Truly great art remains moving and vital long after the events which inspired it have been forgotten. Few people today for example realise that William Blake’s poem The Tyger was inspired by the horrors and turmoil of the French Revolution:
Tyger, Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
Another example is Bruce Springsteen’s album The Rising from 2002. Inspired by the 9/11 attacks on the city he called home, Springsteen produced his finest album for years. Listening to it today, it’s almost impossible to imagine that it came out of that time of death, suffering and bewilderment.
The Rising is gorgeous. Were I a synesthete I might say that it feels like warm autumnal colours, like cinnamon and caramel. The songs are positive, upbeat tunes of hope like Waitin’ on a Sunny Day or the epic Mary’s Place.
You might expect an artist of that time to be filled with rage, but Springsteen takes another route to reaffirm his love for New York. You couldn’t have a greater departure from his popular image of a jeans-wearing fist-pumping 1980s rock star.
I actually saw Springsteen live when he toured just after producing this album. I wasn’t a fan but my friend Mike bought the tickets, so I had to go. I have seen many of the legends of rock and roll in concert including The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, The Who, Eric Clapton, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, U2, David Bowie and many many more but live on stage, nobody can compare with Springsteen and the E Street Band.
Playing in London’s Crystal Palace on 27 May 2003, the Boss was spectacular. The gig began with him walking alone onto the stage and playing a stripped down version of Born in the USA. He then proceeded to play three hours straight of hit after hit after hit. It was the second of two consecutive nights at the stadium and my favourite moment was when he turned to the crowd and said:
“Was anyone here last night? [cue wild cheers and much waving of hands] … OK, we’ll try and play some different songs for you.”
Best of all was his awesome saxophonist Clarence Clemons. Frank Zappa once said that before he heard the electric guitar, the instrument that people used for solos was the saxophone. Clemons showed that it was still possible for the sax to hold its own. I have never heard anyone play any instrument as well as he played the sax that night, and Springsteen didn’t hold back in giving credit to the him and the other members of the band.
It’s not possible to go back to that night in London and Clemons himself passed away in 2011. However eleven years later, you can still enjoy The Rising, a superb album that came out of the smoke and fire of a city in ruins.