The relationship with his father Douglas occupies a central position in Springsteen‘s narrative. If in the first albums the father had remained an outline of the stories sung by Bruce, who was attracted by what happened outside the domestic scenery, with Darkness On The Edge Of Town Springsteen began to write about his difficult relationship with the father figure. Adam Raised A Cain, a strong and dark blues rock, follows the hopeful Badlands on the album and gives the listener a resounding slap in the face. Thus, coming to terms with adulthood and its problems for the first time, Springsteen sang about a new, previously seemingly marginal entity: his family. Adam Raised A Cain contains the excruciating rage of a young man who wants to escape from a sort of predestination to pain, but who is also aware of the love that binds him to his father. Few songs are so solidly connected at a lyrical and musical level as Adam Raised A Cain.
With Adam Raised A Cain for the first time Bruce Springsteen enclosed the story within the walls of his house or, at most, in the small driveway in front of the house, where the young protagonist stands in the rain, facing the dislike of his father, who proudly and surly occupies the doorway of the house. If outside there are huge spaces to conquer, it is within the domestic walls that everything becomes very tight, when two very different perspectives in two very similar characters have to make an effort to coexist. The exuberance of a rebel Cain collides with the short-sighted intransigence of an Adam wounded by his own failures. “Daddy worked his whole life for nothing but the pain, now he walks these empty rooms looking for something to blame,” Bruce sings.
THE PRISON OF LOVE
So Adam/Doug didn’t raise a sweet and mild Abel, above all respectful of his more conservative values, but a rebellious Cain full of resentment, who aspires to become a rocker and feels the bonds of that house too close. This generational clash, burning with the fire of hatred, is contrasted by the opposite element: love. Father and son love each other as much as they hate each other, but it is “a love in chains“, not free to express itself, a slave to the harshness of life. Douglas actually recognizes himself in his son more than their distances make it appear. He knows that his own blood flows in young Bruce‘s veins and, even without being fully aware of it, he understands that he loves that son as himself. But, precisely because Douglas carries around so much frustration, he transfers that anger to his son, exponentially increased by the young man’s desire to free himself from that cage of love.
THE PRODROMES OF ESCAPE
The second and third verses of Adam Raised A Cain are fundamental, because they reveal the reasons that drive the young man to rebel and to aspire to escape from his domestic prison. The boy knows that he risks being a victim of this clash and wants to get out of it, in order to avoid inheriting the sins and the flames, as Bruce sings. A risk that increases dramatically since father and son look alike, they have “the same hot blood burning in our veins“. It’s not just a matter of seeing the same faces over and over again, the real problem is that all those faces expect him to act like his father. It seems to be written in his destiny. An argument that would resurface two years later in The River (“I come from down to the valley, where mister when you’re young, they bring you up to do like your daddy done”).
ALL THE POETRY IN ONE VERSE
At the end of Adam Raised A Cain, a line contains one of the most poetic line in Bruce Springsteen‘s entire discography: “Lost but not forgotten from the dark heart of a dream“. The young protagonist feels lost, but knows he can’t solve it without lacerations. Fate and his father don’t forget him, but they press him, not even leaving him the chance to make himself invisible to them. The infernal vision is still recalled, strongly present like other classic elements of Catholic culture, in which the damned is lost and at the same time is destined to remain in that desperation, without the possibility of hiding, of being forgotten. Inside the illusory dream of escape and freedom hides a “dark heart“, a raw and unchangeable reality. The parallel with The River returns: even there Bruce sings the illusory and deceitful nature of a dream that is too distant and difficult: “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true or is it something worse…”
ROCK FROM HELL
The hardness of Adam Raised A Cain‘s meaning and the depth of the father/son contrast are accompanied by one of the roughest songs that Bruce Springsteen has ever written and arranged. If the Hammond organ and piano scores contribute to drawing the more melodic sound in the verses, the distorted guitars take over in the refrain and in the musical parts only. A beautiful central solo raises the voltage of the song which then breaks into a scary special. The rhythm stops and at that point a mixture of distortion and screams lead straight to the circles of hell. Not because Adam Raised A Cain has something satanic underneath, as in other cases in rock history. Hell is beyond the front door of the house, between those cold and silent walls. It is there that the flames of an unresolved love burn, where father and son pay for the sins that the former has committed and the latter has inherited. Thus Springsteen “invents” that screamed parenthesis which perhaps, in the context of a song already full of tension, is the pivotal moment. They are the screams of a desperate man and his rebellious son, of those old faces that claim their rules and of those young souls that claim to take the reins of their lives. Screams that Bruce then presents again at the end of the song, while the guitars dash with a distorted blues riff that stands for the inevitability of that damned situation. Springsteen‘s broken and desperate voice, together with those ungainly and messy choirs, is yet another proof of his ability to interpret the meaning of the lyrics as few others can do.
THE ESCAPE IN JULY
Adam Raised A Cain has an obvious sequel: Independence Day. To that sense of predestination that chains him, the young man can only oppose one sad but decisive decision: say goodbye to his father and leave. This will happen in Independence Day, a song published two years later in The River. It is curious however that Independence Day was not originally written in the period of The River, but during the Darkness On The Edge Of Town tour, to the point of having been played live several times already in the 1978/79 period. So that need to escape was already present in the very moment in which the boy felt the sense of desperation described in Adam Raised A Cain. Only years later, when Doug will be old and sick, the two will meet again and close their pending accounts.
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Next Review: Something In The Night – 5 February 2024