BBP!’s Album of the Week: “The Rising,” Bruce Springsteen (2002)

Confession: I experienced my first Bruce Springsteen concert in November 1992 on the Lucky Town/Human Touch tour and if I’m being completely honest, I didn’t enjoy it. 

Toronto’s SkyDome (aka Rogers Centre) is not a great venue for sound or sightlines, Bruce wasn’t touring with the E-Street Band, and the show just felt long – not in a good way – for a casual Springsteen fan. Sure, I was familiar with enough of the material. Being 10 years old in 1984 you couldn’t avoid the seven singles from the Born In The U.S.A. album that dominated the airwaves, or escape the iconic “Dancing In the Dark” video featuring everyone’s favourite Friend(s). Nevertheless, I didn’t love the show.

Fast-forward a decade later and Biff Bam Pop! Editor-in -Chief and my good buddy Andy Burns offered me an extra ticket to see Bruce’s show on December 5, 2002 at the more intimate Air Canada Centre (aka Scotiabank Arena). 

Allow me to set the scene for you. It was a single ticket up in the second to last row of the arena where I found myself sitting directly in front of the loudest, drunkest and most obnoxious group of Springsteen experts on the planet. As the lights dimmed, one of them stood up and spilled half of his beer on my back while the others proceeded to speculate on what would be played and in what order (this was well before Setlist.FM existed). I thought I was in for another long night. 

Then it happened. 

The opening strains of “Lonesome Day,” lead track from 2002’s The Rising, rang through the arena as Bruce turned around, looked straight at drummer Max Weinberg, held up his Telecaster and counted in the E-Street Band… “One, Two, Three Four!” Just like that we were locked in. I honestly don’t remember one other distraction the rest of the night. It was just me, the band, and the music. Music that mattered and made sense of the world at that time. Truly a transcendent moment. 

While December 5, 2002 may not be a date of particular significance in the chronicles of rock ‘n’ roll or history in general, September 11, 2001 is certainly ingrained in our collective memories. If you were alive at the time, you can’t help but remember exactly where you were when the attacks on The World Trade Centre, Pentagon and United Airlines Flight 93 took place.

Legend has it that in the aftermath of 9/11, Springsteen was stopped at a traffic light where a fan pulled up beside him, rolled down his window and said, “We need you now.” For those of us who grew up after the Vietnam war, 9/11 is the single biggest historical event of our time. It motivated Springsteen to get the E Street band back in the studio for the first time in 18 years and formed the inspiration for many of the songs on The Rising, an album filled with themes of loss, regret, hope and resilience.

“Lonesome Day” not only opened most of the shows on that tour, it also opens the album with Springsteen assuring us that despite our losses, “this too shall pass…It’s alright, It’s alright, It’s alright, yeah…just get through this lonesome day.” It’s a simple yet universal message, that anyone directly impacted by 9/11, and even those who just watched in horror and didn’t know what to do or how to help, could all understand and find relatable.

On “Into The Fire,” Springsteen recalls the firefighter and first responder stories. Those brave men and women who ran towards the danger, many of whom climbed the stairs of the Twin Towers to their eventual demise. The song reminds us that their strength, their faith, their hope and their love can help us come to grips with their sacrifice.

While “Waitin’ On A Sunny Day” has all the hallmarks of a campfire sing-a-long, the lyrics tell a different story. The song is classic Springsteen and reminds us to hold on to hope in anticipation that things will eventually get better. “It’s raining, but there ain’t a cloud in the sky, must’ve been a tear from your eye. Everything’ll be ok.” 

“Empty Sky” and “You’re  Missing” are both deeply touching songs about lost love with lyrics like, “Just an empty impression in the bed where you used to be,” on the former before Springsteen turns angry and demands an eye for an eye in exchange for the emptiness left behind. On “You’re Missing,” The Boss grapples with the hard realization that many parents faced when explaining to their kids that mommy or daddy weren’t coming home. “Children are asking if it’s alright. Will you be in our arms tonight?”

There are also a handful of non-9/11 specific tracks in the middle of the record with “Further On Up The Road” and “Mary’s Place” as standout songs about healing, redemption, finding joy and rising out of darkness. 

On that theme of rising up and resurrection are two album standouts, the lead single and title track: “The Rising” and album closer “My City of Ruins”. It’s interesting that Springsteen puts these two tracks near the end of the album, but it also makes total sense. You have to get through the pain, suffering and loss before you can “Come on up for the rising” or “Come on, rise up” as Springsteen beckons us to do in the southern Baptist preacher style during the closing refrain of the album. 

For me, that show in 2002 led me to a deeper exploration of The Rising which then led me to a much deeper appreciation of Bruce Springsteen’s entire back catalogue. I found an artist who has long been able to capture the emotions of his fellow citizens and speak from his heart about what troubles us during trying times. Records about lovers, friends, fathers, sons, workers, gangsters, romantics and cowboys are sprinkled throughout the Springsteen canon making his work both timely and timeless. 

The Rising may not be a perfect record or come close to being his best effort, but it was my on-ramp to Springsteen and also remains a constant reminder of the 9/11 period in my life. 

That’s the thing about music and all of the great albums being featured in Biff Bam Pop!’s Album of the Week series. It doesn’t matter when you find them, how you find out about the artist or what the genre is. Music that connects with you, moves you and helps you make a little sense of this world, is a powerful thing and, for that, I will always be thankful to have music in my life. 

That spirit and the magic power of music is captured perfectly by Springsteen on the Sam Cooke inspired “Mary’s Place.”

“Seven days, seven candles

In my window light your way

Your favorite record’s on the turntable 

I drop the needle and pray

Band’s counting out midnight

Floor’s rumbling loud

Singer’s calling up daylight

And waiting for that shout from the crowd

Turn it up, turn it up, turn it up, turn it up

Turn it up, turn it up, turn it up”

Perry Schwartz is a marketing and communications consultant who dreams of becoming a rock star. Until then, he’ll just listen to the greats do their thing.

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