“I was just doing songs for the next rock album, and I decided that what always took me so long in the studio was the writing. I would get in there, and I just wouldn’t have the material written, or it wasn’t written well enough, and so I’d record for a month, get a couple of things, go home write some more, record for another month — it wasn’t very efficient. So this time, I got a little Teac four-track cassette machine, and I said, I’m gonna record these songs, and if they sound good with just me doin’ ‘em, then I’ll teach ‘em to the band. I could sing and play the guitar, and then I had two tracks to do somethin’ else, like overdub a guitar or add a harmony. It was just gonna be a demo. Then I had a little Echoplex that I mixed through, and that was it. And that was the tape that became the record. It’s amazing that it got there, ‘cause I was carryin’ that cassette around with me in my pocket without a case for a couple of week, just draggin’ it around. Finally, we realized, “Uh-oh, that’s the album.” Technically, it was difficult to get it on a disc. The stuff was recorded so strangely, the needle would read a lot of distortion and wouldn’t track in the wax. We almost had to release it as a cassette.”
–Bruce Springsteen, recalling the early stages of the recording of the album Nebraska, Rolling Stone Magazine interview, December 1984
There are musicians who fit perfectly in a time and place- those who embody the spirit of the days in which they live. Nebraska takes us beyond Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town, beyond The River, where he stands in the middle of a paradox, like a guitar string suspended between life and death. Nebraska is a leap into the darkness. On this record,everything happens with dead certainty. There are no choices and no chances. We are as fixed as the course of a river. We are taken to see that Mansion on a Hill, but we know before the end of the second verse that the gates of hardened steel completely surround it, preventing us from ever entering. We ride along with a killer whose only explanation for the things he’s done is “I guess there’s just meanness in this world.” We are the men poking the dead dog with a stick, hoping that if we do it long enough, it’ll get up and run. Springsteen wrote this during a period of depression, (and a winter in New Jersey), so it’s no wonder that the recordings made with the E-Street Band didn’t make the record. It’s lonely in the Darkness.
After Nebraska’s commercial failure, (He never even toured on this album.), Springsteen returned to full band arrangements, moving away from killers, mobsters and losers and focusing on the working class, while paradoxically becoming “The Boss”. His next album, Born In The USA, sold more than 15 million copies, and seven songs off the album were released as singles. Springsteen has sold over 61 million records in the US, but it’s the little, dark acoustic record recorded in a bedroom in Colts Neck, NJ, in the early 80’s that speaks to the darkness in us all. Hegel says the truth of the acorn is the tree. And while many Springsteen fans saw this demo-quality record as the acorn- a blueprint for something grand to come — we see it as the tree.