center and died there trying to help others. It is for the survivors to sing like a mantra:
May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
may your hope give us hope
may your love give us love
It is as if the problem posed in the first song, getting through a lonesome day, is being addressed in the following songs. In Into the Fire the answer is to give meaning to the deaths of the many victims. Let their courage help others to find courage for themselves.
Waitin' on a Sunny Day
This song, rather up-beat in its feel, emphazises the importance of having a partner to see you through a crisis. This partner brings a smile to your eyes, and if the partner comes to stay... well, that will be the sunny day. There is a curious little effect in this song that shows how much attention Springsteen pays to little details in this album. The line "Without you, I am a drummer girl that can't keep a beat" is underlined by a drum pattern, where, well, you guessed it, the drumming is off by a quarter note.