Home' Rhythms Magazine : 2017 Jan-Feb Contents 16 Rhythms
after the success in 1980 of "the river",Bruce
springsteen's first album to top the Billboard chart
and "Hungry Heart", his first top 10 single, the massive
commercial breakthrough that people had been
predicting for nearly a decade,seemed inevitable.
In early 1982 at the conclusion of "The River" tour,
Springsteen took some time off, driving around the country,
reading, thinking about the realities of his own life, trying
to put into perspective the countless difficulties that were
bound to have an adverse effect on the lives of the everyday
American man and woman, his people, who were already
suffering the consequences of Ronald Reagan's harsh Right
Wing economic policies that would prevail throughout
the eighties. During his sabbatizcal Springsteen read
historian Howard Zinn's "A Peoples' History Of The United
States" and was profoundly effected by what he found in
the book. He also read Joe Klein's biography of Woody
Guthrie and was inspired with the way popular songs
could work as a binding force for social consciousness
and political action. With those thoughts front and centre,
he wrote a body of songs that dealt with ordinary, blue
collar characters facing challenges in their lives, outsiders,
criminals, nonconformists, misfits, and mass murderers
with little or no hope for the future. He recorded the demos
alone at home into a Teac cassette recorder accompanied
for the most part only by his acoustic guitar later adding
some electric guitar, harmonica, mandolin, tambourine,
glockenspiel, organ and synthesizer. Once the work was
completed he brought the songs to the studio and recorded
them with The E Street Band. When Springsteen heard the
playbacks, he announced "The feel is wrong, that's not what
those songs are trying to convey". The magic in the demo
cassette, he realised, came out of its sonic flaws. It was raw,
intimate, dark, pensive. It soon became obvious that the
album Springsteen needed to make of those songs was
already on his cassette.
The album's opening track, "Nebraska" is one of many
songs on the album that relates to a Hollywood movie.
It was inspired by Terence Malick's 1973 film "Badlands"
that detailed the real-life killing spree of nineteen year old
Charlie Starkweather and his fourteen year old girl friend
Caril Ann Fugate who, in 1958, murdered ten innocent
people in eastern Wyoming. The song's opening lines ("I
saw her standin' on her front lawn, just twirlin' her baton...")
came directly from Malick's film where Martin Sheen's first
glimpse of Sissy Spacek is on her father's lawn practising
her cheer-leader's baton twirls. It's been suggested that the
sort of low-rent gangsters who featured in Louis Malle's
1981 film "Atlantic City" that starred Burt Lancaster and
Susan Sarandon, inspired Springsteen to cast the small time
crooks and hustlers in his "Atlantic City". An admitted Hank
Williams fan, Springsteen may have recalled the country
music legend's 1948 hit "Mansion On The Hill" when
looking for the title of a song he based on a real location he
and his father used to visit in his youth.
One of the album's most cinematic songs, it depicts the
envy of every day people driving past the steel gates that
keeps them out of the opulent mansion, evoking the kind of
parties F. Scott Fitzgerald described in "The Great Gatsby".
Springsteen later admitted that the 1962 film "To Kill A
Mockingbird" played a part in the shaping of the song.
In "Johnny 99" he tells the story of a desperate,
unemployed, young man who is arrested on charges of
robbery and murder. The song provided Johnny Cash with
the title of his 1983 album.
"Highway Patrolman" relates the story of an idealistic cop
who allows his no good brother to escape across the border
to Canada after shooting a man in a bar room fight. The
song inspired Sean Penn's 1991 film "The Indian Runner".
"State Trooper" captures a paranoid young criminal
speeding on the New Jersey Turnpike, shock-jocks blaring
on the radio, blinding headlights all around. The song was
covered by The Cowboy Junkies in 1986 and Steve Earle in
Springsteen's obsession with cars continues with "Used
Cars" an autobiographical tale of driving around New
Jersey on weekends with his Dad at the wheel, his sister in
the front seat, his mum in the back.
"Open All Night" is a celebration of listening to gospel and
rock and roll radio stations on the car radio.
Springsteen's difficult relationship with his father, a
constant theme of his work, is referenced in "My Father's
House" inspired by Charles Laughton's 1954 masterpiece
"Night Of The Hunter". The song was covered in 1987 by
"Reason To Believe", not the one written by Tim Hardin,
is an ambiguous song about faith, another theme that
regularly turns up on Springsteen albums.
"Nebraska" has been described as "one of the most
challenging albums ever released by a major star on a major
record label". Springsteen was quoted as saying "I always
think of it as my most personal record".
Tom Morello, the newest addition to the E Street Band, was
a hard-edged eighteen year old punk rocker on his way to
becoming leader of Rage Against The Machine" when he
"Nebraska", "I didn't know there was music like that, that
was as impactful and as heavy as "Nebraska" was, the
alienation that I felt was, for the first time, expressed in
music and then I became a huge fan".
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