Bruce Springsteen Is America’s Greatest Conservative Songwriter, Part V: The Cross Of My Calling

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 [1]

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.

Thursday: Prudence.

11 thoughts on “Bruce Springsteen Is America’s Greatest Conservative Songwriter, Part V: The Cross Of My Calling

  1. No matter how you try to contort it, Springsteen has made his politics clear, he is a liberal, he considers himself a liberal, he supports liberal candidates and policies. He opposes your side, and what you really stand for (as opposed to the faux patriotism you wrap it in). You are deluding yourself, this makes no sense, and is as usual, detached from the reality and the factual substance.

    Mitch, it is ok to like a liberal performer; they don’t have to conform to your ideology to be worthwhile or deserving of your appreciation.

    Stop trying to force the lock step; he performs to the beat of a different drummer than you do, and a very different ideology and values. He is a wonderful American, campaigned with and for another one.

  2. Who is not surprised that Penigma’s Chihuahua would here before she would do her freaking homework as specifically noted in the previous post?

  3. Mongrel Cur, you ignorant wretch, Mitch isn’t claiming that Springsteen is anything other than the barking moonbat he appreas to be…he’s said so at least 5 frickin’ times.

    It makes no sense to you because you are stupid…it really is that simple.

    But do tell us; since you spend all day asshat dancing around the internet with your pants down around your ankles, does this mean that Mr. Cur doesn’t even get his dinner in return for providing you with food, shelter and flea powder? How did you find someone even more dimwitted than yourself?

  4. swiftee; Doggy Breath has indicated that he is a lawya, which should answer your question.

  5. DG,

    Did you ever take art appreciation? Did you ever study any form of intellectual art criticism?

    I don’t mean to sound insulting – but did you ever actually retain any of it?

    Draw on it, if you’d be so kind.

    I’m writing about the music (and conservatives’ relationship to it). Not the artist. The are not necessarily related.

    Until you get that distinction – and it is both valid and vital – then there’s no point discussing this with you. I’m talking apples, you’re talking orange hair straighteners.

    Art criticism is not biography.

  6. DG needs to provide her “missing” homework. She also needs to get her money back from St Olaf – she clearly didn’t get an education.

  7. It’s like she has some kind of reading disorder, a form of dyslexia where she only understands what she expects to read, regardless of the words on the page.

  8. Pingback: Bruce Springsteen Is America’s Greatest Conservative Songwriter, Part VII | Shot in the Dark

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.