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How Bruce Springsteen grappled with the September 11 tragedy

On the afternoon of September 11, 2001, Bruce Springsteen was in Sea Bright when an unidentified driver yelled at him.

“Bruce, we need you.”

The Boss responded with “The Rising” in 2002, an album that articulated the country’s hopes, fears, anger, sorrow and confusion.

“It was a moment of healing,” said Robert Santelli, a Point Pleasant Beach native who’s now the executive director of the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles. He's also collaborated on several books with Springsteen. “Bruce felt that pain personally and painfully, having lost friends in 9/11.”

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“The Rising’ was artistically a return to greatness for Springsteen and the E Street Band, who hadn’t recorded a full album together since  1984’s “Born in the U.S.A.” “The Rising” features songs of love, faith and finding strength in loss, themes that Springsteen had explored throughout his career.

Bruce Springsteen is about to release his first studio album with the full E Street Band in a really long time. It is themed around the events of September 11.

     

“Countin’ on a Miracle,” a song of trial and devotion, has a wonderfully robust chorus and unstoppable beat. “Worlds Apart,” which hints at an interfaith love, has a Middle Eastern-flavored intro and a big guitar sound. The song “The Rising” is a stirring rocker that has the phrase “C’mon up” as its mantra. The imagery of “rising” has multiple interpretations.          

There’s rising to a higher plane of existence, a rising to heaven, and then there’s the firefighters, rising up up the stairwells of the World Trade Center to their fate on 9/11.  

» Photos of 9/11: Country and world mourn

“One of the most powerful images of the 11th, that I’d read in the paper, some of the people coming down were talking about the emergency workers who were ascending,” said Springsteen on “Nightline” at the time of the album’s release .in June of 2002. “The idea of those guys going up the stairs, up the stairs, ascending, ascending. I mean you could be ascending a smoky staircase, you could be in the afterlife, moving on.”

         

The joyous rocker “Mary’s Place,” with a soaring organ, swelling build-ups and a Clarence Clemons saxophone solo, is a nod to the early sonic magic that made Springsteen a legend. Strings and a chorus of strummed guitars make for a locomotive of noise on “Lonesome Day,” and there are similar big sounds on “Countin’ on a Miracle” and “Further On (Up The Road).”          

Some of the album’s best tracks hint at Springsteen’s influences. “Let’s Be Friends (Skin to Skin)” is a groovy and soulful interpretation of Tommy James’ “Crystal Blue Persuasion.” “My City of Ruins,” originally written about Asbury Park, recalls the gospel vibe of Van Morrison. The track closes the album.          

“Songs are good for whoever needs them,” said Springsteen during a post 9/11 benefit show at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank a month after the attack. Jon Bon Jovi, Joan Jett, the Smithereeens, Felix Cavaliere, former members of Elvis Presley’s backing band, including D.J. Fontana and Jerry Scheff, and legendary rocker Sonny Burgess convened at the  Basie for the benefit concert.          

The evening was originally going to be a Garry Tallent-led tribute to the Elvis players and Burgess, but after the attacks it became something quite different.          

“It was kind of breathtaking,” said Michelle Moore, who was also on stage that evening with the Pilgrim Baptist Church Celestial Choir of Red Bank, which provided backup vocals for many of the acts.  “I loved every minute of it. Music always makes everything a lot better, no matter what.          

“It’s very good for the soul.”

Moore would later join the E Street Band for the “Wrecking Ball’ album and tour.

Springsteen and the E Street Band performed songs from “The Rising” on a broadcast of NBC’s “Today” in July 2002 from Convention Hall in Asbury Park. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and it garnered a Grammy for Best Rock Album. A tour sold out 10 shows at the former Giants Stadium later that summer.

“My City of Ruins” was later poignantly performed in August 2016 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford for the victims of the recent earthquake in central Italy.          

“If you’ve ever been knocked down and you’ve got to build yourself up again, this song is for you,” said Springsteen from the stage.          

Songs are good for whoever needs them.

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