1982 – Rock
Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska brought a revolution to the Rock and amateur music. Nebraska can easily be your new religion.
In 1982, Bruce Springsteen was living in New Jersey, drinking of the glory and resting after the “The River” tour. In the exile from the way to become a Rock Star, Bruce, with all the whirlwind of ideas, asked for one band member to buy a recorder. In this recorder, Springsteen, at the perfect moment, would put all his feelings in the paper, or better, 4 tapes. With the appliance, Bruce recorded dozens of songs, some would be in his next album: “Nebraska” (1972) and “Born in the U.S.A.”, and others still unknown.
After the impromptu recording sessions, Springsteen selected 10 songs to re-record and produce with the “E Street Band” at the studio. However, after a lot of attempts, not only Bruce realize, but also the band, the producers and musicians that would be almost impossible to reach the level of the demo version of the tracks, so, Bruce decided to release the tracks as they were. With this action, he not just reinvented the genres, but also, open a lot of doors to a lot of singer and song-writes get inspired and clarify his mind to his next projects.
Right at the begging, Nebraska shows up as an album with darkness, helplessness, hopeless and death acceptation. Easily I can say that Nebraska is Expressionism work. In a blanked canvas, Bruce painted with dark colors the sad atmosphere. Different from his previous album, where the hope, fun and happiness of a teenager still was rooted in his soul, in Nebraska, Bruce took another highway. With the time, Bruce grown up, but with him, his vision and his opinion about certain subjects. Now, in an older age, he felt the necessity to talk about all the issues in the society with a stronger hand. With a lot of metaphors, Bruce created a new persona in each track with a different story, that in the end, seems the same person. That is because he represented the American population.
The first track is “Nebraska” that starts with a very strong, loud and deep harmonica. With determination, Bruce incarnated Charles Starkweather, a serial killer, and tell his stories. But the way he told the story, it’s really looks like that Bruce, in fact, is Charles. Sometimes, I felt empathy with Starkweather because the story-telling here is so different from the usual way that Springsteen make we understand the side of the murder. With the harmonica, a calm guitar is playing in the back while Bruce tells about the only fun that Charles and his girlfriend had.
In “Atlantic City”, the mainly theme here is the escape of young couple. In a big city, to survive, the guy starts to deal with crime and gang. In his defense, he did what he had to do, and it doesn’t matter if it will affect him, cause in the end, everything dies. His hopeless for the future is a remarkable theme in “Nebraska”. With true voice, Bruce tells about what the money makes us do. Since the traffic up to murder, we need to survive and the people only do this kind of stuff because they need to survive and they don’t have a “normal” job.
Jumping to the fourth track, “Johnny 99”, we have the same issue, the things that the lack of jobs makes us do. In this life, we always want money, so, when we don’t have any way to get it, we got frustrated and angry, and this make us do crazy stuffs, like Johnny. After losing his job, Johnny got drunk and killed a guy in a bar, after that, he was sentenced to death. In this dramatic movie, we see injustice, sadness and murder, but all that, in the screaming for mercy, is just a consequence of the lack of money.
“Now I ain’t sayin’ that makes me an innocent man
But it was more ‘n all this that put that gun in my hand”
Backing to “Mansion on the Hill”, the third track, we listen to a critic to the industrialization. In the middle of all the factories, we have an old-classic mansion that admires everybody that watches her. In “Born in the U.S.A.”’s last track, “My Hometown”, Bruce talks about how the new jobs in the city destroyed the little and calm cities, cause, everybody run away to get a job. I can say that “My Hometown” had “Mansion on the Hill” as inspiration. In this track, we can see the little Bruce seeing everything getting industrialized, but, the best moments are when he seats and watch the old mansion that is surviving in the hill.
Joe Roberts’s story is the thematic of “Highway Patrolman” the fifth track. Joe is an honest worker that always free Franky from the problems. In fact, Franky is Joe’s brother, and that’s why he always got save, because “when it’s your brother sometimes you look the other way”. In this track we also see the “I did what I had to do”. Since accept jobs that you don’t want, to go to war to fight for your country, sometimes, you need to somethings to survive. The familiar structure is put over all, even the honest work. Even whey he said that he is honest, he is kind omitting the fact that he treats everybody equals but Franky. I don’t blame him, because he is trying to save his brother, but in the end, the only escape for Franky is run away to the other country.
Nebraska’s darkness is deeply influenced by the band “Suicide”. With this disturbed sound and screaming of “State Trooper”, Bruce talks about the precariousness of work and how the individual doesn’t have peace even when he’s driving because he is a minority, actually, the majority, but for the government, he’s just the little screw in the all State machine. And we can see all the efforts that these people do to achieve a better life in “Used Car”. Since selling the emotion goods up to indebted and suffering with extra hour in the work. In fact, the car itself is a symbol to the life itself. I think that is the one of most personal tracks in this album.
The next track, “Open All Night” is the more out of the curve. It’s probably the less toxic breath in this radioactive world. The eighth track have an instrumental and thematic that is a little bit light and cheered up. Bruce’s voice sings desperately, it’s sound suffocating. It’s seems like he was so excited for this moment that he lost his control to enjoy at the maximum this part. The lyrics only talks about a worker that is tired and wanted to go back to his lover.
Probably the most personal track is “My Father’s House”, the ninth song. As a kid, Bruce describe his father’s house as a safe harbor to him. While all the bad things of the world were trying to take Bruce down, when he arrived at his father’s place, he felt safe and sound. However, when Bruce grew up, he doesn’t have that safe place to rest. Now he has to live with the memories. This track is so personal because references to Bruce’s mental illness like depression. This illness made Bruce start thinking about suicide. Thanks, Bruce started to see a therapist.
Moving to the last track, we have “Reason to Believe” that is a beautiful poem that tells four sad stories, but in each one, it has someone that still believe in the goodness. Is the massage from Springsteen saying to us: “hey, you know all the bad stuffs that I told you, I know they exist, but you can’t give up from life. Life is a gift, and you always have to put the hope over all”. Is a great closure, cause after all the darkness, sadness and depression, it soothing see that even the people, Bruce in the case, that have this dark vision about the world still have hope.
But, isn’t only the lyrical content that is remarkable in this LP. The atmosphere that Bruce managed to keep is unbelievable. With the help of harmonica, guitar, electric guitar, piano and synthesizers, Springsteen created this really dark and sad storm above our heads. I understand why Bruce didn’t want to rewrite the tracks in the studio. The amateur style added so much to each track to create this personal style and proximity between the listener and singer, and even take Bruce off the pedestal and show for everybody that even when you are a Rock Start, you still remember your roots, whether they are good or not. The howls, screams and vocal efforts are very rewarding. These elements are essential points to help the insignificance, confusion and indignation that haunt the American individual.
My verdict is that there will be no other Nebraska in the history of music. This LP is unique. The stories that we heard here and moral that we have learn will be in our minds forever. The atmosphere? Remarkable, something to envy. The amateur instrumental, in some way, sounded futuristic and unique of its kind. The fact that none of this track in the project are bad, make us think about the artists that put a lot of money and time to build an album and then doesn’t even got close to Nebraska. The secret here is the truth.