33 And 1/3 Under 45 – Track Twenty-two: The Rising

33 and ⅓ is a monthly music column by Ryan Lynch, exploring the records that keep him inspired in a cynical world

You can find episodes on frondsradio.com and be sure to subscribe on iTunes, Google PlayStitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. If you have any suggestions or thoughts, my twitter handle is @stoopkidliveson and I’d love to hear from you. You can find Ryan’s band, Premium Heart, on facebooktwitter, instagram, spotify, bandcamp, or most places you stream music for music, upcoming releases, and shows.

This column was written on August 14th, 2020.

I woke up this morning, I could barely breathe
Just an empty impression in the bed where you used to be
I want a kiss from your lips, I want an eye for an eye
I woke up this morning to an empty sky

“Regular bad.” That’s how I’ve been answering the question “How’s everything going?” Let’s be real, no matter how lucky I’ve been, it’s not a fun time to exist right now. In the past, if you gave an answer like that, you’d get a follow up or a check-in from whoever you were talking to, but now you only get that if you say you’re doing great. I can’t shake that. That the norm is to be miserable and it’s weird if you’re having a good time. I can’t stop thinking about how normal that feels for so many of us, especially millennials. We’ve really never gotten a goddamn break, have we?

I search for you on the other side, where the river runs clean and wide
Up to my heart, the waters rise
Up to my heart, the waters rise
I sink ‘neath the water cool and clear. Drifting down, I disappear
I see you on the other side
I search for the peace in your eyes
But they’re empty as paradise
They’re as empty as paradise

I’m really at the end of my patience with the whole narrative about millennials being coddled and entitled. That we refuse to grow up and are in a perpetual state of adolescence. Sure, a lot of us wallow in nostalgia and are obsessed with the good old days. Remember Magic School Bus? That was my favorite show! I remember watching it after school when I was 8, and for the first time, realizing all the things that I never imagined could happen in a school! It was right after my 3rd grade teacher sat us down and told us what had happened in Columbine. What an eye-opening time to be a kid!

When I was 10, the World Trade Center fell and we watched thousands die on television. By the time I was 13, we were in two wars and the National Defense Authorization Act and the Patriot Act were codified, promising we would never have peace and we would never have privacy. By the time I graduated high school, the economy had the worst crash in 70 years. I got my driver’s license two days before Hurricane Sandy shut down my island for weeks. And I’m about to turn 30 while over a thousand people die every day from a global pandemic the rest of the world has gotten under control and the economy is in the worst crash in 80 years. So fuck off that we’ve never been challenged. Fuck off that we don’t know what it’s like to sacrifice. The only trophies we’ve been given are inherited tragedies and pain. Fuck off if you think this generation is too soft. Instead of turning into bitter reminders of what we’ve lost, we’re the first generation in decades trying to turn it into empathy. We want to abolish student loan debt, even though we’ve paid most of it off already. We want universal health care even though we’re young and doing fine. I just can’t tolerate this bullshit anymore. Look around at the world we’ve inherited and if this is what we’re entitled to, I just hope there’s a good return policy.

So what does all that have to do with noted young hipster, Bruce Springsteen?

I’ve been listening to a whole lot of his modern catalog, and few stand out as well as 2002’s, The Rising, which was written in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks. And the thing that keeps me coming back is the unbelievable sense of empathy I get from this record. While the majority of older white guys were calling for mass bombings and xenophobic genocide of the middle east, Bruce was doing what he always does, blending optimism and love with his genuine care for the people in his country, especially the ones most marginalized. From “World’s Apart,” a song he collaborates on with Asif Ali Khan, a Pakistani singer, and his qawwali group.

Where the distant oceans sing, and rise to the plains
In this dry and troubled country, your beauty remains
Down from the mountain roads, where the highway rolls to dark
‘Neath Allah’s blessed rain, we remain worlds apart

Sometimes the truth just ain’t enough, or it’s too much in times like this
Let’s throw the truth away, we’ll find it in this kiss
In your skin upon my skin, in the beating of our hearts
May the living let us in, before the dead tear us apart

A lot of the songs in this album deal with a pretty explicit reaction to the attacks, but so many of them feel like they can be applied to any of the horrific times we’ve had in the last 25 years. “We’re America, we can get through this! We’re strong, we’re tough, nothing can stop us!” has become this mantra that doesn’t mean anything to me anymore. We never get a fucking break from “persevering” anymore. I’m just so tired. Tired of being informed with today’s atrocities. Tired of how little half of this country seems to realize, no matter how obvious it is. I’m tired of once in a lifetime events happening every three years. I’m tired of mass graves, whether it be from an attack, a hurricane, a virus, or whatever’s coming next. I’m just so tired.

