July 30, 2002 01:00 PM

In case you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t heard, Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising,” his first album of entirely new material in seven years, written largely in response to the events of Sept. 11, hits record stores Tuesday. His 46-city tour with the E Street Band starts Aug. 7, but on Tuesday’s “Today” show, Springsteen played to some 6.2 million fans by headlining a three-hour remote broadcast from the Boardwalk in the New Jersey rocker’s beloved hometown of Asbury Park, according to calculations by the Associated Press. (“Today” host Matt Lauer, 44, did not appear in a Speedo as he covered the beachfront concert, despite an on-air promise to WNBC newscaster Jane Hanson on Monday.) On Thursday, Springsteen is due to tape the “Late Show with David Letterman,” CBS said. (Dave, 55, isn’t expected to wear a Speedo.) As for the album, two widows of men killed in the terrorist attacks told TIME magazine (which, like PEOPLE, is part of AOL Time Warner) that Springsteen, 52, contacted them to inquire about their husbands and their loss. “When you’re putting yourself into shoes you haven’t worn, you have to be very . . . just very thoughtful, is the way that I’d put it. Just thoughtful,” Springsteen told the magazine. “You call on your craft, and you go searching for it, and hopefully what makes people listen is that over the years, you’ve been serious and honest.”

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