Blest be the tie that bind our hearts in Christian love; The fellowship our spirit finds is like to that above.
One of my Dad’s favourite hymns which he was wont to breaking into at any given point. It’s the third verse which may, however, have moved a young Bruce Springsteen:
We share our mutual woes; Our mutual burdens bear; And often for each other flows The sympathizing tear.
When I heard the song and saw the title I was taken; smitten even. Of course Springsteen’s Christian imagery had been there before. Promised Land, Blinded By The Light, Lost in The Flood…it’s all there. But on The River themes of loss and redemption dominate. Perhaps it was the stage he was at or perhaps the theme was always there or perhaps when you’ve driven the car so far it’s inevitable you will come across the Wreck On the Highway not far behind the place where you met the boys Racing In the Street.
In 1980 I was on a train station where I found a pink fluorescent button badge with the legend ‘I Love Bruce Springsteen’ typed on. It seemed the perfect response to an artist who demanded we sit up and pay attention but wanted that to include having enormous fun.
On Tuesday’s AC we’ll listen to and admire the story of The Ties That Bind, Bruce Springsteen’s expanded Box-Set of outtakes from 1979/80 where the story of The River is laid bare. In a revealing HBO documentary he describes how, over a period of two years, he found the characters that inhabit Drive All Night, Point Blank, The River and other great songs on the record but also how, once he’d established the characters he wanted to play the kind of music they’d be listening to each night as they went out to bars and clubs. Perhaps this more than anything explains the abandoned joy of Ramrod, Sherry Darling and Out In The Street. Playing the music will explain more.
Incidentally…if you’re not sure what any of this has to do with country music then know that Bruce explains the music he was listening to at that time was provided by Dolly Parton, Roy Acuff, George Jones and Johnny Cash.
I suspect he was not immune to the charm of Willie Nelson either. In a celebration of another remarkable album we will listen with fresh ears to one of country’s great concept albums, Red Headed Stranger 40 years on.
It’s going to be a good night. Join me from five past nine on BBC Radio Scotland if you can.