Record Machine: Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen

Beautifully sparse and melancholic, Nebraska is one of my favorite Bruce Springsteen albums. Between my original collection and my inherited records, I’ve ended up with two copies, and part of my fondness for the man’s music likely has to do with growing up hearing it. It was the same for my husband.

An image of the front cover of Bruce Springsteen's album "Nebraska."
Shout-out to The Long Ear Records in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where I got this album for $2.95

When he was little, someone asked my husband, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“The Boss,” he said, and he didn’t mean “person in charge at a company.”

A child could certainly aspire to worse.

Though we’re both fans of his big, celebratory songs with the E Street Band, we agree that Nebraska is something special. Created on a basic 4-track cassette recorder, the songs were initially intended to be demos that would inform a full-band album. The more Springsteen carried around that cassette, the more he and everyone else involved realized that the demos were the album.

I saw her standin’ on her front lawn just a twirlin’ her baton
Me and her went for a ride, sir . . . and 10 innocent people died

The album is full of criminals and people driven by desperation, and the title track ends with a man headed to the electric chair. It’s inspired by Flannery O’Connor’s writing, and the effect is both haunting and interesting, especially from a writer’s point of view. I also really enjoy that the instruments are mainly confined to guitar and harmonica.

One of my favorites is “Atlantic City,” the second song on Side One. It’s a tale of down-on-luck decisions and the notorious gambling town.

Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact
but maybe everything that dies someday comes back

It’s difficult for me to feel like I can properly write about Nebraska, which might be why I’ve put off discussing it, despite having it in the back of my mind since beginning Record Machine. I’m not a Boss diehard, even though I like him a lot, and much like Bob Dylan, there are are probably Springsteen-ologists who have written insightful essays and books on the album, pieces that are (presently) beyond my capabilities. Honestly, I’m surprised there isn’t a 33 1/3 book dedicated to Nebraska yet (though there is one for Born in The U.S.A).

Still, I wanted to take a moment to recognize this great album, and maybe collectively in the comments, we can talk about the ‘why’ behind it. When even the song titles presented in order imply a short story, I know there is so much more that can be said.

Side One

An image of the liner notes (with lyrics) of Bruce Springsteen's album "Nebraska."

Atlantic City
Mansion on The Hill
Johnny 99
Highway Patrolman
State Trooper

Side Two

An image of the liner notes of Bruce Springsteen's album "Nebraska."

Used Cars
Open All Night
My Father’s House
Reason to Believe

By Sara Habein

Sara Habein is the author of Infinite Disposable, a collection of microfiction, and her work has appeared on The Rumpus, Pajiba and Word Riot, among others. Her book reviews and other commentary appear at Glorified Love Letters, and she is the co-manager of Electric City Creative.

5 replies on “Record Machine: Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen”

Did someone say, “Springsteen”? I can get on that train. Atlantic City always makes me tear up a little bit at its desperate futility. “Put your makeup on/fix your hair up pretty/and meet me tonight in Atlantic City.” I don’t know why, but that’s the line that gets stuck in my head.

The man is a great storyteller. Maybe he doesn’t have the voice to go with it, but I still love listening.

Leave a Reply