Home / Music / Verse Chorus Verse: “My City of Ruins” – Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band

Verse Chorus Verse: “My City of Ruins” – Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band

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“My City Of Ruins” was written before the terrorist attacks on Washington D.C. And New York City on September 11, 2001, and is not about either city but rather about Asbury Park, New Jersey. That doesn't matter anymore. “My City of Ruins” became tied to the terrible, tragic, violent events of that day 10 days later when Bruce performed it at a telethon devoted to the families of those lost. He called it a prayer for our fallen brothers and sisters.

I've always heard this song in the context of this day and I imagine it always will but over time it's come to mean something even more vast. It does feel like a prayer. It feels like a hymn that should be sung in every church on the planet. Some of you of the non-religious or spiritual type may be heading for the exits right now, and that's okay but it's unnecessary. “My City of Ruins” is a hymn and a prayer but there is no proselytizing. This is a song of mourning an unspecified loss and hope for a renewal. It was the perfect song for the occasion eight years ago and yet it was created when that kind of horror was only real on movie screens.

It's also interesting the way something that feels so universal and vast in my ears can sound very different to others. Fellow Blogcritic Mat Brewster wrote about how this song spoke to him. I'm still astonished by his willingness to be so honest about where this song found him but it's an incredible story. For Mat, this song isn't about a nation's pain or the state of global affairs or the nature of God. It's personal and solitary, but no less profound.

“My City of Ruins” is a powerful song that never imagined how it might one day be used, understood or remembered. I suppose it's the same with September 11. For thousands of years, it was just a day on the calendar. Not anymore. Not ever again. Good things will happen to people when this day arrives on future calendars. Children will be born and the sick will be healed by loving doctors and miracles. Friends will be made. Good things will happen on this day in the future but it will always be a day that has a past, a past none of us will ever forget.

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About Josh Hathaway

  • Very nice remembrance. I found U2’s ALYCLB imbued with more meaning in a similar way.

    And that Brewster piece. Whoo-wee, I remember double checking to make sure he wanted to go ahead with. It’s still devastating. Naked photos would not be as revealing. He’s a brave man and needs to write more to get past the clutter of where a song charted.

  • I’m a longtime Springsteen fan, but I hadn’t heard this song until he sang it on that post-9/11 telethon. I thought he had written it for the occasion and found it remarkable and deeply moving — I still do. And I still remember the horror and surreality of that day, especially here in NYC, where the smoke and acrid smell made it all the way to the Upper West Side and stayed here for days. I also remember those days after, when strangers on the street connected with each other, often in silent, subtle ways. My most vivid memory is seeing a black bicycle messenger wearing an American flag headscarf and, as he was parking his bike, making eye contact with a white man in a business suit wearing a fairly large flag lapel pin: two men who, under ordinary circumstances, would never have connected. But at that moment, their eyes met, they nodded to each other, and exchanged small, pained smiles. NYC in those few weeks after 9/11 engaged in a spirit of community and mutual comforting that I’ve never seen before and haven’t seen since. And while I believe that the events of 9/11 should always be remembered and the loss of those who died be honored, I also think it’s time for us to do two important things: 1) recognize that in the years since (and for decades prior), there have been many terrorist attacks and many deaths all over the world. We in America often behave as if our tragedies are the only ones that exist, and our experience with 9/11 doesn’t seem to have enlarged our capacity for empathy with others, or our understanding of why these events happen. 2) It is a national shock and shame that the hundreds of professionals and volunteers who undertook the grisly task of cleaning up after that attack, and have subsequently become ill as a result of their exposure to the massive combination of toxic elements at the WTC site, are now being denied health care and other compensation, and have been put through an inexcusably tortuous process of having to “prove” that it was their post-9/11 work that caused their problems. This is in the same category as the politicians who scream “Support the Troops!” [in Iraq/Afghanistan], but do nothing to ensure that they have the protections and other supplies they need on the battlefront, then delay (or outright deny) them the physical and mental health care, as well as disability benefits, they urgently need and rightly deserve. From now on, 9/11 should remind all of us that we are a “Nation of Ruins” and it’s way past time for us to “rise up,” help, heal, and do the right thing.

  • Yes, El Bicho, I almost wrote about “Walk On” and that entire album. It was released almost an entire year before 9/11/01, and yet the songs seem to have anticipated it or sensed it. It’s eerie and haunted but all the more profound in the aftermath. Very true.

  • I saw U2 in concert in November 2001 and, in light of 9/11, they’d revamped their show to reflect it. Much like they did at the Super Bowl in January 2002, they unfurled an enormous banner that listed the victims’ names. They did a lot more on that night as well in tribute and it was, without question, the most transcendent rock concert I’ve ever attended. Just goes to show what some great songs and great talent can do in times of crisis and collective pain.