A Review.  Warren Zanes’ Deliver Me from Nowhere: The Making of Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska


Anyone who knows even a little bit about me has a good understanding of the level of my appreciation for Bruce Springsteen’s music and the role it’s played in my life. My son led a band playing Springsteen’s Rising and Rocky Ground at my ordination years ago. He and my youngest son are Springsteen fans because I played the Boss’ music with headphones on their mother’s stomach while they rocked in her womb. I’ve been a fan since 1974, but it was The River, in 1980 that resonated to the core of my being and made me a fan for life.

However, what I cannot claim is being a big fan of Nebraska when the album was released in 1982.

I had immersed myself in his music for years before Nebraska. I had an expectation of what Springsteen music sounded like. Sure, there were ballad and softer songs like The River, Wreck on the Highway, and Stolen Car. But overall, I expected his music to move me with the power and strength of the E Street Band. The albums were elaborate and well produced. It’s not surprising that Springsteen and his band spent a year or more in the studio for each of his last three albums before Nebraska. There was a sense of hope, redemption, and being young an alive that flowed from those albums.

Then came Nebraska.

No band. No elaborate production. No melodies. Just Bruce, a guitar, and a harmonica. Heck, he recorded the album in two days in the bedroom of a house he had been renting.

Nebraska wasn’t filled with hope. It was dark. It was filled with despair.

Yet, Springsteen, says that it’s the single most important album he’s ever made. It’s the one that defines him. He says, it’s the one that will stand in 50 years, in 100 years.

Springsteen has now put out 21 studio albums. When they’re ranked by various critics Nebraska is almost always ranked at the top, or at least in the top three. It’s not Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town, Born in the USA, or The Rising that Springsteen and the critics choose. It’s one that came unexpected, filled with dark songs, the one that was recorded by himself on cassette, in a bedroom, in two days.

It took me a long time to connect with Nebraska. It’s not that I didn’t like it at all. I’ve always loved My Father’s House and Mansion on the Hill from the album, and I didn’t mind the rest. It just that overall, it wasn’t one of my favourites; for years I considered it my least favourite, at least until 2006. I recall back in 2008 being at a party when someone found out I was a Springsteen fan. They immediately told me how much they loved Nebraska. I was taken aback. Really? I said to myself, knowing full well how critically accepted Nebraska had become, and not wanting to seem unable, as a Springsteen fan, to recognize the importance of the album. So, we talked about what a great album it was.

It wasn’t until a few years ago when listening to Springsteen do an interview promoting his 2020 album Letter to You, that I decided to spend more time listening to and trying to get why Nebraska was so highly regarded. In this interview, promoting an album that had quickly become one of my favourties, he talked about how important Nebraska was to him, more than the new album.

I had heard about Warren Zanes’ Deliver Me From Nowhere: The Making of Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska. I couldn’t wait to read it. Even though I had spent more time over the past few years listening to Nebraska I had not quite reached the point of elevating it to the top of my list of Springsteen albums. The River, The Rising, and Born to Run were firmly cemented at the top for me. At best Nebraska was just beginning to squeeze into my top 10, that’s saying a lot, because I love all Springsteen’s albums, with the exception of one, which I won’t name here. Maybe one day I’ll revisit that one too.

It says a lot about the value of an album, in this case Nebraska, when a respected writer, music critic, and musician such as Warren Zanes chooses as his next project, after writing a bestselling biography about Tom Petty, to write about one album Springsteen released over forty years ago. I was also swayed to buy the book by the fact that Springsteen and his manager, Jon Landau, had given Zanes lots of interview time and resources to research the book.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Zanes book.

This man can write. It helps when you’re reading about a topic that could easily be boring to have someone tell the story in a way that leads us deep into the creative world of one of the biggest recording artists in the world.

Zanes weaves his way through what could have been a big boring mess and delivers a masterpiece in its own right. Award winning author and critic, Nick Flynn, writes, “Zanes has emerged from the wilderness of Nebraska with one of the greatest books ever written about the creative process.”

Over the years I’ve learned a lot about Springsteen. I have dozens of books about him, including his own deeply personal and vulnerable Born to Run biography. However, I learned more about Springsteen’s creative process reading this book than in all the reading I’ve done over the years. I’ve often dreamed about being able to sit with Bruce and ask him about his songs, how he writes them, where they come from. Zanes does that for us. And he does it well. He helps us gain an understanding of the place Nebraska not only has in Springsteen’s history, but the place it holds in music history. I was not aware of the influence this album had on so many artists.

Zanes helps us see why it was important to write a book about the making of such an important piece of rock music history.

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