The musical answer to 9/11: Bruce Springsteen’s The Rising

Bruce Springsteen - Asbury Park Convention Hall 2002 (Danny Clinch/

Bruce Springsteen – Asbury Park Convention Hall 2002


On September 21st 2001 the telethon America: A Tribute to Heroes was organized in the United States. Bruce Springsteen was there. He played My City Of Ruins, a beautiful moving song with an impressive background choir: the (musical) highlight of the broadcast.


Me at work (around 2001) (

Me at work (around 2001)

I can not write about the telethon or The Rising, without discussing 9/11. The world has never been the same since. I was at work when around 03:00 PM first reports were coming in that something serious was going on in New York. Two planes had crashed or flown into buildings. It didn’t take long before it was confirmed that two planes had flown into the two major towers of the World Trade Center. The Pentagon was hit as well and there was a hijacked plane en route to Washington (which later crashed into a field, due to the passengers trying to re-gain control over the plane). This was no coincidence.

New York - 9/11 (

New York – 9/11

At the time I got home I immediately turned on the television and was glued to it for the rest of the evening. Every time (to this day) the feeling of disbelief when the planes enter the towers or the towers’ collapse. The horrible images of people stuck above or around the holes in the towers. Some preferring to jump off the towers. The total bewilderment of all New Yorkers. The insanity of the act and its consequences are incomprehensible. Quickly to to be followed by speculation. Who, what, why?

First child

I clearly remember colleagues commenting that the third world war would start. I didn’t think that, but remember being worried about the (immediate) future. On my birthday of 2001 I received one of the most beautiful news I ever received: Zühâl was pregnant. Our first child was to be born in November. For a long time I wasn’t sure whether or not I should have children. The main reason being my doubts if I would please my child bringing him (or her) into this world. That thought crossed my mind throughout that horrible day. The attacks, being terrible as they were, would surely ignite other terrible things to the world.

The attacks made George W. Bush go to war on several fronts, bring the United States on the brink of bankruptcy and create great discord between the Western and Islamic world, resulting in more and more people being opposed to each other.

A tribute to heroes

Various Artists - America: A Tribute To Heroes (

Various Artists – America: A Tribute To Heroes

10 days after the attacks a special television broadcast was dedicated to all the victims and those who gave their lives performing their duty in the line of work (and consequently saving thousands of lives). The broadcast was a benefit concert and was organized by all of the four big American television networks: Fox, ABC, NBC and CBS. A number of artists would try to collect money for the victims and their families, particularly targeted at the New York police and fire-brigades. The broadcast didn’t contain any commercial (!) and was released on CD and DVD on December 4th, 2001.

Among the artist performing were Stevie Wonder, U2, Faith Hill, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Neil Young, Alicia Keys, Billy Joel, Dixie Chicks, Mariah Carey, Sheryl Crow, Paul Simon and Willie Nelson. As stated above, Bruce Spingsteen also performed, accompanied by his wife Patti Scialfa and (among others) E Street Band members Clarence Clemons and Steve Van Zandt. The musical highlight of the evening. A hugely impressive and moving performance of the song My City Of Ruins.


Now’s there’s tears on the pillow
Darlin’ where we slept
And you took my heart when you left
Without your sweet kiss
My soul is lost, my friend
Tell me how do I begin again?
My city’s in ruins
My city’s in ruins

Now with these hands,
With these hands,
With these hands,
I pray Lord
With these hands,
With these hands,
I pray for the strength, Lord
With these hands,
With these hands,
I pray for the faith, Lord
We pray for your love, Lord
We pray for the lost, Lord
We pray for this world, Lord
We pray for the strength, Lord
We pray for the strength, Lord

Come on
Come on
Come on, rise up
Come on, rise up

© My City Of Ruins, Bruce Springsteen, 2002

The song’s end is some kind of exorcization. Ever louder and louder. Certified goosebumps.

Bruce Springsteen - A Tribute To Heroes (

Bruce Springsteen – A Tribute To Heroes

‘We need you now’

Some passerby yelled that to Springsteen in the days immediately following the attacks. It inspired him to write new material. Springsteen chooses to revert the incomprehensible to personal stories and insights; stories of courage, intense grief, victory and missing. Nowhere does Springsteen give into the rage, (still) felt by many Americans. No call for revenge. The album was (and still is) considered to be a highlight in Springsteen’s body of work and as the most important artistic American reaction to the events of 9/11.

The E Street Band

Bruce Springsteen - The Rising advert (

Bruce Springsteen – The Rising advert

And, for the first time since 1984, together with The E Street Band. A fact that was emphasized during the advertising campaigns for the album. The Rising is the first album since Born In The USA, on which the complete E Street Band plays on new songs. And it’s an enhanced version of The E Street Band. Nils Lofgren and Steve Van Zandt are both audible on the album. Next to Springsteen, it results in a big wall of guitars. The band is expanded with Soozie Tyrell, who adds violin and background vocals. The end result is an album that rocks and swings, like only Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band can. The album sounded completely unique, especially then, even though I’m not fond of Brendan O’Brien’s production. The musical framing and the men and women who perform, are all essential ingredients.

