From the rising death toll in Iraq to the chaos created by Hurricane Katrina to the devastating earthquake in Kashmir, this year has been one of unthinkable grief. The poet Denise Levertov has written that we should not treat grief like a “homeless dog,” but “coax” it into the house and give it its “own corner.”
How are we supposed to do that this Christmas season? How can we give grief a proper place to rest?
It is a strange thing when a rock ’n’ roll musician can help us do that. Bruce Springsteen’s recent national acoustic tour was a chance to experience the power of art to help bear what might otherwise seem unbearable.
The tragedies recounted in Springsteen’s musical stories take place on a much more intimate, personal level than international disasters. Yet his songs remind us that the terrifying ways the world remains inhumane are always felt precisely on that personal level. The “meanness in this world,” to quote Springsteen’s album Nebraska, is never abstract. For decades Springsteen has mapped the lives of people who are threatened by mean things. On the tour promoting his latest album, Devils & Dust, he was explicit that his vision is carved from a stone that is deeply religious, even profoundly Catholic.
I saw Springsteen this fall in Providence, Rhode Island. After his opening songs, all of which...