One of the songs that has been on my bucket list for a long time is Roulette. There is so much I like about this song but, unfortunately, I’ve never been lucky enough to catch it live.
The song starts off with a full-speed-ahead massive drum roll and cool soaring guitars. The evocative drum part is very tight and a driving force throughout the song – drummer Max Weinberg is a machine (see video). The guitar work is great and sharp. Bruce is singing in the lower register using the lyrics and phrasing to parachute the listener directly into core of the action.
“We left the toys out in the yard” he begins, setting a vivid, intense scene that never weakens. The lyrics tell a tale of a man being forced to evacuate his home due to some kind of emergency. He is angry and desperate and he is not getting any answers from the authorities.
Now I want some answers, mister, I need to know. I hear all the talk but I don’t know what you’re saying.
Roulette, a song about a person being forced to evacuate his home because of a nuclear disaster, was written after the meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in March 1979. The meltdown made Bruce Springsteen speak out politically for the first time in his career. That September he participated in the No Nukes concerts. The impact of nuclear accidents has been a topic of debate since the first nuclear reactors were constructed in 1954 and after the Three Mile Island accident (about a year after the Chernobyl disaster in April 1986) safety concerns were raised again among activists and the general public.
The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in March 2011 shows that the debate on safety concerns about nuclear facilities musn’t stop or be taken lightly. Although the advantages of using nuclear energy as a solution to replace fossil fuels to prevent further climate change seem to be many, there are also plenty of negative effects to take into consideration (such as how to deal with the radioactive waste).
Despite the fact that nuclear energy today is claimed to have a small environmental footprint and is considered “safe”, there are circumstances over which we have no control (including the human factor and natural disasters) which have the capacity to quickly and dramatically turn a safe facility into something very unsafe. The consequences of a situation like this are both hard to predict and to control. It’s like playing Russian Roulette.
Roulette was the first song recorded during sessions for The River, but Springsteen decided not to use it on the album and it was not released until 1988 as the B-side of One Step Up. It resurfaced on the 1998 album Tracks (a collection of Springsteen outtakes).
As I mentioned before this was the first time in his career that Bruce Springsteen spoke out politically and although he is not considered a “political” songwriter a few of his songs are distictively political (American Skin (41 Shots), Born In the USA, Death to my Hometown and The Ghost of Tom Joad – just to mention a few) and you can also argue that many of his songs are political since they are about the lives of people who are marginalised. There have been times, though, where he has taken a stand, either through benefit concerts or in various charities. Except from No Nukes he has also, during the years, participated/been involved in for example: Vote for Change, The Human Rights Now!, Light of Day and Why Hunger.