Springsteen’s album ‘Nebraska’ was originally intended for use as demos of songs he intended to record with the E Street Band but he ended up releasing them in their unpolished state in 1982. This collection of songs in the form of poetic portraits of American blue collar life is a rough diamond that shines undimmed through the dust and dirt it portrays. Rarely has the voice, the writing and the performance of a songwriter been so directly put down to tape in such undiluted and untamed a manner. For this and for its raw poetry and beauty, this album is a true gem and Springsteen’s jewel in the crown.
The song ‘Statetrooper’ has an unrelenting driving energy but the guitar riff, like the protagonist in his night-drive frenzy, literally goes nowhere. It plays, unchanging from beginning to end, with only the occasional one string and one note variation in the chord. It’s pure blues, original blues, not ‘I woke up this morning’ cliche blues but the deep night-blue of Charley Patton and Bukka White and the raw trance boogie of John Lee Hooker’s very first recordings. It’s the epic black magic dance of word and rhythm, the perfect marriage of music and text. With the picture, the character and the scene set, the narrator slowly unravels under ‘the refineries glow” before he’s “delivered” up to the night “where the great black rivers flow’. Songwriting doesn’t get much better than this.
I’ve played it so many times live but recording it I wanted to slow it down slightly in order to accentuate the power of the words and build up a trance-like intensity with guitars, xylophones and a harmonium with some distant howling backing vocals thrown in for good measure.