Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Voice of America; Though Poets and Novelists Strove to Write 11 September Elegies, the Most Eloquent Words Came in the Songs of Bruce Springsteen

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Voice of America; Though Poets and Novelists Strove to Write 11 September Elegies, the Most Eloquent Words Came in the Songs of Bruce Springsteen

Article excerpt

Byline: SARAH DUNANT

I SPENT a significant part of last Wednesday singing: in my car, window down, yelling my lungs out into the Indian summer air, stereo at full volume.

The music was track six of The Rising, Bruce Springsteen's elegiac portrait of America post 11 September. I had felt for days as if I had been drowning in a sea of opinion, media-orchestrated memory and an uncomfortable collision - perhaps collusion - of grief and the call to war, so there was something about the wall of sound that is rock 'n' roll that washed me clean.

British culture has not been overwhelmed by The Rising. Admittedly it came out this year in August, always the cruellest month for reviewing. It got obligatory reviews from rock critics, but with the 9/11 experience colonised here by literary big hitters - is there a serious male novelist who hasn't felt the need to tell us his "thoughts" on the apocalypse? - there was, as always in British culture, a dismissive sense that, to quote Mick Jagger, it's only rock 'n' roll.

In America it was different. The Rising was an event. It made the cover of Time, sold half a million in the first week. Springsteen's opening concert on the New Jersey shoreline was national news. Of course, America is more generous towards rock 'n' roll, perhaps because, like much of popular culture, America invented it. It is one of the triumphs of the melting pot, and in this atmosphere Springsteen's voice resonates, for ordinary America, as loud as any literary lion's.

But his impact is also because of what he has to say. The Rising is a substantial album: elegiac, griefstricken and triumphant, though without the sense of the war drum beating in the background.

Not all of it works. The exploration of national trauma through snapshots of individual loss (Springsteen talked to victims and their families, some from his home town) is not always successful; but, at its best, what it does with great simplicity and power is to explore the devastating sense of shock and vulnerability that America felt that day. Many of the best tracks are about the searing pain of missing and how it goes on longer than you think you can bear.

Springsteen has always been good at getting macho America to accept the pain, as well as celebrate the pleasure, and there are times when there is an almost religious intensity to the album: the echo of gospel on Into The Fire, its biblical imagery and the almost evangelical uplift that comes with the title track The Rising.

Heroism for Springsteen has as much to do with living an ordinary nine-to-five life as it does with playing at High Noon. It's why ordinary Americans love him and that is why The Rising - with its refusal to go for easy answers and its insistence on the terrible, but necessary, balance between grief and growth, rage and love, pain and revenge - is so refreshing amid the omnipresent cowboy speak coming from the White House. …

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