“Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen team up for new podcast: Former president talks with rock legend about their backgrounds and vision of America in Renegades: Born in the USA”
“Bruce Springsteen faces backlash over Super Bowl Jeep commercial in which he appears to be urging Trump supporters to ‘heal’ by coming together under Biden”
In the late ’70s and early ’80s, I was a big Bruce Springsteen fan. No, I wasn’t obsessed, he wasn’t even my favorite music in those days, as Little Feat probably would hold that distinction. But Springsteen was among my favorites. I saw him and the E Street Band live three different times between 1979 and 1982, with those amazing four-hour shows. And in the handful of garage bands I was lead singer for, we always had at least a couple of Springsteen tunes in our repertoire for local pub shows. I will say, back in my young and full-throated days, I could perform a version of “Meeting Across the River” that might even choke you up a bit.
Even today I still might put on one of Springsteen’s first five albums, which I think are all brilliant and have held up exceptionally well. “Born in the USA” is not one of those albums, it’s when Bruce and I started to part company, but I appreciated his success and didn’t hold it against him; as a good libertarian I respect and admire success, and believe people are entitled to the spoils of their accomplishments.
In those first five albums you will find some amazing and evocative poetry in the lyrics. For example, there’s one particular Springsteen song I still love to listen to, “Jungleland”, on the “Born to Run” album. I close my eyes when I hear these lyrics and I’m back there in high school, parked with some friends and some six-packs, like it was yesterday:
Barefoot girls sittin’ on the hood of a Dodge
Drinking warm beer in the soft summer rain
And I can honestly say that there was a time that a Springsteen song made a big difference in my life:
It’s December 1982. We’ve just finished the last final of first semester of medical school, Gross Anatomy. A grueling, extremely difficult course that mostly involved dissecting your own personal cadaver with three other classmates for hours on end, every day of the week, every day of the month, for four long months. We’d come back to the dorm even on weekend nights reeking of formaldehyde, a stench that wouldn’t go away no matter how much you showered and scrubbed or what kind of soap you used. The law students used to pass on taking the same elevator with us, we smelled so bad.
The punishing course took its toll. It really made you question if you wanted to continue in medicine, if this was what your life would be like from now on. Several in our class quit school outright. I know of a couple who got hospitalized in psychiatric facilities that semester. I can even recall sitting on the open window ledge of the 7th-floor cadaver lab, looking down and thinking how easy it would be to just tumble out and everything would be over. Luckily, that thought was only fleeting for me, but I know such things were much more deliberated by some of my colleagues.
So it was right after that asskicking final, where we went from dead body to dead body with pins stuck somewhere deep beneath multiple layers of cadaver tissue, all on a timer giving you only a few moments at each station — and test questions asked about each pin you’d find, not something you’d hoped, like ‘what is this?’, no, no, it was some intricate question on what the physics of some process might be at this pinpoint, so requiring you not to just know what it was the pin was in (which was hard enough in itself) but also to know unbelievable aspects, as if knowing what it was, was already a given. Yikes. Toughest test I ever had.
And so we lumbered back to our dorms afterwards, reeking of formaldehyde, and a classmate who lived on my floor said come down to his dorm room, we’ll toast that the class is over with a beer. So a handful of guys and gals filed into his room and crowded on to the bed and chairs as he passed us all a Bud. And then our host put on an album to make some noise in the room, as we were all still speechless, morose, ruminating on what had just happened. And then the music started, it was the beginning of the “Born to Run” album, the opening harmonica strains of “Thunder Road”.
And without any prompting, each of us started to sing along, first in a whisper:
The screen door slams, Mary’s dress waves
Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays
Roy Orbison singing for the lonely
Hey, that’s me, and I want you only
Don’t turn me home again
I just can’t face myself alone again
Don’t run back inside
Darling, you know just what I’m here for
So you’re scared and you’re thinking
That maybe we ain’t that young anymore
Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night
You ain’t a beauty, but, hey, you’re alright
Oh, and that’s alright with me
And we started looking at each other and grinning, and now sang much louder for the next part:
You can hide ‘neath your covers and study your pain
Make crosses from your lovers, throw roses in the rain
Waste your summer praying in vain
For a savior to rise from these streets
Well now I’m no hero that’s understood
All the redemption I can offer, girl, is beneath this dirty hood
With a chance to make it good somehow
Hey what else can we do now?
