Friday, September 23, 2011

Flashback Friday: "The Rising" by Bruce Springsteen

Today is Bruce Springsteen's 62nd birthday. I don't think I did a post for his 60th birthday in 2009, so I'm doing it now. I can't believe that he was born the same year as my dad. The reason it is hard to believe, I guess, is because when Springsteen hit it big in 1984 with his Born in the USA album, it was the first I had ever heard of him and he looked young and pretty fit. I did not pay attention to people's ages back then. If they were adults, then it did not matter if they were 25 or 50. They were "old"!! It has only been since I lived through each decade where I started paying attention to age, especially since I'm approaching 40 and wondering if I'll ever find a lady to marry. When my dad turned 40, I was in the 11th grade!!! I'm so behind the times.

Pictured above is Bruce Springsteen in his 30s when he was a bandanna'd muscleman and rockin' stadiums all over the country in 1985. He was my favourite male singer at the time (Huey Lewis and the News was my favourite band and Tina Turner was my favourite female singer in 1985). The Born in the USA album was an instant classic and certainly one of the best I had heard at the time (it still ranks in my Top Ten Favourite Albums of All Time). I remember idolizing him at the time and wanting to be like him when I grew up. An episode of Growing Pains rang true with me, as well. It was the episode when Mike Seaver (played by Kirk Cameron, who is a full time Evangelical Christian now, hawking his faith like a telemarketer) and his father went to a Springsteen concert and his father had embarrassed him on camera (when a local news crew had interviewed them for their "News at 11" segment). Springsteen was one of the few groups from the 80s that my dad and I both liked (my dad was not into most 80s pop like I was, though my mom shared similar interests as me in regards to music).

We would play that album in the car on road trips and I remember my dad saying that no matter how many albums Springsteen makes in the future, he would never create a masterpiece like Born in the USA. Subsequent albums did prove disappointing. I blame his marriage to some actress (I forget her name now) for mellowing him out with 1987's Tunnel of Love. He released two albums in 1992: Human Touch and Lucky Town. I only bought Human Touch, which had some good songs on it but did not come close to the brilliance of Born in the USA. He released a few acoustic and folk albums, which I'm not a fan of. Basically, if the E Street Band wasn't included, I was not interested. Though I don't remember hearing "Born to Run" in the 1970s (I did not pay attention to music until songs from Grease and Saturday Night Fever played all over the radio), I fell in love with that song in the 1980s. In the 1990s, I made that song my "invocation" every time I went on a road trip. No road trip was complete if that song did not play! It is simply the greatest road trip song of all time! As the years rolled by, I began to think that it was probably true. There was no way that The Boss would ever match the brilliance of his biggest selling album, which helped defined an era (it was the perfect Reagan era album, though the title song was not the jingoistic patriotic anthem that many thought it was). There was no way, until...

The Rising. This was released in 2002 and considered "the 9/11 Album." I consider this to be the complete equal to Born in the USA. Not only were all the songs catchy in their melodies, but the lyrics were quite profound and the album is one that has to be listened to in its entirety. By some brilliant creative genius, Springsteen managed to capture the complex feelings surrounding the events of 9/11. Love and loss. Fear of foreigners. Reaching out to people. Trying to understand. Grieving. Finding love. Having faith. Maintaining hope. It is quite simply, an amazing album and perhaps in many ways, better than Born in the USA, though that 80s classic is iconic now so it will always rank high, in my opinion.

The strange thing about this album for me is that it was released when I went on my road trip to Boston and New York City with a good friend of mine from church. I had read an article in either Newsweek or Time about it and was excited to buy it when I returned from my trip. Yet, everytime I listen to it, my memories of that road trip are attached. I can't separate the images I saw on that road trip with the songs, even though I did not hear the album until after I had returned home. On that road trip, I listened to other music, but I can't remember what. Funny how memory can play tricks on you regarding the timeline.

The first song is "Lonesome Day" which is simply a great song. I believe it was released as a single. It really spoke to me, about learning to live through lonesome days, which every human has probably experienced at one time or another. The song "Into the Fire" seems inspired by the firefighters who went into the World Trade Center in the aftermath of the plane crashes. However, the song alludes to something more, too. Its a beautiful song with an awesome chorus ("May your strength give us strength, may your faith give us faith, may your hope give us hope, may your love bring us love...").