The Rising

Bruce Springsteen - The Rising (

Bruce Springsteen – The Rising

The Rising is the twelfth Bruce Springsteen album, which was released on July 30th, 2002. I bought the album the same day. I couldn’t wait for the album. Hoping it would mark a return to Springsteen’s way of working. As so many with me, I thought Springsteen’s (19)90’s output could in no way compete with his releases before that period. After listening just once, I was completely smitten with the album. Springsteen sounded reborn, The E Street Band rocked like never before and it was highly moving!

The album contained some remarkable musical side-steps, like hip-hop rhythms and the sound of Qawwali, the vocal music of the mystic Islamic Sufi, performed by Asif Ali Khan and his group. But the humanity and the songs turn the album into one unified whole and celebrate humanity’s victory over hate, love over revenge and comfort over loneliness. An impressive feat and experience.

Asif Ali Khan Group (

Asif Ali Khan Group

Despite the fact that the album is regarded as a response to the 9/11 attacks, a number of songs was written before that. The already mentioned My City Of Ruins stems from 2000 and was written with Asbury Park, which was a subject for Bruce many times, in mind, which was impoverished considerably at the time. You’re Missing was written long before 9/11, in 1994 (!); it was brought up to date for the album. Further On (Up the Road) is from 2000 and Waitin’ On A Sunny Day was composed midway through the (19)90’s. 

Nonetheless, the album’s central theme is 9/11. Lyrically as well as musically. It’s a huge statement by Springsteen to open Worlds Apart with the Middle-Eastern Qawwali music. Highlights abound. From rocker Lonesome Day to Nothing Man. From Worlds Apart to Empty Sky.

I woke up this morning
I could barely breathe
Just an empty impression
In the bed where you used to be
I want a kiss from your lips
I want an eye for an eye
I woke up this morning to the empty sky

© Empty Sky, Bruce Springsteen, 2002

From My City Of Ruins to The Fuse. From The Rising to the heartbreaking You’re Missing, the undisputed highlight of the album. A beautiful ‘small’ song, addressing the sense of loss in a family after the passing of the man/father. The little everyday things and its relation to the inexplicable are perfectly articulated. The instrumental coda that fades the song out is extremely touching (to me anyway).

Shirts in the closet, shoes in the hall
Mama’s in the kitchen, baby and all
Everything is everything
Everything is everything
But you’re missing

New Jersey - Morris County - 9/11 Memorial (

New Jersey – Morris County – 9/11 Memorial

Coffee cups on the counter, jackets on the chair
Papers on the doorstep, you’re not there
Everything is everything
Everything is everything
But you’re missing

Pictures on the nightstand, TV’s on in the den
Your house is waiting, your house is waiting
For you to walk in, for you to walk in
But you’re missing, you’re missing
You’re missing when I shut out the lights
You’re missing when I close my eyes
You’re missing when I see the sun rise
You’re missing

Children are asking if it’s alright
Will you be in our arms tonight?

Morning is morning, the evening falls I have
Too much room in my bed, too many phone calls
How’s everything, everything?
Everything, everything
You’re missing, you’re missing

God’s drifting in heaven, devil’s in the mailbox
I got dust on my shoes, nothing but teardrops

© You’re Missing, Bruce Springsteen, 2002


Bruce Springsteen - The Rising singles (

Bruce Springsteen – The Rising singles

All songs written by Bruce Springsteen.

  • Lonesome Day
  • Into The Fire
  • Waitin’ On A Sunny Day
  • Nothing Man
  • Countin’ On A Miracle
  • Empty Sky
  • Worlds Apart
  • Let’s Be Friends (Skin To Skin)
  • Further On (Up the Road)
  • The Fuse
  • Mary’s Place
  • You’re Missing
  • The Rising
  • Paradise
  • My City Of Ruins



An extensive tour was done in support of The Rising. On May 6th, 2003 (only available in Dutch) the tour landed at the Kuip stadium in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. A beautiful setlist. I remember the sound flying away, something I had never experienced before at the Kuip. The introductory tour to the larger stadium tour of 2003 took place the year before. The Barcelona concert was recorded and released on DVD at the end of 2003. Highly recommended!


New York - World Trade Center model 1971 (

New York – World Trade Center model 1971

The beauty of the album, as is oftentimes the case with much of Springsteen’s work, is its agelessness and makes one truly believe that, in spite of all the hurt and injustice, life is really worth living. Many songs on the album can also be viewed outside of the 9/11 context, and be given meaning in light of other occurrences. My City Of Ruins was also used in New Orleans in response to the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina. During the 2012 tour in support of the Wrecking Ball album, the song was played nightly as an emotional tribute to Clarence Clemons, who passed away in 2011.

I can not stress enough how much I enjoy this album. It is Springsteen at his best and art at its best: Arts that interprets, explains the inexplicable and humanizes the inhumane. It is a small wonder.

In closing

Do you own this album by Bruce Springsteen? What’s your take on it? Let me know!



    • Hamish Whitta on 10/26/2017 at 9:15 AM
    • Reply

    Very strong album, and Im pleased that the Boss still plays songs off it live. My City In Ruins holds special significance to my city. In 2011 we were hit with a strong earthquake that destroyed most of the city. This song became our anthmn. The opening lines about the church doors flung open particularly poignant as the city centre was dominated by a Cathedral that partially collapsed during the quake. When ever I hear this song,I remember that day and the feelings associated with it.

    1. Wow, powerful memories. Many of Springsteen’s songs connect to real life events. Thanks for your reply!

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