Bruce Springsteen Is America’s Greatest Conservative Songwriter, Part IX: I Built The Challenger By Myself

One of the fundamental tenets of the “classical liberalism” that is the basis of modern conservatism is the idea first recorded by John Locke – that men form governments to protect life, liberty and private property; that private property was in fact a cornerstone of real liberty, and that protecting it against the depredations of government and of other people is a key justification for having a government.  To put it in Andrew Sullivan’s words – because it’s his definitions of “classical conservative” that I’m using as the basis for this exercise – “Conservatives are persuaded that freedom and property are closely linked”.

If we have no property rights, then we have no rights.

Now, John Locke isn’t a common theme in the history of rock and roll.  And private property has had a mixed history in popular music; it’s been a metaphor for rites of passage (Jan and Dean’s “409″), or the high life (“Baubles, Bangles and Beads” by everyone from Eartha Kitt to Frank Sinatra) and a yardstick for swagger (“Beamer, Benz or Bentley” by gangster-rapper Lloyd Banks), but also for evil (“I’d Love To Change The World” by Ten Years’ After’s called us to “Tax the rich, feed the poor, ’til there ain’t no rich no more”).

And you can look in vain for references to Locke or Payne or Franklin – in Springsteen’s catalog, and can find plenty on his later albums and his real life as re politics that contradicts them all.

But this series isn’t about proving Springsteen is, personally, a conservative (faith-based blogger Dog Gone’s endless repetitions notwithstanding); it’s about explaining why his music resonates with conservatives.

In Springsteen’s catalog, there are plenty of characters that suffer for lack of any property – choices, good or bad or neutral leaving them on the outside looking in, like the guy in “Darkness on the Edge of Town” noting his former girl “has a house up on Fairview, and a style she’s trying to maintain”.

But as to the value of having private property, and its measure as a symbol of freedom?

There are plenty of little, almost drive-by, examples.  The “’69 Chevy” in “Racing In The Streets” – and even moreso “The Challenger”, from the long-unreleased “The Promise” – certainly were private property that symbolized freedom and ones’ hopes and aspirations (and, of course, the difficulty of keeping either; the Chevy drives the singer and his girlfriend apart; having to sell off the Challenger is a key moment in “the Promise” going unfulfilled).

And the young buck in “Badlands” notes that property is a goal, an obstacle and a mirage (“Poor man wanna be rich, rich man wanna be king, and the king ain’t satisfied until he rules everything”) and beyond all that a yardstick (“I’m gonna go out tonight, I’m gonna find out what I’ve got”).

Property and freedom are closely linked – and in more than just philosophical or economic terms.  Morally, they’re linked, too; both are immense responsibilities; both can be incredible burdens.

For my money?  The best song to illustrate this is the one that started this whole series, last November on “The Current’s” pre-election special on songs that symbolize America’s current state; “This Hard Land”.

It’s a land where freedom, and property, are no guarantee…

Hey there mister can you tell me what happened to the seeds I’ve sown

Can you give me a reason sir, as to why they’ve never grown

They’ve just blown around from town to town

Till they’re back out on these fields

Where they fall from my hand

Back into the dirt of this hard land

…but both are still a goal with almost mythological importance:

Now me and my sister from germantown

We did ride

We made our bed sir from the rock on the mountainside

We been blowin around from town to town

Lookin for a place to stand

Where the sun burst through the cloud

To fall like a circle

Like a circle of fire down on this hard land

Both are a risk…:

Now even the rain it don’t come round

It don’t come round here no more

And the only sound at nights the wind

Slammin the back porch door

It just stirs you up like it wants to blow you down

Twistin and churnin up the sand

Leavin all them scarecrows lyin face down

Face down in the dirt of this hard land

…because true freedom means there’s nobody to assure you an “equal outcome”.

And yet it’s something humans instinctively seek – especially when either, freedom or our property, intertwined as they are, are encroached on:

From a building up on the hill

I can hear a tape deck blastin home on the range

I can see them bar-m choppers

Sweepin low across the plains

Its me and you frank were lookin for lost cattle

Our hooves twistin and churnin up the sand

Were ridin in the whirlwind searchin for lost treasure

Way down south of the Rio Grande.

We’re ridin’ cross that river in the moonlight

Up onto the banks of this hard land

And so we keep trying to find, and secure, both; the property that enables freedom, and the freedom that makes property worth having:

 Hey Frank wont ya pack your bags

And meet me tonight down at liberty hall

Just one kiss from you my brother

And well ride until we fall

Well sleep in the fields

Well sleep by the rivers and in the morning

Well make a plan

Well if you can’t make it

Stay hard, stay hungry, stay alive

If you can

And meet me in a dream of this hard land

In it’s own way, it’s one of the most conservative songs ever written.

5 thoughts on “Bruce Springsteen Is America’s Greatest Conservative Songwriter, Part IX: I Built The Challenger By Myself

  1. I’ll offer major – hell, world class – props to a Gen-Xer who’s even heard of Ten Years After, much less can quote them, much less can work them into a Jon Landau-esque rock-crit essay.

  2. mnbubba, if the claim is that Springsteen is a conservative songwriter, then it is about the artist, not just the art.

    If the claim were rather that there is common ground in the art produced by Springsteen for liberals and conservatives, or that there are things in his work that appeal to conservatives, that would be a different statement.

    Springsteen has made his positions very clear, and I see no reason to believe Mr. Springsteen is less conversant with his own political ideology than Mitch is.

  3. Wow, every time Dog Gone comments on the Springsteen posts she sounds so … lacking in ability to understand English. I mean, getting:

    “Springsteen is a conservative songwriter”

    from:

    “it’s about explaining why his music resonates with conservatives”

    makes me think TBI.

  4. DG,

    This has gone beyond farce.

    mnbubba, if the claim is that Springsteen is a conservative songwriter, then it is about the artist, not just the art.

    IN EVERY SINGLE INSTALLMENT OF THIS SERIES, I HAVE SAID THAT THE SERIES IS ABOUT WHY SPRINGSTEEN’S MUSIC RESONATES WITH CONSERVATIVES.

    NOT “WHY SPRINGSTEEN IS A CONSERVATIVE.

    I am going to add emphasis to your statement below:

    If the claim were rather that there is common ground in the art produced by Springsteen for liberals and conservatives, or that there are things in his work that appeal to conservatives, that would be a different statement.

    That is exactly what I have said in every single part of this series.

    The fact that after nine installments you haven’t caught that, but continue to chant “Springsteen’s a liberal, Springsteen’s a liberal, Springsteen’s a liberal” like a parrot means one of two things:

    1. You’re impenetrablypoorly educated in re basic art criticism

    2. You haven’t read an actual word I’ve written, and are abusing my comment section.

    The first is annoying but innocuous. The second is annoying and arrogant.

    Which is it?

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