But we don’t give up, do we? If we did, we wouldn’t be here. We wouldn’t be out in the streets fighting against a plague to try to ensure some sense of justice in this injust world. Our elders have failed us. Refused to take any action on *motions to literally anything.* We look to each other for strength, because looking to the past, the systems that gave the people now in power support have been gutted and stripped beyond recognition. Yeah, we’re soft. But I’d rather be soft than cruel. No contest. We keep seeing our friends and family die and instead of support, we’re met with scorn, so yeah, we’re gonna disregard the politeness on our way to overthrow the status quo that killed them.

The sky was falling and streaked with blood
I heard you calling me, then you disappeared into dust
Up the stairs, into the fire
Up the stairs, into the fire
I need your kiss, but love and duty called you someplace higher
Somewhere up the stairs, into the fire

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love

Regular bad. That’s the normal for us. Bad. Some days, I can barely keep it together and it’s only getting worse. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard an exasperated sigh followed by “Something’s gotta fucking give, man.” And this isn’t new for us. We’ve been living with this feeling our entire lives. But we deal with it. And we don’t let it make us calloused or bigoted. We internalize the pain and use it to build empathy for people who have it worse than us. This cruel, terrible world took my childhood, but I won’t let it take my future and I won’t let it take my soul. Not without a fight.

Can’t see nothin’ in front of me,
Can’t see nothin’ coming up from behind
I make my way through this darkness
I can’t feel nothing but this chain that binds me
Lost track of how far I’ve gone
How far I’ve gone, how high I’ve climbed
On my back’s a sixty pound stone
On my shoulder a half mile of line

Come on up for the rising
Come on up, lay your hands in mine
Come on up for the rising
Come on up for the rising tonight

33 And 1/3 Under 45 – Track Seventeen: The E Street Band In New York City

33 and ⅓ is a monthly music column by Ryan Lynch, exploring the records that keep him inspired in a cynical world.

You can find episodes on frondsradio.com and be sure to subscribe on iTunes, Google PlayStitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. If you have any suggestions or thoughts, my twitter handle is @stoopkidliveson and I’d love to hear from you. You can find Ryan’s band, Premium Heart, on facebooktwitter, or instagram for upcoming releases and shows.

The original column was published on December 15th, 2019 and can be found below.

Workin’ in the fields til’ you get your back burned
Workin’ ‘neath the wheel, til’ you get your facts learned
Baby, I got my facts, learned real good right now
Poor man want to be rich, Rich man want to be king
And a king ain’t satisfied til’ he rules everything

Lately, I’ve found a lot of new appreciation for late 90s/early 2000s political critiques. Too often, and I’m guiltier of this than most, we become enamored by deconstructions of post-9/11 American domestic life and foreign policy and forget that there was plenty of division, strife, and protest in our “contemporary” society before the Bush Doctrine ramped it all up to 11. 9/11 was such a glaring and brutal bullet point on the American timeline that it’s easy to forget that a lot of the issues we still argue about were actually worth arguing about before we were shocked into the “modern American” mindset. A few of the things I’ve been thinking of are:

Christopher Priest’s fantastic 1998-2003 run on Black Panther, which serves as a stark critique of Clinton-era foreign policy.

A realization that the Star Wars prequels are secretly good and have a lot of very prescient things to say about America’s soon to start wars in the middle east.

And Bruce Springsteen’s late-90s output, specifically the live record documenting the final leg of his 1999 reunion tour with the East Street Band, Live In New York City.

Well my daddy come on the Ohio works, When he come home from World War Two
Now the yards just scrap and rubble. He said, “Them big boys did what Hitler couldn’t do”
These mills they built the tanks and bombs, that won this country’s wars
We sent our sons to Korea and Vietnam, Now we’re wondering what they were dyin’ for

When I started this column, I did a lot of soul searching on if I should include albums that weren’t just standard studio albums. Compilations don’t quite capture the moment in time and emotional thru-line that I try to focus on. Live albums have a similar problem, in that a set list might be pulling from songs that aren’t relevant to now or songs that are still popular and people want to hear. But in a live setting, older songs can be re-framed, in a new narrative, and given a new context to help us appreciate what they were trying to say all along.

Bruce is someone who I’ve never really listened to and I think it’s a great disservice to what he stands for that I took so long to really listen to his lyrics and realize what he was trying to say. I always knew he was a “blue collar” songwriter but I somehow missed just how much he spoke about so many of the economic issues we constantly talk about in modern political discourse.

From the Monongahela valley to the Mesabi iron range
To the coal mines of Appalachia, the story’s always the same
Seven hundred tons of metal a day, now sir you tell me the world’s changed
Once I made you rich enough, rich enough to forget my name

I mean come on, this is basically the script to an ad about the divide in the Democratic Party about trade deals in the Trump era. But with a bit more… realism and bite.

