Round the Dial
Wednesday 07 August @ 09:41:02
by Tom Hallett
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “I’m not fed up with rock groups, only fed up with concerts. I kept going...and it would be the same ritual happening. Even with artists I liked, there would be moments of inspiration but nobody seemed to take many chances. Therefore it almost becomes like a holy rite, but without the quality to really justify that.”
SONG OF THE WEEK: “Are You Ready?”
—Pacific Gas & Electric
Yeah, I know—it’s only Wednesday, not really the most appropriate day to, er, preach about holy rites, faith, spirituality, and goin’ to church, but hey, I never claimed to be socially competent, did I? Anyway, me talkin’ about the whole life-after-whatever thing is nothing on the balls scale compared to Springsteen’s latest, The Rising. You want ashes and sackcloth, much wailing and gnashing of the teeth, fire and brimstone, G-O-D and Ol’ Scratch? You want morality and architecture, cities in dust, lonely widows and widowers, sleepless nights and empty days, blood (there’s lots and lots of blood here—oceans of blood), burnt offerings, suicide bombers, MIA heroes, death-scarred families, motherless children, the good, the bad, and the ugly? You want goin’ to church music? Well, you’ve come to the right place.
The Rising, ostensibly an in-depth study of the “Events Of 9/11” and its aftermath, is chock fulla all of those and a good deal more. The Boss’ first effort with The E Street Band since his last heavy-handed social/spiritual statement, Born In The USA, this album is, hands down, the most intriguing and exciting batch of tunes the grease-stained Elvis fanatic’s released since at least the Tunnel Of Love trilogy (the title track, “Brilliant Disguise,” and “One Step Up”).
‘Course, I heard “The Rising” on the radio a few weeks before the album was available, and knew right then that the Asbury crooner was back in form—I mean, may the Great Spirit bless him for diggin’ deep with The Ghost Of Tom Joad, but let’s get real—the ghosts of people who died 100 or 200 years ago don’t seem to resonate quite as horrifically in your face as the ghosts of people who died less than a year ago. Words like faith and hope and lonesome and fire and ruins mean a helluva lot more when you’ve seen the reason why they’re so important splashed all over the tube and newspapers for nine months.
From what I’ve heard, The Boss was actually so moved (his being from Jersey, where many of the victims also hailed from, that’s no surprise) that he spent several months getting to know the widows and children of some of the firefighters, cops, and business people who lost their lives in the WTC attack to help him get a grasp on how to write the songs that make up The Rising. That’s either really %@!#$&ing grisly or really %@!#$&ing brave, and I guess after hearing this album, I’ll have to go with the latter. What guts—to look into the lost, broken eyes of those people and tell them, “Hey, I wanna do something. I wanna write some songs that grieve for, and honor, and celebrate those lives. Help me.” Wow. I’m blown away.
Look, if you’re not really a Springsteen fan, or if you’re either scared %@!#$&less by or sick to death of the whole “Events Of...” phenomenon, I won’t blame you for steering clear of this record. It’s not exactly a fun listen. What it is, though, is healing. I found myself alternately cheering, nodding in agreement, fighting back tears, smiling, and, on one or two cuts, shaking my head. It’s not all good—fifteen tracks is a lot of vinyl (Yeah, I paid $15.99 for the vinyl at Eclipse—you’ll pay more for the CD but them’s the breaks, kid) to fill up, and I actually only felt like getting up and moving the needle a notch once.
The first two tracks are absolutely gorgeous songs of loss. Though the band is definitely present, the usual E Street keys and horns are muted and subtle. “Lonesome Day” immediately states Bruce’s (spiritual) case, dropping both downstairs (“...hell’s a brewin’...”) and upstairs (“Let kingdom come...”) references, and “Into The Fire” finds him dragging out the F-word (faith) for its first (but certainly not last) appearance. It’s a little creepy, thinking that he played these songs in private concerts for the families of those 9/11 victims. I almost feel like I’m listening at their doorways, under their window sills, over their phone lines...but I feel like I’m supposed to be listening, like this is really the only way I’ll even understand a little bit of what they’re going through. I guess Bruce felt the same way.
