Written by MaKayla Markey. 21 October 2014.
“[Bruce] Springsteen reported a fan saw him one day after the [September 11th] attacks and said, ‘We need you now’”. What came after that plea was “An album that celebrated the heroes whose lives were lost and that offered hope for the future through faith in God and each other” (Bradford 32). This album was The Rising by Bruce Springsteen. It came out in 2002 and was recorded by Southern Tracks Recording Studio in Atlanta, Georgia. The writer of the album was Bruce Springsteen himself under the label Columbia, and producer Brendan O’Brien. The Rising is Springsteen’s twelfth studio album as well as his first studio album in seven years. This country rock album is mainly composed of songs in which he reflects on the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The album debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 chart, with first-week sales of over 520,000 copies. With this, Springsteen became the oldest person to achieve a first-week sale of over a half of a million copies in the United States. These are some pretty significant statistics after a studio album dead period of seven whole years for Springsteen. The album also received a Grammy Award for best rock album in 2003. Although nominated for the Album of the Year award as well, it was beaten by Norah Jones’ debut album Come Away with Me. The song title The Rising was also a Grammy recipient.
All of this success for the album was no small feat. This album had to be precisely written in a way to receive the correct kind of feedback that Springsteen and his label were looking for. As previously stated, most of the songs are in direct response to the attacks on the United States on September 11th. This is undeniable in his song “Into the Fire” where he sings, “The sky was falling and streaked with blood, I heard you calling me then you disappeared into the dust, up the stairs, into the fire.” With this in mind it is easy to see that because of this national event Springsteen would have to write with the nation in mind.
Terrorism is a very controversial subject. It is immensely important that care and respect be paid to the situation. It is not a time to express outstanding views or any other catabolic ideas, but to support the nation and provide emotional reinforcement. He does just that in his song “My City’s In Ruins” where he sings, “My city of ruins, come on, rise up!” and then continues to repeat the line “Come on, rise up.” These lines are very supportive without a hint of a damaging intention. Although it is very easy to take a step in the wrong direction by crossing boundaries and offending people, Springsteen did not do any of this. He kept his national audience in mind, even the grieving ones, the hopeless ones, the ones in search of leadership, the alone ones, and the ones who were in need of patriotic reassurance. And in doing so, he masterfully wrote a collection of songs that gave the nation exactly what they needed. This was not the Bruce Springsteen the nation previously knew. His other albums suggest him as Bruce the critical and the politically opinionated. However in the “Rising”, Springsteen stood up as the leader, the patriot, the inspiration, the politically committed, the hope, the unifier, and the emotional support.
Although Springsteen has a strong focus on his audience and their needs as a nation, he has another focus as well. Springsteen’s popular music oftentimes relates to the politics of the time period it was released, but this album takes a different approach more suitable for the occasion. Ian Collinson in Social Alternatives argues that although generally Springsteen’s album “The Rising” could be categorized as political, this is a very broad generalization that does not represent the relationship itself to politics. Instead Collinson argues that the political relationship can be broken down into two different and more specific categorizations. He describes the difference in relationship between two categories of song writing: politically aligned and politically committed. Politically aligned songwriters “Map the political environment of their time and place,” whereas politically committed songwriters “try to change it” (69). Collinson believes that Springsteen is “politically committed” because through his album he sets an exemplar model of the music for an event such as 9/11. Springsteen’s liberal patriotism focuses on the victims and victims’ families, rather than trying to interpret the events, urge revenge, or question America’s implication in the atrocity. He sets a standard of music instead of just describing the affair.
The overwhelming sense of patriotism plays a major role in the construction of the album’s message. Patriotism is successful most of the time. People don’t usually reject patriotic entities no matter the quality of patriotism. It has been engraved in our heads that we shall manifest patriotism because we are a loyal and proud country. Like Bradford says in his “Healing a Nation” article, “The message Springsteen brought to the American people was sincere, healthy, rich with universal values of faith, hope, and love” (Bradford 47). Springsteen isn’t concerned with mediated messages with hidden meanings and agendas. He is only concerned with delivering to the audience in the most sincere and effective way possible. At least, this is what he says, and we believe him.
His concern with the audience’s needs paired with the timing of the album is what makes it so successful on the charts and within the hearts of the American people. First off, his album was released soon after the attacks, answering the nation’s need for a well-constructed anthem of support. This timing with the nation’s demand propelled the album. Another key match up in time was with his revival as an artist. The music industry had not seen Bruce Springsteen on the radar for quite sometime. So when he made his entrance back onto the scene after seven whole years it was much needed. As previously mentioned, people wanted Bruce Springsteen, and they knew he was the man for the job. His album was refreshing. It wasn’t something people had heard recently with him or other artists. It wasn’t repetitious in the sense of the similar music already circulating during the early 2000s. Much of the music during this time was country-pop. Springsteen’s movement away from this genre makes him traditional in a sense that he is moving away from the norm of music during the 2000s to music with stories and authentic music with real emotion. What could be more traditional than patriotism? His album was something genuine and most importantly sincere. It was real. He addresses terrorism, which most artists would sneak around. I think this also makes his album country because just like Brad Paisley states in his song “This is Country Music”, “You’re not supposed to say the word ‘cancer’ in a song […] but this is country music and we do.” A lot of the time Country artists say things that most artists would keep to themselves. I believe all of these qualities make his album Country even though Springsteen is generally better known for Rock music. I wouldn’t say Bruce Springsteen is restricted to Country music but is only enhanced by it as an artist. All of these positive influences as a direct result of good timing combined had opened the arms of Americans to greet his album making it an enormous success in the world of music.
In conclusion Bruce Springsteen’s album, “The Rising” is a combination of immensely important factors that combine to make a very successful album. He uses plays on emotion to target the audience masterfully, while giving the audience exactly what they want to hear making them inclined to enjoy it. Springsteen also adheres to the “guidelines” of what is respectful and most effective in writing his album to also reach maximum approval. His timing with this catastrophic event and the revival of his career also team up to make ideal conditions for a very successful album. Springsteen was the man for the job, and he undoubtedly got the job done.
- “Lonesome Day” (B. Springsteen)
- “Into the Fire” (B. Springsteen)
- “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day” (B. Springsteen)
- “Nothing Man” (B. Springsteen)
- “Countin’ on a Miracle” (B. Springsteen)
- “Empty Sky” (B. Springsteen & E. John)
- “Worlds Apart” (B. Springsteen)
- “Lets Be Friends (Skin to Skin)” (B. Springsteen)
- “Further On (Up the Road)” (B. Springsteen)
- “The Fuse” (B. Springsteen)
- “Mary’s Place” (B. Springsteen)
- “You’re Missing” (B. Springsteen)
- “The Rising” (B. Springsteen)
- “Paradise” (B. Springsteen)
- “My City of Ruins” (B. Springsteen)
Yates, Bradford L. “Healing A Nation: An Analysis Of Bruce Springsteen’s The Rising.” Journal Of Popular Music Studies 22.1 (2010): 32-49. Academic Search Complete. Web. 14 Oct. 2014.
Collinson, Ian. “A Land Of Hope And Dreams? Bruce Springsteen & America’s Political Landscape From The Rising To Wrecking Ball.” Social Alternatives 33.1 (2014): 67-72. Academic Search Complete. Web. 6 Oct. 2014.