Friday, May 4, 2018

1982 - Nebraska

Asbury Park was the young and dumb and full of cum LP of Springsteen's youth, and Born to Run, while a masterpiece ("Thunder Road" the equivalent of Whitman in its ability to capture youth in America) was simply Bruce perfecting what was already Bruce, but on Nebraska, Springsteen isn't the singer/songwriter growing up, but all grown up. Nebraska's themes are nihilistic, dark, and consistent. It opens with a song about a ruthless, disaffected murderer, 1950s' serial killer Charles Starkweather from first-person perspective and his teenage lover. Powerful lyrics pervade "Atlantic City" that rival Dylan: "Well now everything dies baby that's a fact/ But maybe everything that dies someday comes back./ Put your makeup on, fix your hair up pretty/ And meet me tonight in Atlantic City." Funny where we think we'll find solutions. Each track thereafter is told from the perspective of someone who's done or is doing something wrong for some reason or the another. No answers. And Bruce weaves the stories matter of factly, as though we're just unlucky, all just playing the cards we're dealt: "Now judge, judge, I got debts no honest man could pay/ The bank was holding my mortgage, they taking my house away./ Now I ain't saying that makes me an innocent man,/ But it was more and all this that put that gun in my hand."
Poignant as shit.

"Highway Patrolman" is from the perspective of a cop who claims to always have done an honest job. His brother gets in trouble with the law and in a high-speed chase, the cop lets him get away. "A man turns his back on his family, he just ain't no good" clashes dead away with his duty and he does the only thing he really could have. He puts the reasons to catch his brother on one side of the scale, the reasons to let him go on the other, no choice in how important each reason is - how much weight they have. It's a story of Biblical proportions. We don't judge our brother. Heartbreaking. The LPs closer, "Reason to Believe" is The Boss with BS. Life's a bitch and then you die: "Struck me kinda funny, yeah it's funny sir to me/ how at the end of every hard-earned day people find some reason to believe."

Springsteen sings in black and white on an LP that's far from accessible, yet there's a singer/songwriter feel to Nebraska that very few albums match.  The stripped down quality of the music, combined with the darkness of the music, puts one in the same frame of mind as Neil Young's "Tonight's The Night" or The Velvet Underground, call it music noir. The characters, situations, and emotions displayed here are those that we don't like to encounter, but far more common than those that make us feel good.  That's dangerous territory, for someone like Springsteen, whose live shows are everyone's favorite party, yelling "Bruce, Bruce, Bruce." Nobody doing that here. Nebraska is the catalyst for every singer-songwriter since, from Ben Gibbard to Iron and Wine to Sun Kil Moon, but it's no party.