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“Attempting to Track My Relationship with Devils & Dust over the Years”

What comes to mind when you think of Bruce Springsteen? Well, part of that probably depends on what age group you are. If you’re gen-x or older, you think of him as almost like a godhead, in all likelihood, someone who represented the blue collar with honesty but also bashed out electrifying live performances on relentless tours. If you’re a millennial, you might remember that ’09 Super Bowl performance and all your creep aunts saying how “hot” he still looked in old age.
Well, with me, it’s sort of a mixed bag: while I definitely have respect for him and think he’s easily better than Petty and Bowie, it seems like for every “Hungry Heart” or “Glory Days,” those infectious head-nodders that can turn any yuppie gastropub into a spirited, beer-soaked saloon, there’s a song like “Born to Run,” which is just so mind-bogglingly overrated that it could have only come from the corporate machine. Plus, that girl’s name is “Wendy”? Nobody’s named Wendy anymore.
Think of 2005’s Devils & Dust, anyway, as a Nebraska Revisited (particularly with the scenes of the plains conjuring up thoughts of “dust bowl”). Nebraska, 1982, is more or less the “occult” Springsteen favorite, a panorama of extreme, stripped-down acoustic reflection, a document of veritable American mourning, for hopeless situations, for passing of time and for, obviously, very geographic obsolescence.
Like Nebraska, Devils & Dust will never top any chart, or probably even influence any band, stylistically. You could almost even say it’s not all that IMPORTANT, culturally, other than its fluctuating ability to stand as a sort of vinyl hipster token, which certainly Nebraska has (note the sales pitch here). What’s more, it doesn’t even really mark a CHANGE in The Boss’ style from his old stuff, the way, say Time out of Mind might have, arguably then approximating largely a Tom Waits mimicry, of course.
Devils & Dust is not an album to listen to when you’re contemplating music as a whole, the way I was in college when it came out. The guitars are beautiful, but they’re beautiful in the way your poker-playing grandmother’s eyes are when she’s got all her kids and grandkids home for Thanksgiving. It’s not something you appreciate when you’re younger.
You mistake the rudiment for a sandbag and the moral devolutions for the substance, not realizing that that rudiment is the sinew of who Springsteen is, with the humility in 2005 to still wield enough love for humanity to give us an album undeniably listenable, with the dark ubiquity to sing about having a hand on a gun, and about life’s inevitable melting away of the heart, to boot. The Boss sings with the heartbreaking born-songwriter’s malleability, assuming all of our perils and evils instead of casting them off, or attempting to suppress them. I just heard something about the new Meat Puppets album (which really sucks) on Rolling Stone’s feed, about how for the Puppets not all of America’s mysteries are gone yet. Well, even assuming that they’re right, it still amounts to a greater task to ACKNOWLEDGE that lack of mystery, that lack of hope, that lack of replenishment we all feel in our daily lives, all the more so if you’re, like, supposed to be some rock and roll godhead icon, or something.

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