Monday, March 20, 2006

"My City of Ruins": Lament Part 2

(For part one on this topic see the post on "U2 and Lament")

Friday morning I opened my USA Today (America's newspaper of choice)and found an article that has made me return to this topic of lament. First, some background.

In 2001, Bruce Springsteen wrote a modern lament about his beloved hometown of Asbury Park, New Jersey. Once known as the "Jewel of the Jersey Shore," Asbury Park used to be a thriving city, one that inspired Springsteen's 1973 debut album, Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ. Since then, the city has fallen on hard times, a mere shell of its former self. The boarded-up windows, abandoned buildings, and decaying structures testify to a city in rapid decline.

Mourning this state of affairs, Springsteen composed a lament titled "My City of Ruins." (This song was written before 9/11, but after came to represent New York as well - but that's a post for another day). The imagery of "My City of Ruins" recalls that of another lament over a city in ruins: Lamentations. The author of Lamentations bemoans the desolation of his beloved Jerusalem and offers a plea of faith for its renewal.

In my earlier post, I suggest that rock musicians have done a better job than many Christians of comprehending the relationship between lament and praise. This is nowhere more true than with Springsteen who has described his own music this way:

The stanzas are the Blues; the chorus is the Gospel.

The Blues are the modern descendent of lament and you can hear the ancient lament of Lamentations funneled through the blues when Springsteen sings:

The church door's thrown open
I can hear the organ's song
But the congregation's gone
My city of ruins

But Springsteen, like Bono, knows that faith is not the antithesis of lament, but a component of it. Thus, the Blues of the stanzas give way to the Gospel chorus. The hope of renewal rings out as Springsteen sings in the chorus:

I pray for the faith, Lord
(With these hands)
I pray for the strength, Lord
(With these hands)
Come on, rise up!
Come on, rise up!

"My City of Ruins" is a lament song/prayer for the renewal, the rising up, of Asbury Park. Lament derives from the faith that such renewal is possible.

So on Friday morning, I open my paper to see an article on the renewal of Asbury Park. The rebirth has begun and the city's future is bright once more. Lament once again ushers in praise.

If Christians continue to shun lament in favor of a "pie-in-the-sky, all's well with the world, happy-go-lucky, have your best life now" approach to Christianity, then I wonder if we will be missing out on that which helps to ground our faith and give it substance. After all, how can you sing "Come on, rise up!" if you refuse to sing about being down.


At 8:04 AM, Blogger Beverly said...

yes..a wise man once told me, that you have to understand the question before you can appreciate the answer...

At 9:12 AM, Blogger Steve Puckett said...

Welcome to blogsville. Saw you listed at


At 10:50 AM, Blogger The Telemicus Files said...

Caritas, thanks for your piece. I am also recently made aware of the value of lament. I love Sprinsteen, but I have also found Jackson Browne to have some very valuable things to say in his laments. The song "For A Dancer" is greatness! It is lament and gospel. Thanks for sharing this.

At 12:37 PM, Blogger Jim MacKenzie said...

This is in response to both lament posts: Maybe lament has been hard for the church to connect with because the church (at least in North America lately) has not suffered. I say that to say this: One immediately goes to lament when there is suffering. We have a nice little life going as Christians in America and can cruise through thinking this is it... then... WHAM... tragedy, illness, death, disappointment, the effects of someone else's sin...
Maybe it is good for us to study lament because we may need it...sooner than we think! enough for now. I like your stuff Greg. Keep it up.

At 11:29 PM, Blogger Jeff Stevenson said...

Did you notice the guy who said that Jackson Browne had some Lament songs?

At 9:45 AM, Blogger Greg said...

Yeah, you should send me a list of any of his songs that you think qualify.

At 2:46 PM, Blogger Jim MacKenzie said...

Here's a few Jackson Browne lament tunes
1. Doctor My eyes
2. These Days
3. Fountain of Sorrow
4. The Pretender
5. Running On Empty

These are mostly oldies, before Daryl Hannah, and before No Nukes. There a few others as well.

At 11:51 AM, Blogger Greg said...

Thanks for the song choices. I'll look into them. My brother is a major Jackson Browne fan so he has all of them and more.

At 11:42 PM, Anonymous Jeff Stevenson said...

The Jackson Browne songs that I think might qualify as lament are
Rock Me on The Water
A Song for Adam
For Everyman
For a Dancer
Before the Deluge
Here Come those Tears Again
Sleep's Dark and Silent Gate
How Long
All Good Things
I may not have the best understanding of Lament, but I would think at least some of these would qualify in your definition.

At 6:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To understand a new meaning to Springsteen's words, you should view this video about Hurricane Katrina set to My City of Ruins:

It is heartbreaking and inspriational at the same time.

At 10:13 PM, Blogger Greg said...

Thanks for the video reference. I am quite interested in how songs can take on new meanings in new contexts. I hinted in my post at how Springsteen performed "My City of Ruins" for the Tribute to Heroes concert just days after 9/11. It was so fittting that most people thought he wrote it in response to the event, when in fact it was written months earlier. But music is living language and capable of taking on new life.


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