Living in the Future

OK, finally my long overdue review of Bruce Springsteen’s Magic album. 

This morning I scored a couple tickets for his March 29th concert at Key Arena (right behind the stage, and Bruce leaves that open and neither he nor the E Street Band forget you back there).  After that, I went off to an Amnesty International meeting finalizing (more or less) the schedule for the Seattle Human Rights Film Festival.  More on that soon!

Back to Magic.  First, it’s an incredible album.  I have not listened to even a Springsteen album as much, or for as many weeks non-stop, since Born in the USA.  Second, Magic really gets to me, but for a different reason than his other albums.  Usually, Bruce’s music get me at a very personal level, with many of his songs bringing back memories of my own family.  This one is very political, and, even when he’s being subtle, more obviously so than usual (which is very needed, and cathartic, in my opinion).

These are truly scary times we live in.  While I’m not without a healthy fear of Al Quida and other terrorists, how the Bush administration has capitalized on that to start wars, hold people without trial and torture them, and tried to do away with our civil liberties at home, among other things, is far more terrifying. 

What strikes me about Bruce, with both the lyrics and his recent interviews, is that he is someone who believes in America.  Someone who is very shocked and dismayed to find it in the shape it’s in now. 

On the more subtle side, though not if you listen to the lyrics, is Living in the Future.  “Woke up Election Day, skies gunpowder and shades of gray. . .”  “My ship of Liberty sailed away on a bloody red horizon.  The groundskeeper opened the gates and let the wild dogs run.”  “My faith’s been torn asunder, tell me is that rollin’ thunder, or just the sinkin’ sound of somethin’ righteous goin’ under?”  and, what can I say, I love the refrain “Don’t worry Darlin, now baby don’t you fret, we’re livin’ in the future and none of this has happened yet.” 

And it’s got a beat and you can dance to it!

Magic is, I think, the scariest and creepiest song Bruce has ever written, precisely because it’s about the current administration (and remember, the title track of Nebraska is sung from the point of view of a serial killer). Yet, I have found this song is really subtle for some fans on the message board who don’t understand metaphor, and think it’s just about a carnival magic show. 

It starts out that way, with Bruce promising us a litany of magic tricks in his first verse (coins, cards, rabbits), then freeing himself from shackles ala Houdini at the start of the second.  Now it get’s a little creepy: “Chain me in a box in the river, and I’ll rise singing this song” .  Then it gets outright scary: “I got a shiny saw blade / All I needs’ a volunteer / I’ll cut you in half / While you’re grinning ear to ear / And the freedom that you sought’s / Drifting like a ghost amongst the trees / (refrain) This is what will be, this is what will be.”

Finally the fearmongering (and consequences) complete: “Now there’s a fire down below / But it’s comin’ up here / So leave everything you know / And carry only what you fear / On the road the sun is sinkin’ low / There’s bodies hangin’ in the trees / This is what will be, this is what will be.”

Several of his other songs deal with the consequences of war to the soldiers and their families.  Last to Die is the least subtle of the songs, using the quote from a young John Kerry during Vietnam as the refrain: “Who’ll be the last to die for a mistake”  One of the most poignant lines “We don’t measure the blood we’ve drawn anymore.  We just stack the bodies outside the door.”

Gypsy Biker is a very moving and poignant song.  While the narrators (and Bruce’s) belief about the senselessness of this war is stated, it is in many ways a more quintessential Springsteen song, telling the story of friends and family grieving the soldier’s death (though not necessarily agreeing on the justice of the cause).  A line that really gets me: “Your Mama’s pulled the sheets up off the bed”, then the whole scenario of the friends and family riding his bike into the foothills “Bobby brought the gasoline / We stood around her in a circle / As she lit up the ravine” (OK, not a very environmentally pc way to deal with your grief!)

Then, Devil’s Arcade, which only makes sense once you realize it’s written from the young wife of the soldier’s perspective.  A soldier blown to bits by an IED, still alive, but not totally there in a military hospital, or is he dead?

Even Long Walk Home, which isn’t really one of the more political songs, paints a picture of the America that, at least in idealism (my opinion), existed, the one that believed in things like justice: “You know the flag /flying over the courthouse / Means certain things set in stone / Who we are, what we’ll do / And what we won’t”  It also is a song about the loss of an America where in small towns, at least, everyone knew each other and talked to each other.

I’ll Work for Your Love is one of those Springsteen songs that’s intriguing for it’s Catholic imagery.  “Pour me a drink Theresa / In one of those glasses you dust off / And I’ll watch the bones on your back / Like the Stations of the Cross”  “Round your hair the sun lifts a halo / At your lips a crown of thorns. . .”  “The pages of Revelation / Lie open in your empty eyes of blue. . .”  “Your tears they fill the rosary / At your feet, my temple of bones / Here in this perdition we go on and on”  “Now our city of peace has crumbled / Our book of faith’s been tossed / And I’m just out here searchin’ / For my own piece of the cross”  “I watch your hands smooth the front / of your blouse / and seven drops of blood fall”. . .

Wow! (Although, frankly, it’d kind of freak me out to have a guy worship me like that).

There’s a final, “hidden” track at the end of the album that’s a more personal tribute to a friend of Bruce’s who’s recently passed: “When they built you brother, they broke the mold”.  It reminded me a lot of Agi’s memorial, especially the part about “I know you’ll take great comfort in knowing you’ve been roundly blessed and cursed.”

Both Bruce’s song and Agi’s memorial were great tributes.

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