Lost In The Flood was written and recorded in 1972 by Bruce Springsteen as part of his first album, Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J., released in 1973. Once recorded the songs presented to CBS in the audition that led upon signing his first recording contract, Springsteen wanted to broaden the musical spectrum of his production, making more use of the band and stepping away from the limitant vision of the New Dylan. Then, he was looking for the peculiar element that could make him emerge in the rock panorama of those early 70s. He was a good guitarist and had excellent potential for composing music, but he understood that the message conveyed by his music could really make the difference: attention to lyrics and sources of inspiration, credibility and honesty of its characters and stories. Lost In The Flood is one of the first results of that research and undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and important songs of early Springsteen.
In lyrics full of images, characters and actions, Lost In The Flood hosts three different stories of life and underworld between the suburban surroundings and the countryside. The element that unites them seems to be the thin line between good and evil, where the components sometimes exchange positions. This happens in the flood, to be interpreted both as social chaos, in which people are no longer able to find reliable points of reference in institutions, and as internal chaos, in which a person is no longer able to find a way out of his drama. On the one hand, the Nation sends its young people to die or forgets about them if they manage to survive. On the other hand, young people waste their lives, lost in the pursuit of a vain and empty American dream. Lost In The Flood unearths with surprising and tough lucidity the hypocrisies of the establishment (starting with the Catholic Church) and the lies that men often tell themselves to seek useless excuses for their failures.
THE ABANDONED SOLDIER
In the first verse of Lost In The Flood a soldier comes home battered from the Vietnam war. One immediately thinks of the death in battle of Bart Haynes, Springsteen‘s first drummer. The soldier is with his back against the wall, he hopes for the help of his community, but finds only obstacles. Without mentioning them, Springsteen suggests who the culprits are. Who are those “wolfman fairies dressed in drag for homicide”? Who are they, if not the right-thinking ruling class of a Nation that lets the poor soldier sink into quicksand and then hides behind Catholic morality? That Catholic morality that forgives murderers because they are submissive to the will of the Church (“’Neath a holy stone they hide“).
THE ATTACK ON THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
Bruce Springsteen wrote some songs of ferocious attack on the Catholic Church at that time, mindful of the closures and constraints to which he had been subjected in his education. One of these, If I Was The Priest, was not released then, but only half a century later on the Letter To You album. Lost In The Flood, on the other hand, remained to represent that strong resentment and the need to denounce the hypocrisies dominant in the Catholic community. The image, ironic and even ridiculous, of the “nuns running bald through Vatican halls pregnant, pleadin’ immaculate conception” paints that hypocrisy. Sin and guilt are right where one would expect absolute righteousness. Springsteen gives the biblical flood an opposite meaning: if in the Bible it is symbolically the elimination of all sins (and sinners) for a fresh start in the absence of sin in God’s glory, in Springsteen‘s vision the flood is chaos in which humanity loses and never finds again itself.
THE FIRST CRAZY CAR RACES
In the second verse of Lost In The Flood, the theme of street car racing appears for the first time. From this point of view this song is a pioneer. Not much of Thunder Road and Born To Run, in which the car is the means of escape in search of a promised land, as of the songs from Darkness On The Edge Of Town, in which the car is, at best, a means of livelihood, but more often of disillusionment, if not downright death. Jimmy the Saint is not a James Dean-esque hero, but a “dull-eyed and empty-faced” dude. He challenges a hurricane and dies. A loser who loses his life seeking his moment of fame in an absurd act of heroism that maybe someone will remember. Because only in that way he can emerge from the anonymity to which he would be destined in a province that offers nothing that can even remotely resemble the glory of the American dream. Thus, his blood remains on the road together with the wreckage of his racing car in the same way that his suicide will remain on the lips of those who witnessed his heroism.
LIFE IS WORTH SO LITTLE IN THE BRONX
The last verse of Lost In The Flood shows the shooting on Bronx streets. Drug-dealing and drug-consuming gangs exchange fire with the police. One of the leaders of the gang, “Bronx’s best apostle”, shoots wildly, but is drilled with gunshots. Later, even an armed Hispanic boy comes out of nowhere, challenging fate, but is hit in the leg, slowly bleeding to death and screaming his pain. The narrator witnesses this umpteenth tragedy, in which it seems that human life has a value close to zero. At the end of each verse he, far from being moralizing, wonders (and asks us) if people who populate those streets and communities know what they are doing or are simply lost in their own madness. Or, again, lost in the madness of an entire society.
THE TRIUMPH OF BLACK AND IVORY KEYS
Lost In The Flood is a slow-tempo ballad that evolves from the more markedly Dylan-like style of the first songs written for Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J., adding elements of rock psychedelia. In fact, on a piano base that accompanies the song for its entire duration, a piercing and acid organ recalls the rock sounds in vogue since the second half of the ‘60s (think at the organ of The Doors’ Ray Manzarek). In the total and surprising absence of guitars, the pivotal role is entrusted to the phenomenal David Sancious, who plays both the beautiful piano accompaniment and the splendid organ score that enters the second part of the song. The first verse is supported by the piano alone. Above this dark melody the soldier returns to the city and realizes that he is on the margins of society. The second verse starts again with the piano alone but, when talking about Jimmy the Saint’s deadly race towards the hurricane, the rhythmic base enters with a crescendo of tension. Then, as the shooting in the Bronx erupts, everything becomes more animated and David Sancious‘s organ dominates. This section, so acid and schizophrenic, accompanies the armed clash that leads to the grand finale, desperate and solemn, mad and murderous. Some of the musical inserts recall those of Who’ll Stop The Rain by Creedence Clearwater Revival, a song much loved by Bruce. If in the studio version, Springsteen brilliantly managed to give dynamics to the song without using the guitars, in the live versions the six strings will burst in to give further strength to an already solemn and imposing song. After ’78 Bruce will forget about this jewel, except to bring it back from the Reunion Tour onwards. Just the only appearance during that tour, performed at Madison Square Garden, appears on the live album Live in New York City.
Although not officially credited, Steve Van Zandt participated in a very unusual way in the recording of Lost In The Flood. In fact, the impact of his guitar against the amplifier generated a noise that Bruce decided to use as war noise at the beginning of the song. It will be the only contribution of the E Street Band’s future guitarist to Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. as the limitations on the budget and some production choices led to the exclusion of Van Zandt himself from the band, even though he was already one of Springsteen‘s best friends.
Next review: The Angel – 17 July 2023
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