Sparks Fly On E Street: Bruce Springsteen, “Across The Border” (1995)

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There are many descriptions of the album The Ghost of Tom Joad as being “bleak” and “tuneless,” which leads me to wonder how exactly is a person supposed to render situations of no hope in an artistic context. Upbeat music has been intertwined with dire situations on many songs, but Bruce was going for something more serious here. Thus…the hope.

For what are we
Without hope in our hearts
That someday we’ll drink from God’s blessed waters

Now there’s a sentiment for a person who has not given up. There are a lot characters on this record who seem resigned to their fate, enduring it with quiet resolve. Do they hold just a little bit of hope? It seems that they might need that just to survive, at least through the next day.

I’ve never been in a completely hopeless position. Oh, there was a time in my late teen when my folks got into some difficulty and we went through a couple weeks of having nothing to eat. Food showed up late every day when my sister would drop off a few things — a chicken, a few cans of beans. It was a humbling experience, one that served to bolster my empathy toward others. When I read cynical descriptions of the poor as “leaches,” as if they purposely put themselves in that position, I look back at that one time.

Hope shows up in the latter third of “Across The Border” in the form of harmonica and gently-swelling strings. If feels like a beautiful sunrise imagined…one to look forward to.

Up next: Galveston Bay

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he originated several of our weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Mark Saleski
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