the "political" songs of springsteen...

Yeah, I've been on a Bruce jag of late and suspect this brings the series to a close with the "political" songs of the Boss man.  Ever since Ronald Reagan tried to rip Springsteen off by implying his lament, Born in the USA, was really an anthem to American jingoism, casual listeners have been confused.  And to be honest, the Boss clearly played with the visual ambiguities of this confusion at first to help catapult his Born in the USA album into mega-gold status.  Just dig the cover photograph...

At the same time, he never minced words when it came to explaining his point.  As he told Reagan: I guess you haven't been listening to these songs... especially this one.  Johnny 99 - from the bleak Nebraska album - that made it clear that Bruce rejected and denounced Reganomics as well as all the chest beating propaganda of that regime.

Most of the tunes from both Nebraska and Born in the USA were reflections on the end of innocence for the American Dream.  Of course, a few of the tunes from The River and Darkness pointed in that direction, too ~ think Factory, The River and Badlands ~ but the Boss took it to a whole deeper level with his next two recordings ~ and there was no turning back.  As the videos from that era make clear, here was a rock and roll Flannery O'Connor taking no prisoners.

I remember hearing him kick off the first night of his stint in Detorit to promote this album and the music was terrifying, electric, grounding and holy.  And he kept it up with the next box set - a retrospective of his live concerts to date - by including two powerfully political tracks:  a remake of Edwin Starr's WAR and his own bluesy lament about those fleeing the rustbelt for better times in the Southwest called SEEDS.  One challenged US foriegn policy in Central America and one expressed the human costs of supply side economics in the 1980s. This take from last year in London is just as raw as back in the day...

Another vein of political songs pop up in the Tom Joad cycle ~ the opening tune nails it in a Gutheriesque way ~ so does YOUNGSTOWN from that period.  A little later, the same aethetic is at work on an anti-war song: Devils and Dust that speaks to the horrible
ambiguity of fighting in a war you hate.  From time to time, Springsteen steps back from the rock and roll and nourishes a populist, folksinger thing with deep integrity.

Then there are two very different songs:  Death to My Hometown (from the new Wrecking Ball that also includes WE TAKE CARE OF OUR OWN and a variety of other political songs) and 41 SHOTS from the LIVE IN NYC concert.  Without being too obvious, the first updates Springsteen's lament at the end of Born in the USA when he talks about the economic and social collapse of his hometown from the perspective of a young man with small children.  The song, MY HOMETOWN, is a sweet and sad reflection ~ but by 2012 not only has his hometown gone through hard times it has been murdered ~ and this song is like a cry to insurrection.

It is probably best to close with AMERICAN SKIN (41 SHOTS) - Springsteen's reflections on race relations in America after the killing of Amadou Diallo ~ an immigrant street pedler ~ who was:

... about to enter his apartment building when he was approached by New York City police officers. Believing him to have matched a description of a serial rapist, they ordered for Diallo to show them his hands. Diallo allegedly made a charge for the building entrance, ignoring orders to stop. He then reached into his jacket, for what the officers assumed was a gun, and he was shot 19 times. The item Diallo was attempting to pull out was not a firearm or any other kind of deadly weapon. It was his wallet.

Though only 19 bullets hit their mark, the officers fired 41 shots… (Rock History 101 @

In our own turmoil over the murder of Trayvon Martin last month, this song is all to sadly real.


Popular Posts