Bruce Springsteen released the album Nebraska almost 30 years ago, but the questions of who is the blame for evil (and good for that matter) and how much control do we have over our own souls in a world such as this still stand front and center in Springsteen’s music.
Maybe more than any other Springsteen album, Nebraska deals with the limits and capacity of the human soul in a world that seems so out of our direct control. Springsteen touches on the ethics of the American system in “Johnny 99,” “Atlantic City” and “Used Cars,” the evil that exists in humanity on the title track, the bonds of family verses the obligations doing what is right on “Highway Patrolman,” the gap between the atonement of the afterlife and our current existence on “My Father’s House” and in the end the resilience of the human soul on “Reason to Believe.”
As the album moves on, the question continues to refine itself. “Johnny 99″ and “Atlantic City” tell stories of individuals whose actions have had some affect on their situation, but who are also victims of circumstance/”the system.” The question becomes, is it the individual who is to blame or is circumstance/”the system” the cause?
But this isn’t the end of the story. While the majority of the album seems to question the abilities of the human soul in a world that seems out of our control, the final track on the album, “Reason to Believe,” takes the final word and speaks of the resilience of human soul. The four verses of this song tell stories of loss and heartbreak, but each end with the refrain: “Still at the end of every hard earned day people find some reason to believe.” While it isn’t an answer to the question the rest of the album is asking, “Reason to Believe” seems to say that maybe the question we have been asking throughout the album isn’t the right question after all.
Maybe the question isn’t who’s to blame and what’s right, but maybe the question (and the answer to that question) lies in the fact that the human soul is resilient, and even if it hasn’t been redeemed just yet (as Springsteen reminds us time and again on this album and laments on “My Father’s House”) the resilience preached on “Reason to Believe” seems to leave the door open for the liberation of the human soul, as it can exist through even those circumstances that should kill it.
Whether it is a rosy-eyed perspective or a reality that Springsteen is getting at with “Reason to Believe,” the question is, just what is the human soul capable of in the darkest of times?
You can listen to clips of these songs and see the lyrics here.