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History Always Has A Soundtrack

by Mike Keeler

9/11 will be forever bracketed by two songs by the poet laureate of New Jersey

Bruce Springsteen was born in Long Branch, NJ, within sight of lower Manhattan.  As a teenager, he played in bands along the Jersey Shore, before striking out on his own. His first album, “Greetings From Asbury Park,” was released in 1973, the same year that the World Trade Center opened.  Two years later, with the release of his third album, “Born to Run,” Springsteen became an international superstar, and made the cover of Newsweek.

 But he didn’t run too far.  After conquering the world, he settled down in Rumson, not far from where he was born.  There he quietly lent his support to local projects like the refurbishment of the famous Count Basie Theater in nearby Red Bank.  Sometime later, a group of developers approached Springsteen with a plan to revive his old stomping ground, Asbury Park, which was crumbling into ruin.  He signed on.  He lent his name to the project, and began crafting a song that might help capture public attention and support.  A little prayer called, “My City of Ruins.”

And then came that terrible September morning.  In the aftermath of 9/11, a group of actors and musicians quickly put together the benefit, “A Tribute to Heroes,” which aired just eight days after the disaster.  In the concert’s defining moment, Springsteen, with an acoustic guitar and a harmonica and backed by a modest choir, solemnly sang his prayer, which he had quickly rewritten for the occasion: “Now there’s tears on the pillow/Darling where we slept /And you took my heart when you left/Without your sweet kiss/My soul is lost, my friend/Now tell me how do I begin again?/My city’s in ruins.”

Two years later, Springsteen answered his own question.  He gathered his E Street Band back together for the first time in fifteen years, and recorded the album, “The Rising.” It’s a memorial to the victims of 9/11, but also offers hope for the future.  The title track is a tonic, a prayer answered, and a call to action. He played it at Independence Hall, on the Mall in Washington, across the country and around the world.  In 2009, he brought it back to his old stomping grounds.  At the last concert ever held at the old Giants stadium, Bruce sang out to 70,000 New Yorkers, and they sang right back: “Spirits above and behind me/Faces gone, black eyes burnin’ bright/May their precious blood forever bind me/Lord as I stand before your fiery light/Come on up for the rising/Come on up, lay your hands in mine/Come on up for the rising/Come on up for the rising tonight.”

And so we come to the 10th anniversary.  The World Trade Center is now officially a memorial, but it is also humming with life.  The city of ruins is rising.  Both songs, and both sets of feelings, are in the air.  And New Yorkers are humming along.

You can too.  Come on, rise up.  Come on up for the rising.

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