- 23 Oct 20
Shadows And Light: Springsteen And The E Street Band Hold A Flame To The Darkness
Back in 2002, Springsteen released The Rising to an America and a world that were still reeling after the 9/11 attacks. His masterful song writing summed up a lot of people’s feelings, and that record acted as a salve against the wounds of the time. Jump forward to 2020 and, if anything, we’re in a worse turmoil. In answer, Springsteen gives the people what they want and what they need: a celebration of the promise and the healing power of rock n’ roll, the greatest thing we have.
It starts gently, with ‘One Minute You’re Here’, a meditation on mortality and loss for fallen friends. “Baby, baby, I’m so alone”, but we can be alone together. It’s one for anyone who’s lost someone, at any time. The album closes with ‘I’ll See You In My Dreams’, a sister song that’s also saying farewell to the departed, but this time there’s a defiant hope. The memories of those gone on will always be with us, but they leave us stronger, unbroken, “We’ll meet and live and love again.”
We build towards that hope in the space between those bookends, as the mighty E Street Band, one of the three or four greatest rock n’ roll bands of all time, are let off the leash. They gallop along beside the ‘Burnin’ Train’, they leap from the speakers and grab you by the lapels with the first chorus of ‘Rainmaker’, they crash in behind the title track; this is the glorious sound of a band of brothers, decades together, playing to and for each other in a room.
It’s a difficult choice to make but the three songs from his youth that only previously saw daylight on bootlegs are among the best things here. ‘Janey Needs A Shooter’ – there were traces of it in ‘Jeannie Needs A Shooter’, a 1980 Springsteen/Warren Zevon co-write - could have found a home on Darkness At The Edge Of Town with that guitar sound behind that harmonica, ‘If I Was The Priest’ has a three-chord riff stolen from the rock n’ roll gods, and ‘Song For Orphans’ boasts a freewheeling lyrical flow last heard around the time of ‘The E Street Shuffle’.
Nobody writes rock n’ roll songs about rock n’ roll like Springsteen, and he eulogises that life-changing sound with ’Last Man Standing’, ‘House Of A Thousand Guitars’, and the mighty ‘Ghosts’. “I’m alive,” he roars as he again salutes his late brethren, “I can feel the blood shiver in my bones.” It’s a cri de cœur, a call to fill our spirits with light. It’s a song that, as a friend of mine gushed, has you jumping out of your chair punching the air whilst simultaneously bursting into tears. I - and I'm hardly on my own either - would follow this man into hell, for the heaven that’s promised here. If we ever get concerts back, there’s a good chance that when the moment comes where the band drop out and The Boss bellows his guarantee, his vow that “by the end of the set, we’d leave no one alive”, a lot of people in the crowd are simply going to spontaneously combust.
As the world dims, and hope seems extinguished, the light of rock n’ roll is more important than ever. Springsteen is a keeper – perhaps the keeper - of that flame, a holy charge that he remains more than equal to.