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Songs To Die To - Part 1

An occasional series focusing on songs that speak to me about death or dying. These are not necessarily songs that talk about the process of dying, rather as the title suggests, songs that I could imagine listening to on my death bed, or taking as consolation during or after a funeral. 

Morbid? I think not, as death is part of life. If we all talked about it a little more, maybe we'd cope with it better. With that said here's my first choice.

No 1: "Land Of Hope And Dreams" - Bruce Springsteen






This is not only one of my favourite Springsteen songs, but one of the best songs he has written. Given the breadth and depth of his catalogue, that is some feat.

For the purposes of this article, I'm referring to the "Live In NYC" version as opposed to the later "Wrecking Ball" cut. Whilst the 2012 studio recording has the more gospel-style vocals, the production is a little sterile and the performance not as loose and authentic.

Everything about this song is perfect, from the opening that builds from an almost jaunty guitar riff, layering on organ that contributes to the hymn like feel, before the piano of Roy Bittan leavens the optimism with a melancholic air. 

The ambiguous feel continues until we get to the "this train" refrain where optimism takes over and then Clarence takes us skyward with the sax solo.

The lyrics directly address that all will ride, but adds "faith will be rewarded". Jesse Jackson of the excellent Set Lusting Bruce podcast has often said that in another life or century Springsteen would have been a travelling revivalist preacher, and this song is the most apt proof of concept. You can imagine the big top full, the penitents coming forward as Bruce cries out "this train takes saints and sinners, all aboard".

In my mind there's no ambiguity about the meaning of this song; it offers a feeling of hope, whilst embracing the sadness of departure. Whether you have a faith, as I do, or not this song can speak to those feeling loss and offer hope for the future. I have no idea as to Springsteen's own religious beliefs, if any, but as a great writer he has captured something here that transcends the narrow categorisation of any one faith.

More songs to come, let me know your own picks.





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