And finally we all screamed this part at the top of our lungs:
Except roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair
Well the night’s busting open
These two lanes will take us anywhere
We got one last chance to make it real
To trade in these wings on some wheels
Climb in back, heaven’s waiting down on the tracks
Oh-oh come take my hand
We’re riding out tonight to case the promised land
Oh-oh Thunder Road oh Thunder Road oh Thunder Road
Lying out there like a killer in the sun
Hey, I know it’s late, we can make it if we run
Oh, Thunder Road, sit tight, take hold
And we all laughed and smiled at each other. And we all knew then, yes, the worst part was over, we’d made it. And we had.
I think one of the things that made Springsteen so accessible to everyone was that we’d all been on that date in “Thunder Road”. He could sing as the Everyman we could all relate to and empathize with, a part of our shared American experience. Bruce wasn’t some far-away superstar we could never imagine meeting or hanging around with, like Elton John or Paul McCartney or Diana Ross. He was one of us. He knew what it was like to be one of us. Dammit, he sang about us.
In this regard, I thought the song “The River” was really poignant. It came out a few years after “Born to Run” and Bruce had definitely aged, shaved his beard, and become much more of a grown-up. I always assumed that the Mary in “The River” is the same Mary from “Thunder Road”, but the teenage carefree exuberance has been replaced by reality and disillusionment:
Then I got Mary pregnant
And man, that was all she wrote
And for my nineteenth birthday I got a union card and a wedding coat
We went down to the courthouse
And the judge put it all to rest
No wedding day smiles, no walk down the aisle
No flowers, no wedding dress
That night we went down to the river
And into the river we’d dive
Oh, down to the river we did ride
I got a job working construction for the Johnstown Company
But lately there ain’t been much work on account of the economy
Now all them things that seemed so important
Well, mister, they vanished right into the air
Now I just act like I don’t remember
And Mary acts like she don’t care
But I remember us riding in my brother’s car
Her body tan and wet down at the reservoir
At night on them banks I’d lie awake
And pull her close just to feel each breath she’d take
Now those memories come back to haunt me
They haunt me like a curse
Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true
Or is it something worse
That sends me down to the river
Though I know the river is dry
That sends me down to the river tonight
Is there any doubt that the guy supposedly the protagonist in this song would today be anything but a Trump supporter? You can practically see him in a MAGA hat, hoping to get the Rust Belt economy moving again, so he can get some work, some money, maybe make things at home better as well. That’s why it’s so strange right now, that the same Bruce Springsteen who could understand a middle-class American life like this so well, is now a member of the smug elites, and an Obama fellator.
Sorry, Bruce, you need to turn in your Real American card. You’re now just another entitled Atlantic Magazine-type celebrity who does the voiceover on a commercial, and tells all those John and Jane Does in flyover country that believed in you that their worries and desires and fears and dreams are all wrong, it’s time to heal, and the only way to do that is not just to accept or tolerate Big Brother, you must love Big Brother, too, and forget everything you knew otherwise.
So now whenever I pop on one of those first five albums, I always think I am listening to someone completely unrelated to the current guy named Springsteen, it’s much easier that way. I guess he probably believes he’s still the same person who could be our collective voice, but those days are long gone, and today he’s no better than any other major celebrity who hears nothing but praise from his surrounding lickspittle, and whose major impediments in life now are rarely more troublesome than when the Opus One arrives at the table a bit warmer than he’d like. So thanks for everything you once were, Bruce, I choose to remember you exactly that way. But that Bruce no longer exists, he’s dead to me.