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Springsteen Delivers a 9/11 Message for His Fans

Music: The rocker opens U.S. tour not far from where terrorists struck in N.Y. It was an emotional night in an area where many of the nearly 3,000 attack victims lived.

August 08, 2002|GERALDINE BAUM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Any Bruce Springsteen concert is a festival of emotions, but rarely more so than here Wednesday night as the veteran rocker opened his U.S. tour across the river from where the World Trade Center towers fell 11 months ago.

Springsteen's new compact disc, "The Rising," is a reflection on the nation's resilience and mourning in the months after the terrorist attack, and the New Jersey native wasted no time in giving the hometown audience songs that expressed what many had seen and felt on Sept. 11 and what has continued to haunt them.

Backed by the E Street Band, Springsteen opened the concert at the Continental Airlines Arena with the album's title song, a statement of optimism and faith that is built around these uplifting lines:

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

While most people were standing, they began whooping and swaying after that refrain. They knew what Springsteen was referring to when he sang about the ascension of the firefighters with a "60-pound stone" on their backs and a "half mile of line" on their shoulders.

Later, however, there were tears on the faces of some fans as Springsteen turned to melancholy tunes from the new album, including "Empty Sky" and "You're Missing," both expressions of loss.

Yet the evening was not all somber. During the cheerful "Waitin' on a Sunny Day," the arena house lights were turned on briefly as the audience sang the lyrics to the new song back to Springsteen. He smiled for the first time in the concert and said, "I'm very impressed."

The show's setting, of course, gave the evening an especially poignant edge. Many of the nearly 3,000 people killed on Sept. 11 were from New Jersey, including more than 150 from nearby Monmouth County, where Springsteen owns a farm.

The evening's mood kept changing, with most of the 11 new songs bringing people to respectful attention and old songs, like 1975's "Thunder Road" and 1984's "Glory Days," driving them back to carefree years when a midweek concert and several beers didn't seem like such a stretch.

During "Glory Days," the house lights went on and people looked around at each other, apparently unembarrassed to be shaking rounder stomachs and singing lyrics with meaningful expressions. Yes, they were all still here, another communal marker in what has been a tough year for New Yorkers and their neighbors.

Max Cripe, 51, in a Boston College sweatshirt, grabbed his wife during "Glory Days" and started swinging her around. She pushed him back and giggled.

Before singing "Mary's Place," from the new album, Springsteen explained that it was inspired by his memories of being 12 years old at the Jersey shore with his family. The song inspired such an uplifting of people's spirits that Springsteen shouted, "Turn it up, turn it up, turn it up!" as if to see how far they'd go.

Springsteen--who also performed such earlier tunes as "Born to Run," "Prove It All Night" and "Badlands"--used "Mary's Place" to introduce his band members, teasing each one, even making a Viagra joke when he introduced his backup singer and wife Patti Scialfa.

Bill Henderson, a Wall Street money manager, came to the concert with his wife and the widow of one of his best friends, a Cantor Fitzgerald broker and Springsteen fan who died on Sept. 11.

They had, he said, all rocked together at many Springsteen concerts over the years, and this one was another of those "firsts" after the death--for the widow and Henderson who has attended 47 Springsteen concerts.

"People who aren't here are still going to be with me, with us, as we sit inside that arena," said Henderson in the parking lot before the concert. He stopped talking suddenly and put on his sunglasses even though this subdued tailgate party was in the shade.

Charlton Bulkin, who came here from Atlanta, said he had to be in New Jersey to experience the words, the music, the man in the place close to where it all happened on Sept. 11.

"Springsteen has this uncanny ability to paint a huge picture, a mural, with just a couple of words," said Bulkin, 29. "These songs reached me, helped me figure out what I was feeling."

The new album--whose first-week sales of 525,000 were the highest opening week for any Springsteen album since Nielsen SoundScan began monitoring U.S. sales a decade ago--marks the second dramatic step in Springsteen's return to his '80s role as a dominant creative and commercial force in rock.

As his sales dipped after the break-up of the E Street Band in the late-'80s, Springsteen's relevance in rock was frequently questioned. But his 1999 reunion tour with the band was widely seen as a triumph and dates for the new tour, which includes an Aug. 24 stop at the Forum in Inglewood, have been instant sell-outs.

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