Mournful in the USA

Springsteen Finds Music for Our 9/11 Grief in "The Rising"

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<blockquote>”Coffee cups on the counter / jackets on the chair
Papers on the doorstep / but you’re not there
Everything is everything / Everything is everything
But you’re missing.”
—“You’re Missing”</blockquote>

Though the biggest fan of the Boss in my family is my 62-year-old mother, I still came to Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising” predisposed to like it. I was not disappointed.

What is it with this guy? His voice always sounds like he just woke up. Song lyrics read as repetitive as nursery rhymes. Melodies can be indistinguishable. Yet the stories are downhome compelling. He’s earnest and honest as a five-year old. And nobody knows how to have a good time making music like Bruce Springsteen and (his now reunited collaborators) the E Street Band .

Maybe it’s because I’m a man of the cloth, but I think of Springsteen as a kind of rock n’ roll shaman-priest. He’s able to read hearts and minds, carry the weight of what he finds there in his own heart, and he pour all that into his songs. This is a guy who’s not afraid to go there. With simple lyrics and stories he communicates complexity and pathos, human experience in its depth. Whether the final output be CD or an arena show, by God you feel a part of the experience.

The new CD, “The Rising,” takes on life after 9/11. Yet he never make one explicit reference to the attack. Instead the songs dance at the edge, exploring its emotional impact. Some come pretty close?”Into the Fire,” speaks of one who perished going “up the stairs and into the fire” called by “love and duty,” and “You’re Missing,” well, just check out the lyrics quoted above.

Yet even these two songs could be about any firefighter killed in the line of duty or anyone missing. Springsteen really aims his talent at the universal human experience of grief in its many complex forms, and he evokes it sadly and beautifully. In the haunting “Nothing Man,” a survivor is treated as a hero but inside feels empty and depressed. How many people have known that terrible experience?Image from

The collection does not content itself only with tragedy, though Springsteen explores that terrain well. Mercifully, the upbeat title track comes right after the painful “You’re Missing,” (the shaman-priest knows how to do good “liturgy”). We are invited forward to be a part of the renewal and new life built upon ashes and sacrifice, to “come on up for the rising.” You have to wonder if Bruce’s Catholic origins help him navigate these waters of death and resurrection?I guess I’d like to think so.

It has seemed to me that, since the September 11 attacks, the emotional response we have heard from government leaders, from media pundits, analysts, authors, popular entertainers has mostly rung pretty hollow. It was either hasty?vengeful, simplistic, playing to the crowd?or manipulative?deciding how people were to react before they did. “The Rising” has given us something different. Bruce Springsteen has assembled songs that explore the ambiguous territory of human fear and grief, and then he has just stood back and let go.

The final track on “The Rising” is called, “My City of Ruins,” and it too strikes a note of rebirth. It’s a prayer really, appraising the destruction around the singer (the kind of urban blight not necessarily associated with the attack), acknowledging grief for a lost lover, and asking, “Tell me, how do I begin again?” A good question for all of us. The only answer given is, “Now with these hands,” and it becomes a chorus to the end, alternating with a prayer to God for strength. The singer suggests hope, without knowing or dictating how it will proceed.

Hmm-sounds like real life.