I really should love Bruce Springsteen.
Singer-songwriter? Check. Left-leaning social conscience? Check. Overall dissatisfaction with his lot? Check.
Yet every time I hear “The Boss’ (and don’t get me started on that nickname) I feel the same sense of befuddlement that I do when watching a foreign language soap opera in some far flung hotel room.
Why is he so angry with her? Why aren’t those two people speaking? Why do those identical twins seem to be afraid of flowers?
Maybe if I had been born in New Jersey and spent my weekends endlessly racing cars through the mean streets toward the edge of town I would at least feel some connection to his songs, but I see that lack of connection as his limitation and not mine.
Maybe if I had been born in New Jersey and spent my weekends endlessly racing cars through the mean streets toward the edge of town I would at least feel some connection to his songs
Because great art should be universal; even the most specific subject matter can be used to impart insights about the more general human condition, but listening to Springsteen leaves me feeling that if you didn’t grow up in his particular zip code then he really does have nothing of interest to say to you.
My “not getting” him though can ultimately be summed up in one simple piece of advice that Bruce would do well to heed:
“Stop being so fucking serious!”.
The reason that so many people on the right adopted “Born in the USA” as a pro-American anthem is that it is a clumsily written piece of social satire that comes across as bombastic patriotism. Springsteen and irony go together like…well, Springsteen and any other emotion other than gritty determination to keep working on the factory floor while having a nice car and an approach to affairs of the heart that gives the phrase “it’s a cliché because it’s true” a bad name.
Even when he’s having fun Bruce comes across as one of those people who just tries too hard (he’s essentially the Colin Hunt of the rock world). Look at me I never want this concert to end! Look at me I ride through mansions of glory on a suicide machine!
Yeah we all get that you’re trying to combine the sound of Phil Spector with the lyrics of Bob Dylan but I’m sorry to inform you Bruce that Phil Spector really did know how to create a wall of sound and Bob Dylan would have run a country mile away from a line as clunkingly written as “Just wrap your legs 'round these velvet rims and strap your hands 'cross my engines.”
I’m sorry to inform you Bruce that Phil Spector really did know how to create a wall of sound
Are you flirting with me Mr. Springsteen?
Of late Bruce seems to be trying to fashion himself into a kind of latter day Woody Guthrie as he wears his left wing credentials ever more blatantly on his sleeve (and see his album “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions” for the epitome of the kind of joyless politicization of music that only those on the left can truly pull off).
Yet it’s not Guthrie that he has come to resemble so much as an “American Bono” (great film title that) wallowing in his activism in a way that seems more self-congratulatory than self-aware as both he and his carefully hung guitar take centre-stage at yet another fund raiser for whatever cause is selling the most ribbons this week.
Both he and his carefully hung guitar take centre-stage at yet another fund raiser for whatever cause is selling the most ribbons this week.
Yet the irony is that in attempting to represent the working class Americans that he professes to love Springsteen only serves to paint them ever further into a corner of American history.
At his best he sees their lives as a series of inevitable failures interspersed with the occasional run in with the cops and at his worst he portrays their greatest ambition to be so stunted in its vision that it belittles them as human beings and turns them into meaningless caricatures in a way that even the most loathsome Wall Street financier would shrink away from.
I give you Bruce Springsteen ladies and gentlemen! Bringing you a simplistic way of looking at all the complexities of the world the since 1973.
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