On the surface, "Mary's Place" is the most celebratory of the fifteen tracks on Bruce Springsteen's haunted and deeply mournful post-September 11 song cycle, The Rising. Recalling the full-on boardwalk rock of his early days, the tune is superficially about gathering friends for a party. But when he starts singing about missing someone who won't be there and hits the line "Tell me how do you live brokenhearted," you know the song is about something else altogether.
That's the subtle magic of The Rising, which never specifically mentions the World Trade Center, doomed airline passengers or September 11 but brings the horrific aftermath of the terrorist attacks into sharp relief by amassing minute details of lives shattered by those fateful events: the outline of someone's absent form in a mattress, a closet full of unworn clothes, a breeze mistaken for a lost lover's sigh. Few artists could have put together such an audacious collection of songs without seeming self-important or mawkish -- or both -- but Springsteen did it, and The Rising is a sobering reminder of rock's power to evoke raw emotions and to salve them as well.
Given that Springsteen's last tour with the E Street Band came off as an electrifying rock & roll revival meeting, you might expect this go-round to be more akin to a wake. True, in the first few shows he's been leaning heavily on songs from the new album, but he's also mixing in old favorites such as "Badlands" and "Prove It All Night" that speak of a resolute determination to face down hard times and do what it takes to survive. Whatever the tenor of the times, you can almost always count on Springsteen to sound just the right note -- the one we want to hear as well as the one we need.