Sunday, November 16, 2008

Listening to Bruce Springsteen's "The Seeger Sessions"

I've enjoyed Bruce Springsteen's The Seeger Sessions" since I first heard it in 2006. Earlier this year, I listened to it again, as Tropical Storm Fay threatened us. I took a macabre comfort in hearing "My Oklahoma Home," with its refrain about various things blowing away. When I first heard the song in 2006, I chuckled over its humor (a wife blowing away? really?). As I listened again, I found the last part of the song poignant, with its realization that the singer's Oklahoma home is everywhere, as the top soil blows across the continent.

In the last few weeks, I've returned to this disc, and I've been startled to realize how many songs on this disc have a religious theme (most of them coming from the African-American spiritual tradition). I love Springsteen's version of "Oh Mary, Don't you Weep." His arrangement of "How Can I Keep from Singing" is unsingable to me, but it moves me to tears when I hear it.

In the almost two weeks since Obama won the election, I've really enjoyed hearing "Eyes on the Prize," "Jacob's Ladder," and "We Shall Overcome." Some years, when I've heard these songs, I've felt bleak about the prospects of overcoming. I've felt frustrated at the seeming fact that some of these things won't be overcome in my lifetime.

Oh me of little faith. You would think that I would learn that the world can change dramatically, and sometimes in a seeming instant. I'll never forget the Saturday in 1990, when I heard on NPR that Nelson Mandela would be released from prison. I have a picture of a group of college friends that I took in 1986--one of them is wearing a T-shirt that demands "Free Nelson Mandela," but we never really expected that it would happen. When it did happen, I walked around in a happy daze, seeing the world shimmer with hope and promise.

I love these songs, religious and otherwise, that Springsteen chose to showcase in this project. I love remembering that the fight for justice can be fierce, but it doesn't mean we can't have good music.

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