Monday, November 3, 2014

"Further On Up the Road": The Spirituality of Springsteen and Cash

Paul Elie's blog post about Bruce Springsteen and Flannery O'Connor made me smile.  Of course Bruce Springsteen likes Flannery O'Connor.  Of course.  This article in The New York Times gives additional insight into his reading habits and sheds light on his many songs.

For example, there's this quote:  " . . . the short stories of Flannery O’Connor landed hard on me. You could feel within them the unknowability of God, the intangible mysteries of life that confounded her characters, and which I find by my side every day. They contained the dark Gothicness of my childhood and yet made me feel fortunate to sit at the center of this swirling black puzzle, stars reeling overhead, the earth barely beneath us."

A few weeks ago, I wrote this post about what I listened to on my autumn vacation:  Johnny Cash's American V:  A Hundred Highways.   The album has a cover of a Bruce Springsteen song:  "He also covers Bruce Springsteen's "Further On Up the Road."  While it's not overtly a spiritual song, when it's offered in the company of these other songs, sung in the rough voice of an aged Johnny Cash, it's hard NOT to see it as a spiritual look at death.  I like that idea that we'll all meet again, even if we're not sure exactly where or how, whether it's later in life or after death."
As I wrote that post, I did some research on the album, and discovered that I own the The Rising, the CD from Bruce Springsteen which has his recording of "Further On Up the Road."  So I've spent the time since we got home discovering that CD.

Should I say rediscovering?  Probably not.  I bought the CD shortly after it came out and listened straight through.  It was almost too painful to bear.  If I listened to it again, it was only once.  And then I put it away.

What an amazing CD!  And what an amazing song.  When I hear Johnny Cash sing it, on the last album he would ever record, my brain goes to death and seeing our loved ones further on up that road.  Cash's version is somber and meditative; his voice is both strong and appropriately wavery in places.

Bruce Springsteen gives a more spirited recording.  When I listen to him sing at a much faster tempo, I think of folks who need to get out of town quickly.  I think of people who live on the margins of the law, of transgressives of all sorts.

Both CDs are perfect for this autumnal time of year, when shadows grow, before the darkness of winter crashes down upon us.  It's the time of year when we think we might make a mad dash and avoid the snares that are set for us.  It's music for plucky people who might just pull it off.

And if not, we'll all meet further on up the road.

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