Rock and roll has always been, ostensibly, about upsetting the existing order. In the beginning, its very existence upended what passed for “order” in popular culture, at least to the extent of helping create a “youth culture” – something that’d never existed before, and really started in America. As culture and the genre evolved through the sixties, pop music smeared itself in the “revolutionary” rhetoric of the rest fo the counterculture; in the seventies, the punk counter-counterculture (at least in the English art-school variety) flipped the hippies’ putative idealism on its head in an orgy of self-indulgent nihilism. Post-punks – U2 would be the most famous and enduring of the bunch) in turn, flipped that on its head in an welter of often self-righteous activism.
And against that backdrop, the music of Bruce Springsteen has always been refreshingly non-revolutionary. In terms of musical style, Springsteen has always been something of an archivist. Labeled one of many “New Bob Dylans” early in his career, he careened through Van Morrison-style white R&B on his first two albums (Greetings from Asbury Park and The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle), a high-octane update of the Four Seasons and Roy Orbison-via-Phil Spector (Born to Run), a country-western record filtered through thirty years of rock and roll tradition (Darkness of the Edge of Town), a salute to the spirit of Mitch Ryder via the Beatles (The River), a Woody Guthrie update (Nebraska)…
…all of which at least stylistically reflect a principle that philosophical conservatives hold dear; an idea that can be called the Principle of Prescription – the idea that most of the great ideas on which our society was founded are good enough as is. We may be able to improve on them, but it’s a high jump indeed.
Of course, musical styles aren’t “the great ideas on which our society was founded”; they’re just music.
And Springsteen certainly spent his time railing against some of society’s pre-existing notions; early in his career he was as angry a lapsed Catholic as ever strapped on a guitar in a studio. “Lost In The Flood”, from Greetings…, (“Nuns run bald through Vatican halls, pleading immaculate conception”) )was just the tip of an anti-papal iceberg early in his career, a current of anti-church bile that sent a million tingles up the legs of would-be anti-establishment dilettantes like Dave Marsh and Robert Christgau – and utterly familiar to anyone who’s ever known an angry lapsed Catholic; the angry twenty-something railing against his Catholic upbringing has been for decades a cliché in American pop culture.
But then fast forward thirty years; in the aftermath of 9/11, Springsteen released his last almost-universally-acclaimed-as-”great” record, The Rising, which is still one of America’s better 9/11 memorials. In the wake of three presidential elections where Springsteen worked nonstop for Democrats, its’ hard to remember that the biggest critics of The Rising were, in fact, liberals – because of the themes the album repeated over and over again 
From “My City Of Ruins”, the first song Springsteen performed after the attacks?
I pray for the strength, Lord
I pray for the faith, Lord,
I pray for the hope, Lord,
I pray for your love, Lord…
From “Into The Fire”, his elegy to the New York firefighters, many of them Springsteen’s New Jersey neighbors
May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love
And from the title cut?
Left the house this morning
Bells ringing filled the air
Wearin’ the cross of my calling
On wheels of fire I come rollin’ down here
Spirits above and behind me
Faces gone, black eyes burnin’ bright
May their precious blood forever bind me
Lord as I stand before your fiery light
All three songs – a prayer and plea for a shattered city and a reeling country, an elegy to the nobility of sacrifice, and a vision of an afterlife that welcomes those who lose themselves for others – would resonate with someone 50, 100, or 200 years ago. They are utterly unironic, not remotely relativistic, not even a little bit hiply cynical. They embrace and glorify ideas and ideals that have united the best in our society and the whole world for 2,000 years, now – in this case, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” – ideas that modern society has never improved on, and at its best merely tries to live up to.
Modern man has not improved on John 15:13 as a definition of nobility and all that is best in humanity, any more than it’s improved on Van Morrison’s way with a groove.