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The absence of politics doesn't mean The Rising is controversy free. For some Springsteen fans, it arrives too quickly on the heels of tragedy to leave its motives unexamined. Charles Cross, who for 16 years published and edited the authoritative Springsteen fanzine, Backstreets, heard The Rising at a listening party for diehards. "They're really marketing it as a Sept. 11 album," he says. "I think we want art that can deal with it, but it's still such an uncomfortable thing, and it's still pretty fresh. Frankly, the commercial element of it really scares me."
Springsteen suspected the exploitation charge might be leveled, and he takes his time responding to it. "When you're putting yourself into shoes you haven't worn," he says, "you have to be very...just very thoughtful, is the way that I'd put it. Just thoughtful. You call on your craft, and you go searching for it, and hopefully what makes people listen is that over the years you've been serious and honest. That's where your creative authority comes from. That's how people know you're not just taking a ride."
Listen to Farrelly on the subject: "Let me tell you, I have more CDs that people have sent me, just random people that wrote songs or whatever. I won't listen to them. But I trust that Bruce is sincere, that he really believes in what he wrote. I know the firemen are going to have a hard time with some of it, but then you sing along, and you just feel a little better. I trust him with all my heart. The only thing that bothered me is when he married Julianne."
Springsteen claims he is a big believer in the old saw "Trust the art, not the artist." But Springsteen devotees love the songs and the singer equally, and by playing his fans' experiences back to them over stadium speakers, Springsteen has been an active partner in a pop syllogism: he sings about people like me; he looks and dresses like me; therefore he must be a person like me! Perhaps what Springsteen means, as some of his friends suggest, is that he feels less worthy than the people he sings about. Perhaps that's why touring, communing with those who adore him (and whom he adores) is such a critical part of Springsteen's life.
In mid-July, Springsteen and the E Street Band were holed up in a small theater on the Fort Monmouth Army base, cramming for a 46-city tour that starts Aug. 7. During a break backstage, the band members were playing their consummate blue-collar roles. Guitarist "Little" Steven Van Zandt says he has to move out of his Eighth Avenue apartment in Manhattan after 20 years. "The place is fallin' apart." Drummer Max Weinberg suggests Steve check out a place in the legendary Upper West Side apartment building the Dakota; Van Zandt looks as if he has just been told to eat his pizza with a knife and fork. "Yeah, for $7 million? Very funny," he responds.