devils and dust, the single
Although it’s been three years since The Rising came out, there’s been so much Springsteen-related activity in the last few years that I haven’t felt deprived, or that Bruce was missing in action. This goes by way of explaining why I didn’t sit up all Sunday night listening to the AOL pre-release of the title song from the forthcoming album (that, and the fact that the AOL Music bs hype-filled preview wasn’t compatible with Macintosh computers. Of course we found a way around that, but, still, how lame). Plus, with this record, I just have a feeling I’m going to want to listen to it as a coherent body of work before passing judgement.
But, still, given the name of this web site, I would be amiss if I didn’t at least scrawl down a few words. It’s been a few days now, and I keep playing the song randomly, waiting for it to catch fire. Please keep in mind that I am pro-solo acoustic — which does not translate into anti-E Street Band by any means, although I personally believe that this tour as it’s currently described has the potential to be far more interesting to me right now than yet another E Street Band tour. (And let’s shelve the argument as to timing and the allegations that Bruce can tour acoustically for the rest of his life but we only have room for one more E Street tour, because rumor mongers aside, none of us know for sure.)
The tour as described – or rather, rumored – is supposed to be this evolving performance, with members of the E Street Band and other musicians joining and leaving the tour at varying points. When I first heard this, I immediately thought: “Rolling Thunder Revue!” which is, most likely, probably doing Bruce a disservice, as that legendary Dylan tour probably cannot be touched by anyone, and I don’t know that that’s what Springsteen is envisioning (since our sources are unattributable and unverifiable as of this writing). Bruce doesn’t exactly have a history at taking the big chances — until recently that is — but what that will translate into artistically is still anybody’s guess. I’d even wager that he isn’t 100% sure himself yet (which is probably why we don’t have tour dates yet).
So, back to the single. Part of the reason I think I am underwhelmed is that “Devils and Dust” is so musically evocative of “Blood Brothers” that I started singing the lyrics to the latter over the former within the first 15 seconds. So from an impact perspective, there wasn’t one, because it felt like I’d heard the song before, many many times.
Lyrically, I’m still confused. Thematically, we’re not in new territory:
…I got God on my side
I’m just trying to survive
What if what you do to survive
Kills the things you love
Fear’s a powerful thing
It can turn your heart black you can trust
It’ll take your God filled soul
And fill it with devils and dust
Now, again, while this isn’t new, it is certainly a more than worthy dilemma to continue to explore, because there are no easy answers in the situation described. Springsteen has always dealt in issues of faith, tests of faith, and “what you do to survive” — his characters have grown and changed and struggled with these questions, inwardly and outwardly. Their views have been simplistic – look at “Prove It All Night”‘s “You want it, you take it, you pay the price” compared to the lyrics above. He’s now worried about larger issues than living paycheck to paycheck, although that struggle is hardly unworthy or insignificant to those wrapped up in it.
“Devils and Dust” appeared at a soundcheck before the Sacramento ’03 Rising tour show, and allegedly (at least according to Peter Buck, who I interviewed during the Vote For Change tour) was supposed to open at least one of the VFC shows – but never surfaced. If there were lyrics circulating I never read them, so I can’t speak to whether or not they’ve changed. But given the timing and the fact that the song may have been a contender to open the VFC shows (or at least appear in the setlist), I am surprised it is not clearer or more overtly political/topical. The lyrics are so broad and open to interpretation, which is undoubtedly deliberate, but leaves me confused and uncertain — which again may be deliberate, but is absolutely not I expected from this album in particular.
April 26 will be here soon enough for the rest of it.
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