photo & text by nacrowe
written and recorded alone at a rented house in rural COLTS NECK, NEW JERSEY after the conclusion of a long tour in support of THE RIVER (COLUMBIA, 1980), BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN's NEBRASKA (COLUMBIA, 1982) is a masterful turning point in his evolution as a songwriter and observer of AMERICAN life. at this point in his career SPRINGSTEEN was already an ICON, arguably the most CELEBRATED singer-songwriter since BOB DYLAN (with all due respect to NEIL YOUNG, STEVIE WONDER, JOHN FOGERTY and JONI MITCHELL). he'd made a string of successful records with his E STREET BAND companions that thoughtfully penetrated and examined the AMERICAN PSYCHE, but he found himself at a CROSSROADS both personally and professionally. if anything his all-encompassing fame and notoriety left him feeling ISOLATED and DETACHED from society. maybe its easier in this digital era of social media AVATARS to consider how DISILLUSIONING it must have felt to become socially trapped by a PUBLIC PERSONA you fought to create but is now out of step with your own sense of IDENTITY.
for me that SELF-REALIZATION is what makes NEBRASKA such an INTRIGUING album. its a STRIPPED-BACK affair that was recorded alone utilizing a handheld TASCAM PORTASTUDIO (meant for recording interviews) and a pair of industry standard SHURE SM57 microphones in a guest bedroom. it was in essence LO-FI before the LO-FI aesthetic was a thing. standout tracks include "STATE TROOPER," "ATLANTIC CITY," "JOHNNY 99," "REASON TO BELIEVE" and the title track "NEBRASKA." all starkly deal thematically with the DOWN-AND-OUT and petty criminality that besets DOWNTRODDEN characters with no resources and no hope for the future. in other words NEBRASKA is basically the antipodal perspective of the OPTIMISM and faith in middle-class values that marked most of SPRINGSTEEN's earlier work. the title track itself is written from the perspective of a death row inmate looking back over their life, partly inspired by the debut BADLANDS (WARNER BROS, 1973) film by TERRENCE MALICK. that film was a fictional account of the real-life 1958 murder spree of CHARLES STARKWEATHER and his girlfriend in rural NEBRASKA, one of which was conducted seemingly out of BOREDOM. the NEBRASKA album cover itself with its bleak, black-and-white dashboard depiction of a lonely snowy road makes one consider where the viewer is headed towards or away from. its INTERESTING that this is one of the few major records in his catalogue that doesnt trade on SPRINGSTEEN's looks or physique on the cover, the other notably being his debut WELCOME TO ASBURY PARK, N.J. (COLUMBIA, 1973). the focus with NEBRASKA is unquestionably on the ETERNAL MORAL CROSSROADS that SPRINGSTEEN, our country and even the listener find themselves trapped within.
no E STREET BAND, no production and arguably no hope. it is INCREDIBLE that this album (which is arguably a demo) even exists and was made to be released on a major record label, especially after SPRINGSTEEN's recent more outwardly PERFORMATIVE and sonically DECORATIVE affairs. NEBRASKA is definitely my favorite SPRINGSTEEN record and one that people interested in the power of songwriting and songwriters should take note of. i consider it in the tradition of all the great folk and blues songwriters from ROBERT JOHNSON and LEADBELLY to WOODY GUTHRIE, JOHNNY CASH, BOB DYLAN and beyond. definitely worth checking out.