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Bruce Springsteen sings of Mary’s loss in “Jesus Was an Only Son”

J-P Mauro - published on 06/04/18

"I think my idea was to try and reach into the idea of Jesus as a son. As somebody's boy."

Now there’s a loss that can never be replaced,
A destination that can never be reached
A light you’ll never find in another’s face,
A sea whose distance cannot be breached

At the turn on the century, Bruce Springsteen’s music began a notable turn toward songs with thoughtful religious themes, as well as covering spirituals. This tune comes from his 2005 album, Devils and Dust.

Although he is not a practicing Catholic, he has mentioned before that he is “still on the team” and continued to say, “once a Catholic always a Catholic.” From the lyrics of “Jesus Was an Only Son,” we can tell that he has spent quite a while contemplating his faith.

The song is written from the perspective of Mary as a mother losing her child. The gentle accompaniment mixed with his almost conversational vocal attempts to capture her distress over the loss of her only son. Each verse touches upon moments of the Gospels and the imagery is superb.

It opens with Christ carrying the Cross up Calvary Hill. We are given the impression of Mary watching her injured son walk, while remembering how he would study the Psalms as a boy. Then they move toward another memory of Mary comforting her newborn son at the Nativity.

At the end of a live performance of “Jesus Was an Only Son,” Springsteen commented about what led him to write the tune:

“That’s transformation. Our children have their own destiny apart from us and I think my idea was to try and reach into the idea of Jesus as a son. As somebody’s boy. I think that whatever divinity we can lay claim to is hidden in the core of our humanity … When we let our compassion go, we let go of what little claim we have to the divine.”

In a 2005 interview with NPR’s Renee Montagne, he commented on the Christian elements of his music, “At this point, a lot of [my music] traces back to gospel roots … I was drawn to music that addressed the spirit, probably because my own needed to be addressed.”

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