Biblical: Bruce Springsteen, “Adam Raised A Cain” (1978)

Cain & Abel, AronofskyCain & Abel in Aronofsky’s Noah

The Bible is mostly about killing. It’s mostly wailing about killing. It’s a scripture for Homicide Planet.

Bruce Springsteen’s phrase “Adam raised a Cain” has all the anguish and ferocity of Homicide Planet in it—almost too much, almost histrionic. It’s as intense as a biblical hook could be in a rock context (gospel being a wholly other matter). You have the child of bad destiny coming out of our shared human nature, the loins of Adam, with the band yelling an “ay-yuh” sound like “Adam!” being created again with each repetition of the title phrase.[1]

“Adam Raised A Cain,” first verse & chorus

Here’s the odd thing, though: Springsteen invokes the doubly horrible legacy of Cain—that he murdered his brother and that we’re all his children, chips off the old block—but doesn’t have any new killing to report in the song. There’s just an old man, the singer’s father, wondering who to blame for the pain in his life. A depressed, ineffectual figure.

Maybe what’s most horrible is that it would take a murder to ease that pain or fend it off, just as it takes the overtones of Cain to make the song as serious as it wants to be.


[1] Bennie Reynolds informs me that a durable ancient tradition traced Cain to a union between Eve and the Devil. Easy way out!


About Steve Smith

Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies and Director of Film Studies at Millsaps College
This entry was posted in Passions & Attitudes, Rock Aesthetics and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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