“The Rising” is the “Born to Run” of the last 30 years of Bruce Springsteen’s career: The centerpiece anthem of the most important album he’s released in those three decades, and a song that means a tremendous amount to a tremendous number of people. Yes, it’s not No. 1 on this list, but there is no way it could not be in the Top 10. It is undeniable.
The album The Rising represents, of course, Springsteen’s response to 9/11, and “The Rising” is one of the songs that addresses that day most directly, with a combination of gritty realism and inspirational exhortation, plus lots of religious references.
He brings us right into the Twin Towers via a firefighter making the ultimate sacrifice, climbing up the steps of a burning building with sixty pounds of equipment on his back in an attempt to save others.
The song expands from an individual’s experience, as Springsteen’s songs often do, with the firefighter’s recognition of “spirits above and behind me, faces gone black.”
He asks, “May their precious blood bind me, Lord, as I stand before your fiery light,” and sees visions of his wife and their children, and even a “dream of life” itself, “like a catfish dancing on the end of my line.” What an incredible metaphor for the fragility of life.
Is it the firefighter’s voice that says “Come on up for the rising!,” heroically encouraging others to recover from tragedy even as he himself is dying? Or is it someone else?
Of course, it doesn’t matter. Springsteen took it upon himself to write a song expressing what everybody wanted to say after 9/11. What everyone needed to say. And so those lines speak for all of us. And singing along to them at a Springsteen concert, all these years after 9/11, remains an uplifting ritual.
Background facts: Springsteen released “The Rising” on his 2002 album of the same name.
According to Brucebase, he performed it 864 times between 2002 and 2018. That’s more than any song he has released in the last 30 years. No. 2, in case you were wondering, is “Land of Hope and Dreams,” with 696.
Released as the first single of the Rising album, “The Rising” rose to the No. 52 position on Billboard magazine’s pop singles chart. It also won Grammys for Rock Song and Male Rock Vocal, and was nominated for Song of the Year (losing to Jesse Harris’ “Don’t Know Why,” as recorded by Norah Jones).
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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This is not #1? Oh, now I’m curious. My City of Ruins, perhaps? We still haven’t seen Lonesome Day or The Ghost of Tom Joad.