Revisiting Springsteen's 'The Rising'

Just posted to our Web site: a must-read article by Christopher Pramuk on 9/11, Bruce Springsteen and the album "The Rising." Like many Springsteen fans, I am well acquainted with "The Rising," Springsteen's musical response to 9/11, but Pramuk's analysis forced me to see the album in a whole new light. I think it will do the same for you:

Less than a year after the attacks of September 11, Bruce Springsteen released his album “The Rising.” Like Jesus bending down to write in the dirt, Springsteen and his E Street Band opened a kind of contemplative space, through music and poetry, for the possibility of something unexpected in the wake of evil: a moment for self-examination, healing and grace. Now, nearly 10 years later, the album deserves fresh consideration, not least for the way it navigates the vexatious relationship between memory and hope—hope, that is, for something more than the same cycle of retribution, bloodshed and despair....

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[N]owhere do memory and hope mingle more darkly and luminously than on the album’s title track, which remembers the events of Sept. 11 from the vantage point of a New York firefighter, drawn unknowing into the holocaust. The firefighter, surrounded by smoke and spirits, is bound to both the darkness in which he stands and the "firey light," which lies ahead.

With haunting irony, the chorus beckons, again: "Come on up for the rising." Painful remembrance gives ways to defiant hope, the kind of hope that can come, it seems, only through a deeply mystical, if not altogether rational, faith in resurrection. Between the here and hereafter, something unexpected breaks through, something wondrous, “like a catfish dancin’ on the end of the line.”

Here the poet, not unlike the priest and community during Mass, opens a window in space and time for communion with the dead themselves: the dead who alone, perhaps, can transform the rage of the living and awaken in us a vision of something more than more of the same. By remembering Sept. 11 from the other side of death, as it were, Springsteen evokes what may be the only kind of hope capable of defusing our impulse toward violence. For all its anthemic energy and abandon, the song suggests no end runs around the contradictions of the hope offered by resurrection, which the poet calls a “dream of life.” The final verse resounds with an implicit but powerful Christian realism, juxtaposing memory and glory alongside shadow and lingering sadness “in the garden of a thousand sighs.”

Read the rest, please, here.

Tim Reidy

 

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Beth Cioffoletti
6 years 1 month ago
This may be the finest essay that I've read on the America Magazine in the last 2 years that I've been reading. It speaks to me on a number of levels, and I find that I keep coming back to read it again and again. Perhaps especially that last sentence, but there are so many sentences like the last one that I need time to digest. Thank you for this. I will definitely look for that Merton book.
Bill Collier
6 years 1 month ago
I agree that the title track, "The Rising," is a powerful song filled with religious allusions and themes, but the album, one of Springsteen’s best IMO, has many other songs that include religious imagery. Faith, hope, and charity are specifically mentioned, for example, in the haunting "Into the Fire":
The sky was falling and
streaked with blood
I heard you calling me,
and then you disappeared
into dust
Up the stairs, into the fire
Up the stairs, into the fire
I need your kiss, but love
and duty called
you someplace higher
Somewhere up the stairs,
into the fire.
May your strength
give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love
In fact, the transcendent and healing nature of love is a common theme throughout the album, including in "Worlds Apart," Springsteen’s call to "let love give what it gives" in our efforts to close the chasm between the Muslim and Western worlds.
I’ve been listening to the album more often as the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, and for vividly recalling the harrowing images and feelings of that day, nothing equals "Lonesome Day":
Hell’s brewing’, dark
sun’s on the rise
This storm’ll blow
through by and by
House is on fire,
viper’s in the grass
A little revenge and
this too shall pass
This too shall pass,
I’m gonna pray
Right now, all I got’s
this lonesome day.

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