Thursday, May 19, 2005

Weighing in on the Devil

Some early readers of the book (it's still not out officially) have noted that it doesn't cover Devils & Dust in great depth. Indeed, the DualDisc was released while this book was in production already and is addressed, briefly, in the introduction. Here's what I wrote to end the introduction, after a brief section that discussed Springsteen's role in the 2004 election (a role examined in far more detail in the main text of the book):

"Devils & Dust, packed with older songs but much of it recorded in late ’04 when it felt like the nation could go either way, is filled with the outsider voices that Springsteen’s songs have employed as narrators since the very first song on his very first album. The new album is musically more diverse than The Ghost of Tom Joad. It's as if Springsteen experimented with how much he could flesh out solo-acoustic arrangements yet still have something that felt more like a solo album than an E Street affair. Steve Jordan’s forceful, spare drums, for example, are the big reason the title number delivers more musically than just a regurgitation of the
"Blood Brothers" melody. Nebraska notwithstanding, the guy makes better records when there are other musicians playing alongside him. Some of these outsider characters Springsteen lets speak for themselves, as in the uncensored nastiness of "Reno." Others speak with the benefit of Springsteen’s intelligence. Characters like the soldier in the title track and the boxer in "The Hitter" relate their stories with a perspective far beyond what the real folks standing in their shoes would be likely to offer. Devils & Dust is full of songs that may not be literally true, but emotionally most of the tales are inarguable. And sometimes, as in "Long Time Comin'," he allows the narrator something approaching peace. That peace may be fleeting, it may even be illusory, but Springsteen’s work has long maintained that any respite from this dark world is a welcome one. Earlier this month [I wrote this March 29, 2005] the Asbury Park Press ran a short piece about several fans waiting outside the town’s Convention Center while Springsteen rehearsed inside, preparing for the tour to support Devils & Dust. The fans waited more than three hours, listening to the muffled sounds within, before Springsteen emerged and signed some autographs for them on the way to his Range Rover. When Springsteen learned how long they had been waiting, he smiled and said, "You kids need to get a life." Get a life? What is it makes life worth living? Springsteen has been thinking about that on record and onstage for a long time now. This book hopes to follow Springsteen as he considers this question from many angles."

That's insufficient, of course, but the book was conceived and 99-percent complete before the new record was announced. So I'll use this space over the next week or so to think about the new record and the tour that comes to my adopted hometown tomorrow night.