On Mondays through January, we’re continuing to post exclusive excerpts from Glory Days: Springsteen’s Greatest Albums, our eBook that analyzes eight of Springsteen’s most groundbreaking albums and then argues which one should be considered “the greatest.” This week, a selection from the chapter on “The Rising.”
It’s “The Rising” that stands as the centerpiece of the album and one of Springsteen’s most striking songs ever. Though clearly about a firefighter who narrates his last day and finally his last seconds on earth – until life is just “a catfish dancin’ on the end of the line” – it manages to feel utterly universal. At least part of that is the way it builds musically, from the subtle violins and snare snaps that start the song through when the full band kicks in, and finally to the gospel-tinged, guitar-fueled “Li li li’s” that provide the final catharsis.
Combined with lyrics that start off specific but eventually turn sweeping, with its tumbling allusions to glory, sadness, mercy, fear and “blessed life,” it becomes a song for the ages: a spiritual, a call to arms and a paean to ever-present, almost religious love. It’s a song that’s become all things to all people (which is probably why political candidates keep latching onto it).
But if “The Rising” is the album’s centerpiece, its foundation can be found in the songs that take on personal loss at a gut level. One of those is “Empty Sky,” with its eerie, mournful harmonica, speaking wrenchingly of the weight of loss and the thirst for revenge – “I want a kiss from your lips, I want an eye for an eye,” Springsteen sings in a resigned growl. But the album’s most anguished song – and maybe Springsteen’s saddest in his long career – has to be “You’re Missing,” with its images of the mundane facets of everyday life left behind after a loved one’s sudden death.
When Springsteen sings “coffee cup’s on the counter, jacket’s on the chair,” the harrowingly sudden nature of tragedy resonates, like a hole in the pit of your stomach. The song’s language is simple, carried along by a doleful cello and buoyed finally, ever so slightly, by Danny Federici’s organ solo at the song’s close. Amazingly, Springsteen managed to capture the overwhelming, sweeping heartbreak of Sept. 11 in those left-behind jackets and shoes.
You can download Glory Days: Springsteen’s Greatest Albums at Amazon or Amazon UK. And if you don’t have a Kindle, don’t worry: You can download free Kindle software here.