Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Night of the Johnstown Flood

One of my favorite Springsteen albums is Nebraska. It is – of course – the incredibly dark, brooding piece of music that Springsteen recorded in his home studio by himself. When Columbia Records inquired as to the album that would serve as the follow-up to The River, he presented them with the cassette of his home recordings that he had been carrying around in his pocket. It is an album that burst onto the scene in the early 1980’s and expertly and poignantly captured the vibe of the times.

The thing I like the most about Nebraska is its simplicity. There are no “wall of sound” songs on it. There are not - to my ear anyway – any songs on it in which the music overtakes the lyrics. Words matter. Words matter to the people whose stories are being told on the record. Words matter to the narrator of those stories. Consequently, words matter to you the listener.

Simplicity of arrangement should not be misconstrued however. For the simplicity of the songs belies their depth and their power. The people whose stories are being told in them are more than merely characters. For however long a particular song lasts, you are right there with them getting a peek behind the curtain at the story of their life.

It has been ‘round these parts an exceptionally trying last couple of weeks and truth be told there appears to be a chop on the water in the seas ahead for as far as the eye can see. The difference between difficult and insurmountable is often very fine. As the narrator of “Atlantic City” teaches us, it is a line on the wrong side of which we do not want to end up. And what is the key to staying on that line’s right side? A question answered for us by the teller of the tale in “Highway Patrolman”-

Yea we're laughin' and drinkin' nothin' feels better than blood on blood
Takin' turns dancin' with Maria as the band played "Night of the Johnstown Flood"
I catch him when he's strayin', teach him how to walk that line
Man turns his back on his family he ain't no friend of mine.

Nothing feels better than blood on blood…


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