Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska It's an acquired taste. A dark album. Sure, there are a couple tracks to sing along with. It's Bruce Springsteen after all and if you don't want to sing "Atlantic City," I don't know how to help you. But the album starts with a retelling of the Starkweather murders, sung pretty much in a dirge, and it mostly goes that way for the rest of both sides. This is not an album with a good beat that you can dance to. Unless you're about dead. Yet, it's spinning on my turntable and I can't tell you how happy I was to find it in a bin for a measly twelve dollars.
Springsteen recorded it as four-track demos. I picture him working alone though he probably had someone there with him. It's a lonely sounding album. To paraphrase what Hayden Carruth said about Raymond Carver's last book: Jesus, this is the saddest son of a bitch of an album I've heard in a long time. A real long time.
"Atlantic City" is on and, as I've said, you just have to like this tune. "Down here it's just winners and losers and don't get caught on the wrong side of that line." There's stuff like that all over this album:
New Jersey Turnpike, ridin' on a wet night, 'neath the refinery's glow, out where the great black rivers flow. License registration, I ain't got none, but I got a clear conscience 'bout the things that I done. — "State Trooper"
Well your honor I do believe I'd be better of dead. So if you can take a man's life for the thoughts that's in his head, then won't you sit back in that chair and think it over judge one more time. And let 'em shave off my hair and put me on that execution line. — "Johnny 99"
Seen a man standing over a dead dog lyin' by the highway in a ditch. He's lookin' down kinda puzzled, pokin' that dog with a stick. Got his car door flung open, he's standin' out on Highway 31. Like if he stood there long enough, that dog'd get up and run. — "Reason To Believe"
Your eyes get witchy in the wee wee hours, sun's just a red ball risin' over them refinery towers. Radio's jammed up with gospel stations, lost souls callin' long distance salvation. Hey, Mr. Deejay, woncha hear my last prayer? Hey ho rock n' roll deliver me from nowhere. — "Open All Night"
Listen to that again: "Lost souls callin' long distance salvation." That's a killer line. I mean, come on. That's writing, man. It's perfect. Spectacular.
A lot of artists have moments when it all comes together. Nebraska is like that, but it's not even his best album. He made Born To Run and Tunnel Of Love, two perfect albums. He wrote The River and Darkness On The Edge Of Town. In a couple weeks he'll release Western Stars which has all the marks of becoming classic. That much greatness come out of one brain, heart, and set of hands, that's genius.
The genius of Nebraska is reserved and distant like the sound of a train in the distance or the wind sweeping across the Midwest. It's full of possibility and maybe danger. I can't get enough of all that. Give it a spin. "Atlantic City" is track two. I swear you won't be able to resist.