"Waiting on a Sunny Day" is a perfect song for Portland. This song also has a great melody. "Nothing Man" is another song that seems to allude to 9/11, though its hard to tell the meaning of what he's saying. It sounds like someone who was a big shot in high school whose life didn't amount to much, so he spends his nights in the local bar with the same crowd, even after his name appears in the local paper. "Countin' On a Miracle" is not about religion, but about finding a love that's not like the one fairy tales present. "Empty Sky" is another song that seems inspired by 9/11. Some lyrics include: "Blood on the streets / blood flowin' down / I hear the blood of my blood / cryin' from the ground..."

I really love the song "Worlds Apart." He uses some Middle Eastern rhythms in this song, giving it a trace of foreign sounds. Kind of reminiscent of Sting's "Desert Rose." In this song, Springsteen even makes a reference to Allah ("'Neath Allah's blessed rain, we remain worlds apart"). My favourite song on this album, though, is "Let's Be Friends (Skin to Skin)." It has what Arsenio Hall would call "a nasty funk that makes you want to get down with your lady." The melody, lyrics and message is absolutely brilliant. "Further On (Up the Road)" and "The Fuse" seem to allude to the state of America in the aftermath of 9/11. Fear. Acting out. Not knowing who to trust.

"Mary's Place" is another favourite among favourites. This song hits the right note from the start, referencing Buddha. I'd love to meet at Mary's Place and have a party! "You're Missing" is about losing a loved one and not knowing where they are, and trying to deal with life when all you think about is the missing loved one. Definite 9/11 reference. "The Rising" is a song that Obama had used during his campaign. I don't know if it was his official campaign song, but he did play it at several rallies that I attended. It's appropriate, at least at the time when we supporters thought he would change the ways of Washington, before he lost his way. This song is full of promise, of a rebirth, of hope for a better future. Great song! The song "Paradise" is about living through the routines and hoping for a better place, a paradise.

The final song is "My City of Ruins", which Springsteen had performed during the special telecast in the aftermath of 9/11, when Hollywood celebrities manned the phones to talk to donors, and various people sang. The song was perfect for what happened in New York City on that beautiful September morning that turned into a nightmare. I learned later that he had written that song about his hometown, seeing it decimated as many small towns across America due to the lack of jobs and the move to cities and suburbs where the jobs are. Despite his original genesis for this song, the lyrics fit the events of 9/11, so it appears almost prophetic. The song is close to being a hymn.

This album is simply brilliant and a classic. When I rated the Ten Best Albums of the 2000s Decade in a blog post in December 2009, I rated this album at #2, just behind U2's All That You Can't Leave Behind. Each year on 9/11, I have to listen to it for sure, even though I still associate it with my road trip in 2002 (I did see Ground Zero on that trip). I don't own most albums that Springsteen put out, because his music ranges quite a bit and I'm not a fan of the mellow, Dylanesque folk music (such as his Ghost of Tom Joad album). I have bought his Magic and Working On a Dream albums. They are both good, but still don't reach the absolute brilliance of The Rising or Born in the USA. If you want only the best of Bruce Springsteen, I would get the following albums: Born to Run, Born in the USA, The Rising, Human Touch, Greatest Hits (because it features the song "Murder Incorporated" which he had played in concerts but never recorded on an album until one overzealous fan apparently attended concert after concert, and demanded that Springsteen record it), The Essential Bruce Springsteen (a three-CD set that includes some rare tracks, including one about the shooting of Amadou Diallo: "American Skin (41 Shots)"), Magic, and Working On a Dream.

The above is the album cover of his iconic Born in the USA. Even the cover photo design is classic. When I first saw it, I thought it was weird. Who wants to look at his butt? Apparently, quite a few ladies don't seem to mind. It is amazing how an image can be forever associated with an album. In some future "Fun Friday" post, I should do a Top Ten list of the Best Album Covers of All Time or something like that. Not sure this one would make the cut, though. However, it is memorable. If you walked into a record store and saw it at a distance, you would know exactly what album it was. When I was a teenager and dreaming about being a rock star (yeah, I actually had those dreams!), I planned to have an album titled: Made in Taiwan and the tour would have a journey theme to it. What an idea. The concept behind the song and album Made in Taiwan would be that not everything that came from Taiwan was cheap, plastic junk, because I was actually "made" in Taiwan (my dad was stationed there with the U.S. Air Force and I was born there and missed being born in Florida by a few months). Its probably a good thing that I can't sing!

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