It was early on a Sunday morning in September 1999, and I remember being annoyed that my friend Tim was calling so early. But I'm glad he did, because he was calling to drag me out of bed to go stand in line with him at the nearest BASS Outlet to buy tickets for the upcoming Springsteen concert - his first tour with the E Street Band since we'd seen him together in May 1988 - in Oakland.
Those days are a thing of the past, and now the drill is to stand at the ready by your computer, limber up your fingers, and hope that you are among the first to successfully navigate through Ticketmaster. Back then it was a more social affair - we managed to arrive in time to be somewhere around 25th in line, and were both confident of securing good tickets.The talk that morning was about the excitement of the first tour in over a decade, but also a lot of speculation about whether a new album with the E Street Band was on the way. The rumors of a new song called "Land of Hope and Dreams" had made their way across the Atlantic, where Bruce had played the first leg of what would become known as the Reunion Tour.
What everyone wondered is whether a new album was on the way - or would it be a "greatest hits" type of tour, augmented by the songs released the previous year on "Tracks?"There would be no new album during that tour, although "Land of Hope and Dreams" would close every show of it, and prove to be one of the greatest songs Springsteen had written. And in the tour's second year, several new songs started to make their way into the show, including the spectacular "American Skin (41 Shots)," the song about Amadou Diallo which proved that Bruce remained at the ready to take on the weighty issues of the day. But still, no new album.
We may never know what Bruce was planning, but in retrospect it is obvious that those plans were changed by 9/11. As Dave Marsh wrote in "Bruce Springsteen on Tour":
In September 2001, just after two airplanes crashed into New York's World Trade Center buildings and killed three thousand people, many of them from central New Jersey, Bruce Springsteen pulled out of a parking lot at the beach in Sea Bright, near his home. A man driving by rolled down his window and shouted to him: "We need you - now!"
And so "The Rising," released almost a year later, would become Bruce's 9/11 album. And a great album it is. The only reason it's this low is that Bruce made the mistake of providing us with too much music. If shortened by three songs - and for me, those songs would be "Let's Be Friends (Skin to Skin)," "Worlds Away," and "Waitin' on a Sunny Day" (and yes, I know it's become a staple of Bruce's shows ever since, but I've never understood why) - "The Rising" would probably have been #1 on this list. Because aside from those songs, the album is perfection - the anthemic title cut, the tragic drama of "Into the Fire," the utter sadness of "Empty Sky" and "You're Missing," and the life-affirming "Mary's Place."
But #8 is nothing to sneeze at.