Bruce Springsteen is one of our great songwriters and rock performers. But there are at least two Springsteens: one the hard-rocking musician represented by albums like Born to Run and Born in the USA and the other the thoughtful, introverted folk-pop songwriter represented by Nebraska and The Ghost of Tom Joad. Personally, I vastly prefer the latter over the former because of the bombast that comes from a Springsteen and the E Street Band performance. The last and only time I heard them play was a year or two ago at the Tacoma Dome. Admittedly, this was probably a horrid choice of venue to hear such a concert. But I could barely understand a single word the group sang and I hate that. Lyrics are important to me and if I can’t hear them then I can’t appreciate the performance.
While Springsteen is a pretty fearless artist who goes his own way, he is also a creature of musical commerce. He understands that if he tries to produce records that are only like Nebraska, that soon enough he won’t have to power to make any records at all. So in some way he has to make blockbuster rock music to satisfy his label that he is a viable commericial enterprise. But personally, I’d prefer more Nebraska and less of the other stuff.
On it’s own terms it’s a striking and powerful album, and certainly one of Springsteen’s most deeply personal works.
This song’s opening is the ultimate in simplicity–just a guy’s soft voice singing and a strumming guitar accompaniment. The lyrics depict the great hope and longing of the Mexican immigrant waiting to cross the border to the U.S. Promised Land. What is, of course, powerful and wonderful about the song is Springsteen’s willing himself into the mind and heart of a poor man desperate to make a better life for himself and his family. You can be damn sure that the songwriter means for his song to be a strong counterpoint to the anti-immigration political juggernaught and those in America who detest the “foreign element” among us. I guess you could say that this makes Springsteen the quintessential American songwriter in the Woody Guthrie tradition.
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