The Despair of Bruce Springsteen

The despair in our world is not enough for Bruce Springsteen—he’s spent his entire career constructing heartbreaking narratives and fateful losses in parallel worlds, and each song is a complete, grim universe in itself. In the tempestuous “Lost in the Flood,” a soldier drives a racecar directly into a hurricane and evaporates into a tableau of detritus in which oil and blood are indistinguishable. In the dour and menacing songs of Nebraska, he sings about the never-ending crisis of faith that plagues the working man: “Reason to Believe” sees a bystander staring despairingly at a dead dog, trying to will it back to life; in “Atlantic City,” a phantom protagonist becomes involved with organized crime, knowing full well that it will kill him. In Springsteen’s vast repertoire of harrowing misfortune, it is often the living who are dead, and yet his faith in the possibility of emancipation is soothing.