When I die I don’t want no part of heaven, I would not do heaven’s work well
I pray the devil comes and takes me, to stand in the fiery furnaces of hell

And that kind of aggressive populism, raging against the rich who look down on all of us is present throughout the entire show. Even when they’re dressed up in folksy Americana.

There’s a place out on the edge of town, sir,
Rising above the factories and the fields
Now ever since I ‘as a child I can remember
That mansion on the hill

In the day you can see the children playing
On the road that leads to those gates of hardened steel
Steel gates that completely surround, sir
The mansion on the hill

But that’s not why I’m writing about this specific record. I was originally going to write about Born In The U.S.A.

Born down in a dead man’s town
The first kick I took was when I hit the ground
You end up like a dog that’s been beat too much
Till you spend half your life just covering up

Born In The U.S.A. was the first Springsteen album I really loved. I put it off because I absolutely can’t stand that every nationalistic xenophobe since Reagan has played it at rallies. But then when I really listened to it, I realized the obvious. That it’s not some beautiful anthem on American exceptionalism

Got in a little hometown jam
So they put a rifle in my hand
Sent me off to a foreign land
To go and kill the yellow man

It’s a harsh critique of our imperialism at the expense of not only the people we go over to kill, but at the young men and women who are forced to enforce America’s will abroad only to be shunned by the people who sent them over there in the first place. The pro-war hawks are almost always slashing funding, limiting health care, and destroying the VA so they can hold it up as an example of how “government doesn’t work.”

Come back home to the refinery
Hiring man says “Son if it was up to me”
Went down to see my V.A. man
He said “Son, don’t you understand”

I had a brother at Khe Sanh fighting off the Viet Cong
They’re still there, he’s all gone

The version of “Born In The U.S.A.” we hear here is a somber one, stripped down to a 12-string acoustic guitar, reflecting the severity of the issue we were about to ramp up to 11. Just two years later, we started sending troops to fight the two longest wars in American history, with an economic recession just behind the corner, waiting for the lucky ones to come home to.

The hypocrisy of those in power really brought me to what may be the most powerful song for this whole show, the only song that was new for this tour. In the weeks leading up to this run at Madison Square Garden, Bruce and the E Street Band debuted a new song, “American Skin” in Atlanta and the lyrics leaked online. This song was in response to the Amadou Diallo shooting in the Bronx earlier that year. Springsteen had written political songs throughout his career, clearly, but this one sparked a bit more outrage, especially from the NYPD.

41 shots, and we’ll take that ride
Across this bloody river to the other side
41 shots, they cut through the night
You’re kneeling over his body in the vestibule
Praying for his life

I spend a lot of time thinking about protest and the most effective way to do it. I struggle with it a lot, especially since my life is pretty privileged and most of the things I’ve protested haven’t directly affected me. I constantly hear criticism from the right about how you’re supposed to protest. Our country was founded on protest, but so many people who support the status quo keep themselves distanced enough so they don’t have to confront that they would clearly be loyalists to the British during the American Revolution. Protesting is great and American, but you shouldn’t destroy property. The Boston Tea Party. They wouldn’t have gotten killed if they just listened to the police. The Boston Massacre began as the follow up to a British customs officer when he shot and killed an 11 year old boy during a patriot protest. A week and a half later, a protest turned violent when a British officer stabbed a protester with his bayonet. The rest is history.

41 shots, Lena gets her son ready for school
She says, “On these streets, Charles. You’ve got to understand the rules
If an officer stops you, promise me you’ll always be polite
And that you’ll never ever run away
Promise Mama, you’ll keep your hands in sight”

My point is not to weigh in on specific cases of brutality or not, as I haven’t done the due diligence to discuss this case at length. My point is that if people have and they’re pissed off about it, that’s ok. I’ve seen so many people go so far out of their way to make sure they have no acceptable way to voice that disbelief. Street protests just get in the way of people trying to go to work. Public displays are inappropriate, and god forbid anyone kneels during the anthem. (As an aside, the Department of Defense spent millions of taxpayers dollars making the NFL more “patriotic” and players didn’t stand on the field for the national anthem until 2009). Celebrities are supposed to stay in their lane and entertain us, mindlessly, with no regard for or mention of their personal beliefs. One of the greats, Bruce Springsteen, has a huge reunion tour and comes out with a statement that he thinks is important. And he gets called a “floating fag” by the police and told to go back to singing “American flag songs and all that stuff.” If artists can’t protest through their art, how the fuck are people supposed to protest? If someone with a platform as large as Springsteen is called a dirtbag and told to shut the fuck up, how are regular folk supposed to stand up to an unjust system? That’s the trick, they aren’t. They’re supposed to just sit there and hope that the status quo deigns the downtrodden worthy to receive a blessing from above. If only everyone could be so lucky.

Is it a gun? Is it a knife? Is it a wallet? This is your life
It ain’t no secret, No secret, my friend
You can get killed just for living in your American skin