The Rising

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“The Rising” was the title track on Bruce Springsteen‘s twelfth studio album The Rising, and was released as a single in 2002. Concerning the September 11, 2001 attacks, the song gained critical praise, a Grammy Award for Song of the Year nomination, and the Grammy Awards for Best Rock Song and Best Male Rock Vocal Performance, and became Springsteen’s best-known song of the 2000s.

The song tells the story of a New York Fire Department firefighter, climbing one of the World Trade Center towers after the planes had hit. The lyric depicts the surreal, desperate environment in which he finds himself:

Can’t see nothin’ in front of me,
Can’t see nothin’ coming up 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

The choruses are more upbeat in a sense, featuring a more pronounced drum part and “Li, li, li” vocal parts, but as the song progresses the verses trace the ever more dire situation. Images of fire engines and the Cross of Saint Florian are introduced, and then, “in the garden of a thousand sighs,” a series of final visions: his wife, his children, and all human experience:

Sky of blackness and sorrow ( dream of life)
Sky of love, sky of tears ( dream of life)
Sky of glory and sadness ( dream of life)
Sky of mercy, sky of fear ( dream of life)
Sky of memory and shadow ( dream of life)

The single was released ahead of the album, initially appearing on AOL First Listen on June 24, 2002. There was a considerable marketing push for the single and the subsequent album, based around the September 11 connection and that these were the first studio recordings from Springsteen with the E Street Band in 15 years. “The Rising” also debuted Springsteen’s collaboration with new producer Brendan O’Brien, who gave Springsteen a somewhat more modern-sounding feel than former producer Jon Landau would have. While “The Rising” was not a pop hit, peaking at only #52 on the Billboard Hot 100, it achieved significant radio airplay in some quarters, making #24 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and #16 on the Adult Contemporary chart in the U.S. It did not place on the UK Singles Chart.

No music video was made for “The Rising”.

Critical reaction to “The Rising” was generally quite positive. All Music Guide called it “one of Mr. Springsteen’s greatest songs. It is an anthem, but not in the sense you usually reference in regard to his work. This anthem is an invitation to share everything, to accept everything, to move through everything individually and together.” Rolling Stone worried that, “As with ‘Born in the U.S.A.’, the title … may mislead some who hear it, particularly those intent on retaliation, which Springsteen himself shows little interest in contemplating. His concern is not with a national uprising but with a rising above: the transcending of ever-mounting losses and ancient hatreds.” The New York Times described “The Rising” as a work in which “one man’s afterlife is an endless longing for the physical touch of those left behind, and the music climbs toward jubilation as an act of will.”

“The Rising” was performed by Springsteen and the E Street Band on all promotional television appearances surrounding the album’s release. It was then the “keynote song” throughout The Rising Tour of 2002-2003. By this is meant it was usually the opening song of the performance, or if not, was played second after some offbeat or obscure set list choice was played before it.

In its live arrangement “The Rising” underwent two significant changes: the oscillating violin and keyboards line that is understated on record became much more prominent, with violinist and new E Streeter Soozie Tyrell featured, and Nils Lofgren took the “dream of life” contravocal lines towards the end of the song. In particular the violin-based opening of the song became instantly recognizable, and signalled the thematic if not literal beginning of all Rising Tour shows. “The Rising” was also played at the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards and the Grammy Awards of 2003 shows.

That the difference between the bleak verses and the communal chorus was the key factor in different perspectives on “The Rising”, was highlighted by Springsteen’s own performances, wherein he and the audience raised their arms in unison during the latter. This was further embodied by country music star with rock sympathies, Keith Urban, who included a long interpolation of “The Rising” into his CMT Music Awards closing performance of his “Better Life” in tribute to, and in conjunction with accompanying choral members of, victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Placed in the middle of sets during the short 2004 Vote for Change tour, “The Rising” was greeted by a strong audience response, with political echoes for those fans so inclined. When the 2005 solo Devils & Dust Tour came around, Springsteen continued to feature “The Rising”, but now on acoustic guitar; it usually appeared two-thirds of the way through the show, as a return to musical stability after one of his always-an-adventure multiple piano songs slots. “The Rising” was not played during the 2006 big folk Sessions Band Tour. “The Rising” returned to a prominent spot in Springsteen and the E Street Band’s 2007 Magic Tour, placed between two of Magic’s most politically oriented numbers, “Devil’s Arcade” and “Last to Die”; indeed, Springsteen would say that the 30-second segue coming out of “The Rising” was what “the whole [show] is going to turn on … that’s what we’re up there for.” – adapted from Wikipedia

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