The Bard Of New Jersey

Read a personal journey with three of Bruce Springsteen’s albums

By Michael Emmerich





This is not a definitive article on The Boss, but an introspective look at 3 albums which have resonated with me over time (I do need to revisit these 3 albums with a more weighty article). Springsteen is an artist I greatly admire and respect, for so many reasons; for his strong social consciousness and the way he juxtaposes darkness and light, despair and hope, life and death; all the while documenting life as he see the world.

Most of his songs focus on the marginalized, the working-class, people making their way in the world, getting through the daily grind. He has spent most of his musical career documenting the daily struggle of people who live in a country (America) where the status quo is:


enforced by a corpocratic government that allows only the rich to get richer


His songs offer glimpses of loss, confusion, hope, faith, resolve, death and destruction; caused by life, politics and government mismanagement. He continually offers hope, at times only glimpses, but it is there for those who are looking; as they are tested by the fire. Emerging from the furnace of life scarred but whole.


“I sink beneath the river cool and clear
Drifting down I disappear
I see you on the other side
I search for the peace in your eyes
I break above the waves
I feel the sun upon my face”
“Paradise” – from The Rising 2002


Springsteen is not scared to ask the hard questions that confront the working man. In the above quoted album The Rising; there are tales of great suffering, but there is joy, hope, and a possibility of new tomorrow, without an empty sky. Springsteen says, he was “concerned with those [relationship] ideas: that if you don’t connect yourself with your family and to the world, you feel like you’re disappearing, fading away”.

He has the ability to bring beauty to tragedy, and shine light where it should not exist. Some of his greatest work, in my opinion, are his three acoustic albums, they are stark, dark and raw. They claw at the very fabric of society, lifting the covers and showing the dark underbelly, that exists right in front of us, that we are at times, too blind to see.


It’s songwriting, you know, but in the sense that there’s a geography to it, there’s a landscape, both a physical landscape and an emotional landscape, where I’m trying to capture the essence of an individual’s life in some sense. What’s he striving for? What’s he struggling with? Where is he? Bruce Springsteen in conversation with Adam Sweeting 2010


The three acoustic albums are Nebraska (1982), The Ghost of Tom Joad (1995) and Devils and Dust (2005). I would say this triptych is essential listening – in one sitting – for all those hardcore Springsteen fans, during which you would be hard pressed to survive with dry eyes.

The stark, dark acoustic masterpiece, The Ghost Of Tom Joad, (Steinbeck fans while remember this character from The Grapes of Wrath, which Springsteen reread before doing this album) which celebrates its 21st anniversary this Novemberis considered by many to be a sequel to Nebraska (1982) due to its tone, mood and context. It skirts the darkness at the edges of our towns and peripheral vision. It’s as real and relevant today as it was then, whether you live in the USA, Europe or South Africa. The austere guitar plays out against a dark post apocalypse economic wasteland visited upon us by powers (governments) beyond our control. The opening and title track – “The Ghost of Tom Joad” – reminds us that there are still plenty of people living in the margins who need somebody to fight on their behalf. Be it refugees at sea in the Mediterranean, Mexicans been sent back across the border, Syrians walking across Europe, Somalians been killed by warlords or Zimbabwean fleeing a tyrant.


“Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries
Where there’s a fight ‘gainst the blood and hatred in the air
Look for me Mom I’ll be there
Wherever there’s somebody fightin’ for a place to stand
Or decent job or a helpin’ hand
Wherever somebody’s strugglin’ to be free
Look in their eyes Mom you’ll see me.”

Bruce Springsteen – The Ghost of Tom Joad – 1995



The Ghost of Tom Joad

Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band with Tom Morello – Ghost of Tom Joad – Madison Square Garden, NYC – 2009/10/29&3


What draws me to Springsteen? It’s a combination of his gripping raw lyrics, social consciousness, not afraid to have an opinion even if it means losing fans, and then there is his rollicking rock sound when he rips loose with the E-Street Band. I love it when he tackles the powers that be head on, with a hungry heart for the downtrodden. Springsteen is not scared to tilt at windmills he even called out Trump as a “con man” on “That’s What Makes Us Great,” his new protest song with longtime collaborator Joe Grushecky.


Don’t tell me a lie
And sell it as a fact
I’ve been down that road before
And I ain’t going back


As long as Springsteen keeps churning them out I will keep listening and loving his music, long may the magic last . Here are a few of my favourite Springsteen albums and songs … was tough as always to keep the selection concise, especially the songs. Would love to hear your favourite songs and albums.


Peace and love to you all, know matter where you are born or roam


My Favourite Bruce Albums (in date order)
Darkness on the Edge of Town – 1978
The River – 1980
Nebraska – 1982
Ghost of Tom Joad – 1995
The Rising – 2002
Devils and Dust – 2005
Magic – 2007

My Favourite Bruce Songs (in no particular order) – some still bring a tear to my eye

Keeping it to 12 as I did with my Dylan listing ?

“American Skins”
“Seeds” – Live 75 – 85 version
“Ghost of Tom Joad”
“Missing” – included on the soundtrack to the 1995 Sean Penn film The Crossing Guard
“Blood Brothers”
“My Fathers House”
“Secret Garden”
“Lift Me Up” – A must listen, you will not believe how beautiful his voice is on this acoustic number
“Countin’ on a Miracle” – Acoustic version – Originally on The Rising
“Devils and Dust”

The last word from Bruce: “I open the door, I climb the stairs…,”  completes this post Thanks ?



Michael Emmerich hails from Cape Town, South Africa. although his home is the African continent, where he spends most of his time working. He has a passion for music and has been involved in the industry on the fringes over the years, as well as writing for medical journals/magazines and poetry. This foray into writing for Listening Through The Lens is a new an exciting journey, that he hopes you will walk with him and enjoy the music and the love of life. 

You can follow him on his site (where this article first appeared) or on twitter, @MikeEmmerich.



Read a personal journey with three of Bruce Springsteen’s albums


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    • Nicely, poetically put!

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  2. Thanks for that insightful comment Guy … appreciate your input .. yes he is my river as well …

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