My City of Ruins by Bruce Springsteen (published in TradeExpress Asia, Manila)
Posted February 15, 2007on:
Soft baritone, the quiet strumming of a barely audible acoustic guitar and melancholic strain of a mouth organ piercing deep into your consciousness, and poetic words which inspire and move. I fell in love with Bruce Springsteen’s “My City of Ruins” the moment I saw its live version playing on Zee English.
I did a little research and found that the song, written in 2002, is Bruce’s tribute to Asbury Park, NJ, the town where he learnt his craft as a musician at a small musical bar, but now crime ridden and in dissaray.
Bruce Springsteen’s music expresses the romance of small town America – the beautiful landscapes, the feeling of community, the churches, the dusty roads, the college sweetheart, the travails and dilemmas and sometimes disillusionment of youth.
The poetry of “My city of Ruins” is enchanting and gripping, and creates vivid images and evokes strong emotions. The song creates a beautiful natural setting “There’s a blood red circle, On the cold dark ground, And the rain is falling down” “The sweet veils of mercy, Drift through the evening trees”. One can well visualise a decrepit small town church “The church doors blown open, I can hear the organs song, But the congregation’s gone” and hear a mental echo of laughter which must have once resonated in its hallowed corridors. And feel a nostalgic sorrow as one drives through the deserted and desolate streets “The boarded up windows, the empty streets, Oh my brother’s down on his knees”. All tempered with a gentle lament “My city of ruins, My city of ruins…….”
The song is also a lament over lost love.
Now theres tears on the pillow, Darling where we slept, And you took heart when you left
Without your sweet kiss, My soul is lost, my friend, Now tell me how do I begin again?
The imploration “tell me how do I begin again” never fails to give me a goose bumpish moment. Compare this to the bold proclaimation of Blues’ in “If You Come Back” “I swear If you come back, Here’s my life, Baby, till the end of time “. Good songwriting is about expressing subtle moods and emotions than going to extremes. It is about exploring the richness of language and exploring a myriad of moods/themes rather than being stuck in “babys” and “wanna’s” and “dont leave mes”. It seems to me that just about every contemperory popular singer wants to either kill themselves or burn the world for thier lover. They seem to be more comfortable with the fact she (or he) has left them because it gives them singing-stuff. Such lyrics ring inspid and cliched.
As the song nears its finale it gradually builds up on tempo till finally at one inspiring moment all the elements (the singer, the instruments, the crooners) come togather in a grand unision (more like an orchestra than an earsplitting death metal finale) which is a passionate invokation to the town to muster its energies and “Rise Up!!” (it almost feels like an extortation to you the audience). Your spirits rise and soar and you revel in a feeling of being spiritually purged and musically fulfilled.
“C’mon Rise Up, C’mon Rise Up, C’mon Rise Up..”