Bruce Springsteen already was a superstar when he released Nebraska 30 years ago today. Three decades later, that sparse acoustic album helps to explain not only why Springsteen remains a superstar today, but also why he is more popular and influential than ever.
When Springsteen wrote and recorded the 10 tracks on Nebraska in 1982, he was riding high with the success of his first five studio albums and easily could have carried in the vein of the popular sounds from those records. Instead, he chose to do a barebones album of bleak songs about killers, death and economic despair. Not exactly the Bruce Springsteen people knew from upbeat tunes such as “Rosalita,” “Prove It All Night,” and Hungry Heart.”
By no means can Nebraska be characterized as a career risk. By 1982, Springsteen already had a large and loyal following that would still be there regardless of whether they liked the new record. And sure enough, by 1984 when Bruce released the more Springsteen-esque Born in the U.S.A., those fans still were there
I have to admit I was one of those Springsteen fans who was not totally enamored with Nebraska and welcomed the release Born in the U.S.A. and the return of the Bruce Springsteen I knew. Over the years, however, the tracks on Nebraska have grown on me, and I’ve come to appreciate the powerful messages Springsteen scripted throughout the album.
That message, delivered in 1982, has turned out to be eerily prophetic. Nebraska’s theme of economic despair and desperation permeated last year’s Occupy Wall Street movement and has turned to anger on Springsteen’s latest album, Wrecking Ball. “Send the robber barons straight to hell, the greedy thieves who came around and ate the flesh of everything they found,” he demands in “Death to My Hometown.”
But Wrecking Ball is more than just a collection of angry rants. The album also includes “Land of Hope and Dreams,” a song that has been part of Springsteen’s live repertoire for over a decade and carries the message that we’re on a journey to a better place and there’s room onboard for all of us. With a voice of hope and optimism, Bruce tells us: “Tomorrow there’ll be sunshine and all this darkness will pass.”
Let’s hope that those words turn out to be just as prophetic as the lyrics Springsteen wrote 30 years ago on Nebraska.