But those songs ride rather uncomfortably next to tracks like “Worlds Apart” (an unsettling tale of a U.S. soldier falling in love with an Afghan woman set to middle-Eastern music and otherworldly, ululating backing vocals—it’s freaky but probably the strongest piece of music on the album) and “Let’s Be Friends (Skin To Skin),” a slippery, cheesy little ditty that’s got a forced feel to it, making it almost Mellencamp-ian (“That’s when smoke was smoke/and groovin’ was groovy...” comes to mind) in its nostalgic overload.
“The Fuse,” an electronic-driven ballad, finds him back on track—the cut is a smoldering, sexy love song that sits right up there with “I’m On Fire” or “Trapped” as far as capturing that sly, insinuating groove The Boss is so adept at. It also hints lyrically at the horrors that still may lie ahead, with lines that would’ve fit just fine on the soundtrack to Stephen King’s apocalyptic death novel/movie The Stand: “Tires on the highway hissin’/Something’s coming/You can feel the wires in/The treetops hummin’/Devil’s on the horizon line...” I had to play this one twice—and I could almost smell the beast slouching his stinking way towards Babylon, man.
“Mary’s Place” is “Thunder Road” meets “Glory Days,” a recounting of the first post-9/11 New Year’s Eve bash some of the victims suffered through. Yep, it’s kinda hokey, too, but it’s blast-worthy. Give me a hemi and four on the floor (whatever that means) and crank down the windows, chief! “You’re Missing” is pure schmaltz—but in a good way—a sure-fire tear-jerker that does its job and does it well, and also brings the focus back to the fact that the battle is larger than Democracy / Christianity vs. Warlords/Muslims with the reminder: “God’s drifting in heaven/Devil’s in the mailbox/I got dust on my shoes/Nothing but teardrops.”
The last three songs really are a bizarre trilogy of sorts, though not nearly as romantic as the faithless Tunnel Of Love ménage à trois. This fearsome threesome is comprised of “Paradise,” about a suicide bomber who sacrifices a child: “I take the schoolbooks from your pack / Plastics, wire and your kiss...” only to die and find that it was all a lie; “The Rising,” about a deceased hero ascending to heaven with hundreds of fellow victims: “There’s spirits above and behind me/Faces gone black, eyes burnin’ bright/May their precious blood bind me/Lord, as I stand before your fiery light...”; and “My City Of Ruins,” which encapsulates all of the grief, horror, pain, holy loss, and human suffering referenced throughout the rest of the album with the simple line: “Now there’s tears on the pillow/Darlin’ where we slept/And you took my heart when you left/My soul is lost my friend/Tell me how do I begin again?” Picture her face, twisted with tears of rage and sorrow, her ears ringing with silence, her guts permanently twisted, and then let me see you make fun of this %@!#$&. Come on, I dare ya. At least, that’s what I think he’s sayin’ here. Me, I ain’t laughin’.
Bruce ends the record with a lyrical repetition that’s at once a universal novena, a musical mantra, a pleading prayer: “With these hands/I pray for the strength/I pray for your love/I pray for the faith...” he/the victim intones as goose bump-inspiring gospel backing vocals brim over, bringing his use of the word faith to an unprecedented whole-album total of 11!! Take that for what it’s worth, but it’s a mighty word—one of the most powerful words in the English language—and one worth holding onto as Earth’s karmic wheel spins out of control and even Dylan don’t wanna comment on the whole %@!#$&house goin’ up in flames.
Hey, I dig “Tweedle Dum And Tweedle Dee” as much of the next guy, but The Rising is reality. Harsh, cold, scary, overwhelming—that’s real life. Life in The Now. It’s just a little easier when you got faith in somethin’. “Come on, rise up...” is the last line, piano keys plunk a couple times, and it’s done. Yeah, “The Events Of” WAS an event—one we as a society will never fully recover from—but so is this album. Did anybody write a double album for the victims of Pearl Harbor in 1942 or Auschwitz in 1946 or Chernobyl in the ‘80’s? Naw. I meant it when I said I thought it took mucho cojones to write, perform, and release this body of work. Look, I don’t know how this’ll grab you, but just for now, just for this moment, just while this record’s spinnin’, I’m comin’ up for the risin’—hell yeah, and Hallelujah, Brother Bruce. The rest of you can go eat lunch now—I’m done preachin’. Until next time—make yer own damn news.
If you have local music news/gigs/events that you’d like to see listed in this column, or you’d just like to fly your pen into the tower of my words, send replies to: TMygunn777@aol.com.