Wax Wednesday #5: “Nebraska” by Bruce Springsteen

What is Wax Wednesday? Why am I here? How long will it take before I run out of things to right in this space? All that and more, here.

Normally when I think of Bruce Springsteen, I think of 45-year-old Dads grilling and reminiscing about how they would’ve won the ’83 state championship that year. Dad-rock, to be perfectly blunt. However, there is one album to my (albeit limited) knowledge of his that isn’t concerned with reliving the glory days or idolizing the good ol’ U.S. of A., and that is his 1982 album Nebraska.

Right from the opening track for which the album takes its name (based on a true story about a serial killer), this album sticks out from the rest in Springsteen’s discography. Gone are the bombastic saxophone parts and lavish guitar solos, replaced only by a lone acoustic guitar, a harmonica and Springsteen’s tales.

They aren’t happy ones either. From tales about serial killers, to anecdotes about broken homes, the America Springsteen shows is not a bright shining country full of hopes and dreams. It’s a country that feels all too real, especially today. From unemployment, to abuse and family problems, Springsteen seems to want to craft a view of the hardships that not just Americans can relate to. Just try to drive through western Nebraska or Kansas playing the album and not see what he’s talking about. It feels like the album was written for the people living in the small towns dotting the Midwest, where issues like those mentioned before are all too real.

His people always feel alone, as if each song is told by a person from the corner stool of a bar in one of these towns at 1 am on a Sunday. Each song has it’s own sad story to tell, and it does it amazingly well. Springsteen comes across as tired, like he’s stopped trying to put the U.S. on this pedestal, but rather peel back the mask of American Exceptionalism, and finally is exploring the darker side. This leads the album to come across as more real, even heartbreaking at times, which most likely alienated some of his listeners.

The album isn’t perfect, however. Springsteen doesn’t seem to possess much of the credibility to be singing these songs of heartbreak and despair considering Springsteen’s background at the time. No more than a struggling rock musician in New Jersey, this background seems disconnected with the subject matter of his dark folk songs. This isn’t very damning though, as I don’t think it’s fair to judge someone’s songs by where they came from. Additionally, this album might not be for you if you have a dissatisfaction with the sound of the first tracks, as the whole album follows the sound, style and formula of those songs. While the songs, in my view, are satisfactory, I do think as the album goes on. The songs start to sound like each other, which could lead to some listeners not enjoying the album as much as they otherwise might have.

Regardless of those small gripes, Nebraska is one of the most honest and saddening records I have ever heard, and one of the only Bruce Springsteen records I listen to on a regular basis. While this record is getting a bit harder to find due to its relative rarity, you can still find them popping up in new arrival sections for about 10 dollars every now and again. Well worth picking up if you can get it.

Next week: an 80’s one-hit wonder… or is it?