When asked why he murdered ten people over an eight-day period, the unnamed narrator of Bruce Springsteen’s epic “Nebraska” replies, “Well, sir, I guess there’s just a meanness in this world.” In many ways, that statement sums up the central theme of Springsteen’s sixth album: 1982’s Nebraska is a a study of people, mainly poor folks, on the outskirts of Reagan’s America — the forgotten ones. Hung out to dry, caught in a loop that they do not understand and cannot escape. Springsteen’s poetic and, maybe for the first time truly bleak lyrics paint a vivid portrait of lives in post-Vietnam America. His characters try to change their bleak fates to no avail. “I’m tired of coming out on this losing end,” a man cries on “Atlantic City”; “Now mister, the day my number comes in, I ain’t ever gonna ride in no used car again,” another tells himself on “Used Cars”; “I ain’t saying I’m an innocent man, but it was more ‘n all this that put that gun in my hand” pleads a helpless victim of circumstance on “Johnny 99.”
Nebraska is a a study of people, mainly poor folks, on the outskirts of Reagan’s America — the forgotten ones. Hung out to dry, caught in a loop that they do not understand and cannot escape.
Unlike Springsteen’s previous albums, there is no glamour in Nebraska. There are no bombastic rock anthems, nor romantic crowd pleasers. Here, his music is sparse — mainly acoustic guitar, harmonica, and that passionate, recognizable vocal. Through this minimalistic approach, Bruce delivers his opus: a sprawling and poetic work on the plights of farmers, factory workers, gas station attendants, cops, and criminals, all caught in a cycle of perpetual darkness. Never has Springsteen’s talent as an impressionistic lyricist been more on display. He implores us to empathize with the characters in his songs — to reflect on how they got here and what their salvation might be. Nebraska harshly critiques American culture, yet never damns it. Instead, the album seeks to find our common humanity, and in doing so, transcends its time and medium.
Part of Kicking the Canon – The Album Canon.