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How Bruce Springsteen Captured 9/11’s Complex Emotions on ‘The Rising’

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In the immediate aftermath of the tragic events of 9/11, our nation spoke of unity and revenge. We mourned the loss of nearly 3,000 people and vowed to rebuild our fallen buildings. But what often got lost in the discussion was the individual stories of those directly affected by the attacks on our nation.

Frankly, no musician or filmmaker or author can ever truly capture the true emotion and loss of the people who were personally impacted by the tragic events of 9/11. That said, one artist came very close.

With his 2002 album The Rising, Bruce Springsteen took the events surrounding 9/11 and turned them into poetic songs that told stories from the perspective of the victims, families and heroes whose lives were changed forever on that fateful day.

While the stories told in The Rising are heartbreaking and melancholy at times, the album also stirs up feelings of hope and optimism. No better example of that is the album’s title track. “The Rising” tells the story of a firefighter who ascends up the stairs of one of the World Trade Center towers at the time of the attacks. But it also draws parallels to the ascent up to heaven.

“One of the most powerful images of the 11th, that I’d read in the paper, some of the people coming down were talking about the emergency workers who were ascending,” Springsteen said of the song on Nightline around the time of the album’s release. “The idea of those guys going up the stairs, up the stairs, ascending, ascending. I mean you could be ascending a smoky staircase; you could be in the afterlife, moving on.”

Elsewhere on The Rising, Springsteen portrayed the sense of loss that was felt by the families of the victims on songs like “Lonesome Day” and “You’re Missing.” Other tunes like “My City of Ruins” and “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day” were written prior to 9/11, but took on new meanings and fit in harmoniously with the rest of the album’s tracks.

Writing about working-class heroes and everyday people is something that Springsteen had done for decades leading up to 9/11. But in the case of The Rising, his words took on a new importance that resonated deeply.

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Next: How Bruce Springsteen Survived the '80s

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