Monday, February 13, 2012

DEBTS THAT NO HONEST MAN CAN PAY: Bill See looks back at Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska, which was released thirty years ago this March. "Nebraska is a kind of magic in the bottle that’s only captured through sheer happenstance. It’s no coincidence that Bruce walked around for weeks with the cassette in his back pocket, unaware it would not only become his next record but be talked about, and rightfully so, as one of the true masterpieces in American music":
What Springsteen gleaned from the songs of Woody Guthrie, the writings of O’Connor and Steinbeck and filmmakers like Ford, Huston and Terrence Mallick was a humanity and a curiosity about why certain people lose connection with themselves, their families, their community, their government. And what then happens when that kind of alienation infiltrates the subconscious. Further, the profound effect that has on the people that love those alienated and disconnected souls.

What’s so extraordinary is how deeply Springsteen makes us care for these characters: unrepentant murderers, small-time thieves, disenfranchised night crawlers driving around all night at their wit’s end. Springsteen provides perspective: “You can put together a lot of detail, but unless you pull something up out of yourself it’s going to lie flat on the page. You’ve got to find out what you have in common with that character, no matter who they are or what they did. So “Nebraska is… written with the premise that everybody knows what it’s like to be condemned, which they do, of course.”

Springsteen not only casts these lost souls as working class, but he has them speak in a specifically old world kind of working class dialect. The use of “sir” or “son” brilliantly illustrates how they have accepted their subservient role in a kind of institutionalized lower class....


  1. Joseph Finn12:19 AM

    It's a very good point about the writings of Steinbeck and O'Connor, but for some reason it's also always reminded me of the writings of Jim Thompson and James Ellroy.  Either way, I still think it's Springsteen's masterpiece.

  2. kevbo nobo7:28 AM

    I always loved "Johnny 99" with the echo of a concrete cell, and the unhinged "whoos!". The tension just built and built till the protagonist just doesn't give a shit anymore and dares the judge to fry him.

  3. Jim Bell9:29 AM

    Put in my vote for Highway Patrolman and the Johnny Cash Cover of same.  The line "Me and Frankie, Laughing and Drinking, Nothing feels better than blood on blood" has always held enormous resonance with me.  I have been estranged from my father for several years now, and it has a new meaning.  Ive sometimes thought about reestablishing that toxic relationship just because that line exists.  Silly, I know.

  4. Nigel from Cameroon9:34 AM

    As weary I am of Bruce today is how much I love this album. Before he wore too much jewelry, sprayed-on his tan, and died his hair (I guess there's just a meaness in this world), he was just stripped down and raw and just there...true greatness, sir.

  5. Adam C.12:10 PM

    Jim, for a lot of similar reasons, I concur (and I also would point to Track 9, "My Father's House").

    Separately, I can vividly remember the first time I listened to "State Trooper" - it was at night in a dark room as I was drifting off to sleep. That state changed rather quickly - his first raw cry between verses scared the living crap out of me.

  6. Anonymous5:12 PM

    I just pray that I get to see him live at least once before that... stops happening. I will never forgive myself for missing all those chances.