The Rising (2002)
Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band
Come on up for the risin’
Come on up lay your hands in mine
Come on up for the risin’
Come on up for the risin’ tonight
Amid the numbness, despair and rage of September 11th, if there was ever a soul that could give America a rallying cry – and light a fire under our unbreakable spirit – it was, and still is, Bruce Springsteen.
As the undisputed torch-bearer for blue-collar, no-retreat ideals and the veteran Rock-N-Roll redeemer of the proud American Dream, Bruce had to respond to 9/11. And the expectations were high by any standard. He hadn’t released a solo album in seven years, and nothing with his legendary backers, The E Street Band, for more than a decade.
America’s recovery and revitalization would mirror Bruce’s own. His renewal would reflect the country’s, with the redeemer and the redeemed fully interchangeable. A long and winding 45 years into his rise toward Rock-N-Roll immortality, Springsteen approached 9/11 from the inside out, in a deeply personal, soul-searching response to an unthinkable day of terror.
Just 10 months after the attack on the World Trade Center, Bruce delivered a triumphant, emotionally explosive album – one that celebrates the spirit and working-class grit that makes this country the “land of the free” and “home of the brave.” The Rising, his 12th studio album, debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 chart, selling more than a half-million copies in the first week (Bruce is the oldest artist to ever do that). He took the 2003 Grammy for Best Rock Album, and rightly so. He deserved Album of the Year, too.
The Rising is jammed floor-to-ceiling with simmering rage, soothing grace and pretty much everything in between – a rich array of sophisticated songs that stirs the soul in many ways, in places deep down inside.
Amid all the brilliant songs and the intense expectations, “The Rising” lives up to its billing as the album’s title track and artistic anchor, its immensely powerful lyric and musical climax. It is a song that lifted a heartbroken city of more than 8 million, and an entire nation, during one of the darkest, most deeply rattled times in American history.
That’s the best kind of Rock-N-Roll there is – the kind that can save you.
Come on, rise up…
As the curtain rises, Bruce sets the magnitude of the scene by layering stark, solitary vocals on top of the foreboding, seesawing (and hypnotic) violin of E-Streeter Soozie Tyrell. You can feel the rage bottled up inside.
Springsteen’s delivery – as the firefighter in the Tower – is slow-moving and deliberate, uncertain but steely in the face of mayhem, a reflection of America’s resilience and grace under enormous pressure.
Can’t see nothin’ in front of me
Can’t see nothin’ coming up behind
I make my way through this darkness
I can’t feel nothing but this chain that binds me
Lost track of how far I’ve gone
How far I’ve gone, how high I’ve climbed
On my back’s a sixty pound stone
On my shoulder a half mile line
The lyrics are autobiographical, as a reflection of Bruce himself, making his way through the twilight of his career, laden with the “sixty pound stone” of experience. “The Rising” is about the rescuer and the rescued. The artist and the audience. The preacher and the faithful flock.
Just as the firefighter does his job, Bruce will do his. They rescue in different ways with an understanding that serving the communal good is the first priority. The same gritty work ethic and longing for something better heard in songs like “Badlands,” “Factory” and “The Promised Land” come back around to be fully realized and glorified in “The Rising.”
The song opens in medias res – somber and bleak, the crisp morning of September 11th lay shattered before us. As the Towers are about to come down, the song streaks back in time – loose from the emptiness and isolation inside the Tower – and drops you straight into the whirling morning rush to the scene of the crime.
Left the house this morning
Bells ringing filled the air
Wearin’ the cross of my calling
On wheels of fire I come rollin’ down here
You can feel the chaos – the speed and confusion on the ground – as drummer Max Weinberg whips the band into a white-knuckle fury. With the force of a freight train, “The Rising” picks up steam and instruments as the storm gathers strength in its unity of purpose – salvation, and redemption of the Great American Dream.
The runaway intensity brings conflicting feelings of power and heart-wrenching vulnerability – fists clenched, eyes teary. It’s a wild confluence of emotion, straddling the fine line between salvation on the one hand, and destruction on the other.
Bruce, the Rock-N-Roll firefighter, draws strength from the lives he could not save – though he dies trying.
Spirits above and behind me
Faces gone, black eyes burnin’ bright
May their precious blood forever bind me
Lord as I stand before your fiery light
The spiritual and secular are mixed but conflicted, too: Hard work and (ultimate) sacrifice will be rewarded, but life in the real world – the human touch and simple pleasures – will always be dearly missed:
I see you Mary in the garden
In the garden of a thousand sighs
There’s holy pictures of our children
Dancin’ in a sky filled with light
May I feel your arms around me
May I feel your blood mix with mine
A dream of life comes to me
Like a catfish dancin’ on the end of the line
Bruce’s heavy use of Catholic references – like “the cross of my calling” and Mother Mary – are tied to redemption and salvation. The religious and spiritual world is inextricably bound to the real world where we live and work. Even when passing through to the glory of the everlasting, there is a deep longing for simple human joys and pleasures, like “a catfish dancin’ on the end of the line.”
“The Rising” celebrates both life and death – each possessing the power and potential to redeem the other. It is a brilliant work that simmers and snarls with desperation, spirituality and populist national pride – making us feel 10-feet tall, and restoring a sense of hope and invincibility to the American psyche.
It’s the ultimate “game face” song. It represents the pinnacle of Rock-N-Roll’s transformative power. All you have to do, according to Bruce, is “lay your hands in mine.” And we believe him.
Running into the song’s close, there’s no fade, just swirling chaos – then nothing. The abruptness is a haunting reminder of those bright, shining, loving lives that were snuffed out that awful day in September 2001.
Our fellow Americans, our friends, our lovers, our mothers, our fathers, our brothers and sisters were all there that fateful morning – and then they weren’t.
- Bruce wrote “The Rising” late in the album as a “bookend” to “Into The Fire,” also about a firefighter.
- It took Best Rock Song and Best Male Rock Vocal Performance of the year at the Grammy Awards.
- During Bruce’s solo Devils & Dust Tour in 2005, he played a bleak, haunting acoustic version of “The Rising.”
- Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama used “The Rising” at campaign rallies during the 2008 presidential campaign.