Tuesday, March 06, 2012

When the Sacred Shines: Thoughts on Springsteen's Wrecking Ball

by Gregg Chadwick

Wrecking Ball
(Song by Song Review of Bruce Springsteen's New Album - Wrecking Ball)

" The great athlete in the midst of the play rises up and shines- all attention is drawn to him. And everything around him- the players in the field, the coaches on the sidelines, the fans in the stadium, the announcers in the booth, everyone understands who they are and what they are to do immediately in relation to the sacred event that is occurring." - Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Kelly in  All Things Shining

Gregg Chadwick
When the Levees Broke
48"x48" oil on linen 2010
The title track, Wrecking Ball (Listen Here), marks the halfway point on Springsteen's new album.  In this rousing song with an almost classic Springsteen sound the emotional tenor of the album begins to shift.  

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band Play Wrecking Ball at Giants Stadium 

Initially written as a tribute to Giants Stadium in The Meadowlands in New Jersey and played at the outdoor arena shortly before the sports facility was razed, Wrecking Ball begins as a taunt against time:
Come on and take your best shot, let me see what you've got
The song builds, the singer counts off, "One, two, a one two three four!
Trumpets enter.
And the song wraps itself around the lyrics:
Yeah, we know that come tomorrow, none of this will be here 
So hold tight on your anger, you hold tight on your anger

The singer then shifts into an inclusive mode, the lyrics move from, "Hold tight to your anger, don't fall to your fear" to "And all our youth and beauty, it's been given to the dust."
The theme of the album again reveals itself - We are in this together.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band Play Wrecking Ball 
On Late Night With Jimmy Fallon (February 27, 2012)

Springsteen's words tell a tale of lost dreams and poignant loss, but the music moves us to a communal expression of hope in the face of trouble and, for at least this moment, a rush of joy. 
This musical rush is akin to the shared glory that spectators feel as their team triumphs on the sporting field. The philosophers Hubert Dreyfus, from UC Berkeley, and Sean Kelly, from Harvard, speak of this Homeric feeling of wonder and gratitude in their marvelous book, All Things Shining:
'There are moments in sport - either in the playing of them or in the witnessing of them - during which something so overpowering happens that it wells up before you as a palpable presence and carries you along as on a powerful wave. At that moment there is no question of ironic distance from the event. That is the moment when the sacred shines."
Dreyfus and Kelly explain that the writer David Foster Wallace found this sense of the sacred in tennis. Wallace writes,
"On the sacred grass of Wimbledon, through the ... withering heat and then wind and rain ... you are apt to have what one of the tournaments press drivers describe as a 'bloody near-religious experience.'"
Like the fans at a Giants football game, the crowd at a Springsteen concert also gets swept up in a joyous, sacred expression of shared hopes and dreams that hard times cannot defeat. The song Wrecking Ball seems to distill that feeling through the powerful repetition of the lines:
And hard times come, and hard times go, and hard times come and hard times go 
Then the song crescendos with bravado and fearlessness:

Bring on Your Wrecking Ball
                    Come on and take your best shot, let me see what you've got
 Bring on Your Wrecking Ball  

The sacred moment is shared.

All lyrics from Wrecking Ball -  Copyright © Bruce Springsteen (ASCAP)

More at:

"Bruce Springsteen's widescreen vision of America on Wrecking Ball is filled with terror, tension, tenacity and above all else, triumph which may not replenish your bank account, but it will replenish your soul."
-Anthony Kuzminski, Bruce Springsteen - Wrecking Ball, antiMusic
All Things Shining by Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly
The Working Man's Voice - The Wall Street Journal
Bruce Springsteen, Théatre Marigny press conferenceParis, February 2012

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