The Story Behind Bruce Springsteen’s Album “Nebraska”
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Angry, dark, stark, raw, and troubling are just some of the words that best describe Bruce Springsteen’s groundbreaking acoustic record “Nebraska. As an unplugged record it was ahead of its time. But it didn’t start out that way.
“Nebraska” began as demos that ended up being released as was. On January 3, 1982 Springsteen sat on a rocking chair in his bedroom and recorded what would later be his diamond in the rough on a 4 track cassette Portastudio. The next destination for this cassette was his back pocket, where it would remain for weeks… without a case! His original intention was to teach the songs to the E Street band. First, at the suggestion of producer Jon Landau, they tried a watered-down arrangement of soft drums, piano and string bass. Strike one. Then the E Streeters played the stuffing out of them. Strike two. As drummer Max Weinberg observed, “The band, though we played the hell out of them, tended to obscure the starkness and the vibe he was going for.”
Only then, several months later, did Springsteen come to the realization that the next album he was going to release was gathering lint in his jeans. Steve Van Zandt recalled telling Bruce, “‘Listen, I know this is a bit strange but I honestly think this is an album unto itself and I think you should release it.’ And he was like ‘What do you mean? It’s just demos for the band.’ And I’m like ‘… All I know is I know greatness when I hear it and this is it, okay?’”
For the characters who populate Nebraska’s catalogue of personal disasters there’s no salvation. The voice of “Nebraska” itself is Charles Starkweather, who’s sent to the electric chair for a gruesome series of murders. Then there’s the singer in “Atlantic City” who is so heavily in debt that he decides to do a questionable “favor” in a city virtually taken over by the mob. “Johnny 99″ ends up serving a life sentence for shooting a night clerk while on a drunken rampage over losing his auto plant job. The younger brother of the “Highway Patrolman” is always getting into trouble, then injures a man in a roadhouse and ends up being chased by his responsible elder brother into exile in Canada.
Bruce spoke about what it was like to write songs about people like this in a 1996 interview with NME: “You’re not trying to recreate the experience, you’re trying to recreate the emotions and the things that went into the action being taken. Those are things that everyone understands, those are things that everyone has within them. The action is the symptom, that’s what happened, but the things that caused that action to happen, that’s what everyone knows about… It’s inside of every human being.”
A one man tour-de-force if ever there was one. Rolling Stone would end up ranking “Nebraska” as #224 on its list of the 500 greatest records of all time.
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By2 at Youtube Music Day Taiwan
May 22, 2010. Youtube Music Day Taiwan
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