Bruce Springsteen intended much of his album The Rising to be inspirational. But in “You’re Missing,” he has a different agenda: To convey the emotional toll that 9/11 took on victims’ families. And he does so, to devastating effect.
The family in this song is in limbo. One spouse went off to work, like he or she would have done on any other day, and has not returned. The reality is that he or she is probably dead. But for the moment, all the other spouse can say for sure is that “you’re missing.”
Everything in the house still seems normal. “Pictures on the nightstand, TV’s on in the den/Your house is waiting, your house is waiting/For you to walk in, for you to walk in,” Springsteen sings. (Notice how he repeats lines to create the effect of time passing slowly.) The children have questions, and friends and relatives are calling. The line “mama’s in the kitchen, baby and all” may mean that a grandparent has come over to help out.
I take “Everything is everything, but you’re missing” to mean: This person is trying to be calm and philosophical about it all, to somehow rise above it. But the reality (“you’re missing”) is just too painful to make that possible.
The final lines are not comforting. “God’s drifting in heaven, devil’s in the mailbox/I got dust on my shoes, nothing but teardrops,” Springsteen sings. Some have interpreted the “Devil’s in the mailbox” line to be about anthrax, but I don’t see it that way. I think the idea is, the goodness that God represents may exist, but it is remote at this point in this person’s life. The horror that the Devil represents is right there, at the front door.
The dust on the shoes refers, I think pretty clearly, to the dust that was omnipresent at Ground Zero, after the Twin Towers fell. “Nothing but teardrops” is self-explanatory.
Springsteen sings softly and gently; you can feel his compassion. And the music is slow and hypnotic, following the lead of Roy Bittan’s stately opening piano riff. The song almost seems to drag at times, but that’s, I’m sure, intentional.
All anyone can do is wait.
Background facts: Springsteen released “You’re Missing” on his 2002 album, The Rising.
According to Brucebase, it was performed 103 times in 2002 and 2003, on the Rising Tour, and just two times since then: July 18, 2005 at the HSBC Arena in Buffalo (by request) and Sept. 11, 2016 at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh show marked the only time when Springsteen had scheduled a show on Sept. 11, post-2001.
On each of the 70 days leading up to Bruce Springsteen’s 70th birthday (on Sept. 23, 2019), NJArts.net will do a post on one of The Boss’ best songs of the last 30 years. We’re starting with No. 70 and working our way up. For more on the project, click here.
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