Three years after the band’s rededication, Springsteen’s twelfth studio album is the first E Street album in 18 years, since 1984′s Born the U.S.A. The Rising is also an achievement of another kind: a moving artistic response to the attacks of September 11, 2001 that connects with a mass audience and critics alike. Kurt Loder writes in Rolling Stone, “The heart sags at the prospect of pop stars weighing in on the subject of September 11th. Which of them could possibly transmute the fiery horror of that day with the force of their art, or offer up anything beyond a dismal trivialization? The answer, it turns out, is Bruce Springsteen. With his new album, The Rising, Springsteen wades into the wreckage and pain of that horrendous event and emerges bearing fifteen songs that genuflect with enormous grace before the sorrows that drift in its wake.” Debuting at #1 on the Billboard chart, The Rising goes gold in its first week, led by its powerful title track, which presents both the real-world terror confronted by first responders and a spiritually transcendent “dream of life.”
After years of inducting others and jamming with rock legends at the annual ceremony, Bruce Springsteen is officially welcomed into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Bono gives the induction speech: “We call him ‘The Boss.’ Well, that’s a bunch of crap. He’s not the Boss. He works for us. More than a boss, he’s the owner. Because more than anyone else, Bruce Springsteen owns America’s heart.” “I stood on this stage,” Bruce says in his speech, “and I inducted Roy Orbison and Creedence Clearwater Revival and Bob Dylan, an artist whose music was a critical part of my own life.
And tonight I hope that my music served my audience half as well. If I succeeded in doing that, it’s been with the help of many, many kindred spirits along the way.” Though the E Street Band is not inducted with him, a controversial subject to the present day, Springsteen spends much of his own speech singing their praises: “Everybody wants to know how I feel about the band. Hell, I married one of ’em.” Finally, Springsteen brings the E Streeters onto the stage: “My wife, my great friends, my great collaborators, my great band: your presence tonight honors me, and I wouldn’t be standing up here tonight without you, and I can’t stand up here now without you. Please join me.” Though they reunited on a few occasions in 1995, their performance together on this night is the first of a new era: Springsteen will continue to take detours from time to time, but the E Street Band has been a going concern ever since.
Springsteen reconvenes the E Street Band, including both Nils Lofgren and Steve Van Zandt, at the Hit Factory in NYC to record new tracks for his first Greatest Hits effort. For Clarence Clemons, who was most shocked by the band’s break-up, “standing in front of the microphone playing with the E Street Band was the best present I ever got in my life.” The band spends Clemons’s January 11 birthday in the studio, recording together for the first time in nearly ten years. Ernie Fritz’s feature-length documentary, Blood Brothers, captures the studio reunion, as well as the Big Man’s cake.
Springsteen wins the Best Original Song Academy Award for “Streets of Philadelphia,” from Jonathan Demme’s film Philadelphia, becoming the first rock ’n roll artist to win an Oscar in this category. “This is the first song I ever wrote for a motion picture, so I guess it’s all downhill from here,” Bruce jokes in his acceptance speech. Propelled by a hip-hop rhythm that makes good on the promise of post-E Street Band experimentation, the song spends 15 weeks in the Top 40, the longest stay since “Dancing in the Dark,” nearly ten years prior.
Following the Tunnel of Love Express Tour, Bruce and the E Street Band head out to more far-flung locales on the Amnesty International Human Rights Now! Tour. The six-week worldwide jaunt begins on this night in London, soon bringing Springsteen and the E Streeters (along with Sting, Peter Gabriel, Tracy Chapman, and Youssou N’Dour) to Greece, India, South Africa, and Central and South America.