The Boss takes role as local from New Jersey seriously

July 29, 2002|By Robert Hilburn | Robert Hilburn,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

From the bridge near his house in Monmouth County, N.J., Bruce Springsteen could see the twin towers of the World Trade Center on clear days. His sharpest memory now of Sept. 11 is driving across that bridge and seeing an empty sky.

"I must have seen those towers a thousand times from the bridge," Springsteen says, sitting in a Manhattan recording studio about a dozen subway stops from Ground Zero.

"I spent most of Sept. 11 in front of the television like everybody else ... , but it all didn't really hit home until I took a ride across the bridge and there was nothing where the towers used to be. The real world, I guess, is always more dramatic than something on television."

Almost immediately, Springsteen began writing a salute to the hundreds of rescue workers who rushed into the skyscrapers the morning of the terrorist attacks. He planned to sing the song, "Into the Fire," on the nationally televised Sept. 21 telethon, but he didn't finish it in time. He substituted "My City of Ruins," an older song about the life being sucked out of Asbury Park, N.J.

With its uplifting call to "rise up" from despair, "City" worked well in the solemn context of the telethon. Yet Springsteen remained so haunted by Sept. 11 that he not only finished "Into the Fire," but also began writing other songs, including "You're Missing" and "Empty Sky," that expressed the delicate emotions he felt in the days and weeks after the tragedy.

Those tunes form the heart of The Rising, Springsteen's first studio album with the E Street Band since 1984's Born in the U.S.A. It will be followed this summer by an extensive tour with the band. The tour stops at the MCI Center in Washington Aug. 10.

After a series of albums with other musicians and ones that focused on Springsteen's transition to adulthood, The Rising looks at the outside world and tries to make sense of it all.

One of the most moving songs, "Empty Sky," conveys the heartache of losing a loved one. The imagery seems drawn from that view from the bridge:

I woke up this morning

I could barely breathe

Just an empty impression

In the bed where you used to be.

I want a kiss from your lips

I want an eye for an eye

I woke up this morning to an empty sky.

"The atmosphere in the days after Sept. 11 felt like it must have during wartime - the uncertainty and the anxiety and the concern," Springsteen, 52, says. "I don't think anyone will ever forget it, particularly here in New Jersey. The local communities were hit pretty hard. There were 150-plus casualties from Monmouth County alone. You would drive by the church every day and there was another funeral."

Springsteen takes the role of local citizen seriously. Rather than join Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones and others in "The Concert for New York City" on Oct. 20 at Madison Square Garden, he joined some local musicians for two nights the same week at the 1,400-seat Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, N.J. The shows raised $1 million for families of World Trade Center attack victims from Monmouth County.

This sense of family and community runs through The Rising, whose overriding feeling is about rallying back after the loss of someone close to you.

"This is a tough city and a tough country, and they'll both be all right," Springsteen says. "I felt a lot of anxiety in the air after 9/11, but I also felt a lot of optimism and faith and spirit. That's what I wanted to capture in the album."

Robert Hilburn is a pop music critic for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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