All the sales for last week haven't been counted yet, but by last night it seemed that Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band will be No. 1 on the album charts tomorrow with The Rising. So far, according to Hitsdailydouble.com, The Boss has sold about 400,000 copies. The final tally could put him at nearly half a million.
No, it's not as many as 'N Sync, Nelly, Eminem or Ashanti sold in their debut weeks. But that really doesn't matter. The Rising is all but set and minted for this year's Best Album at the Grammy Awards, which will be all the sweeter since the show has been moved back to New York. It's also the only album I can think of released this summer that anyone will remember in five years.
I am not a fanatic Springsteen fan. Old enough to have been there when his first two albums (my sentimental favorites) were released, I admit that over the years I've had mixed feelings about Bruce. Loved Darkness on the Edge of Town, hated The River. I'm not from New Jersey and felt no particular affinity for Bruce's tales of Asbury Park. And by 1978, when tales of the Stone Pony and such finally reached the mainstream, I was much more interested in Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, and The Sex Pistols. Bruce seemed a little quaint. Born in the U.S.A. left me cold.
But Sept. 11 happened, and suddenly there was Bruce in a new light. In the early fall, after already appearing on the George Clooney-inspired telethon singing "My City in Ruins," Springsteen appeared again. Only this time it was at a benefit in Red Bank, N.J., for families of World Trade Center victims who came from Monmouth County. The county had been particularly hard hit. Gary Tallent, Springsteen's original E Street bass player, organized the benefit with promoter Rick Korn. The evening featured Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora, Phoebe Snow, Felix Cavaliere from the Rascals, Joan Jett, and Elvis Presley's rhythm section among others.
It went on for hours. And all night, there was Bruce in the wings. Every so often he'd jump out on stage and perform with one of the acts. It didn't matter how big or small they were, how hip or cool. When Sunny Burgess and the Presley gang played Springsteen's song "Tiger Rose," the Boss took center stage and wielded quite an axe. As he came off stage, dripping sweat and fully enthused, he declared with the smile of a 10 year old boy: "That was a great little groove!"
Later, after singing with Snow and playing with Joe Ely, Springsteen closed the show with "My City in Ruins" and two other songs. He said, after seeing how much his work affected the people in the theatre: "Songs are funny," he said. "They go out to the people who need them." His wife, Patti, showed up and rooted him on from the wings. The two of them were so normal and menschy, it was a little unreal.
A couple more times during the fall Springsteens appeared again both at the Creative Coalition dinner honoring E Street Band member Little Steven Van Zandt, and later at another dinner for famed concert booker Frank Barsalona.
Then in May, when they they couldn't make one of Snow's shows in New York, they sent about a hundred bucks worth of flowers for the piano, begging off because their son had a soccer game.
And now, The Rising. Reading some of the publicity that's come out, I've seen some people question the purpose of The Rising. Is it cashing in on Sept. 11, they ask? How ridiculous. I'm surprised more artists weren't compelled to turn the huge disaster into art. I thought they'd all be scribbling away. But there has been nothing, by and large. Just a year of rap and crap, a rash of bubble gum songs about taking your clothes off or looking underneath them (see Shakira, Tweet, and Nelly, who can't spell the word 'here').
The Rising is remarkable because Springsteen did it, and because it's such a little masterpiece. The songs are mostly Big Think pieces, although "Let's Be Friends" and "Counting on a Miracle" are light-hearted enough to alleviate the pain of "You're Missing," "Worlds Apart," "My City in Ruins," and "The Fuse." "You're Missing" really tells the whole story of what happened on Sept. 11: "God's drifting in heaven, devil's in the mailbox, I got dust on my shoes, nothing but teardrops."
The songs are all catchy even when they're telling hard stories of the firemen who lost their lives (after listening to "Into the Fire" you won't need to see footage of the towers collapse). I don't know if it was intentional, but Springsteen has kept to his "Fire" (the pre-towers pop song covered by the Pointer Sisters) and "Dancing in the Dark" hooks. It makes the dark stuff all the more accessible.
My only complaint is that the catchiest song, "Empty Sky," my second favorite on the CD, is too short. It just stops. It could go on for several more minutes without ever becoming boring.
Springsteen and co. open their tour tomorrow night at the Meadowlands, on their home turf in New Jersey. It's just one show, followed by only one more at Madison Square Garden before they take off to do 46 cities. Bruce has done Nightline, Time, Newsweek, Today and Letterman.
It's more Bruce than anyone's ever seen before, but I disagree with those who think it's him selling out. He's rousing the troops, I think. He's looking for the people who stopped going into record stores as the quality level deteriorated. And look, he found them. Nearly half a million people found their way back into the stores this week because they smelled authenticity, and they knew there was a genuineness about Bruce and The Rising that could not be questioned. Bravo.