Arts criticism is, by its very nature, interpretation.
And the human trait of confirmation bias makes it possible for just about any human being to make just about any case for any art. It’d be hypothetically possible for someone to try to show that Raskolnikov, the protagonist in Dostoëvski’s Crime and Punishment, is really a homoerotic metaphor. Of course, the burden is on the person making the case that the interpretation is meaningful, or in fact not complete balderdash – a burden nobody has met in re Crime and Punishment or, to the best of my knowledge, ever attempted.
Music is among the more emotionally-evocative art forms – for me, anyway, and I know I’m not alone.
This entire series started last fall, just round election time. A friend of mine – a fairly mid-level Democrat organizer and consultant type – tweeted a while back something to the effect of “Have any of you Republican Springsteen fans actually listened to the music?”
My response; Yes. More than you have, and likely will. Springsteen’s been one of my musical favorites since my mid-teens, including my brief stretch of time as a liberal, into my early twenties. If anything I became a bigger fan after I became a conservative.
Springsteen didn’t become overtly political until much later in his career. His music was expressly non-political until at least the mid-nineties; his Ghost of Tom Joad album was the first to really noodle around in politics (and do it generally badly – Joad is one of his least-remembered records).
Indeed, at the height of his career he made a point of being studiously non-political, at least in terms of the partisan scrum. Liberals chortle about the 1984 episode where Springsteen rebuked Ronald Reagan for trying to co-opt “Born in the USA”; they – and the media that still mention the event – forget that days later, he did the same to Walter Mondale for trying to make his own hay out of the episode. Leftist rock critics like Dave Marsh – who was for decades my favorite rock critic, notwithstanding his habit of injecting his infantile socialist politics into every issue, and even as I started realizing “rock critics” were even more useless to this world than paparazzi and Kardashians – hooted and hollered about the political implications of Springsteen’s much-publicized donations of hundreds of thousands of dollars to charities along the way during his Born in the USA tour, ignoring the fact that conservatives as a rule support private charity.
As Springsteen got older, and his career cooled off a bit in the nineties, he got more overtly political – at about the point where his most notable right-of-center fans, the Chris Christies and Laura Ingrahams and Tim Pawlentys (also me) got more “out” about their fandom. Which led lefties to sniff, in their usual way, “you do know he’s a liberal, don’t you?”
Which led us to here.
Springsteen during his, ahem, Glory Days was expressly non-political – but it’s entirely possible to listen to a song like “We Take Care Of Our Own” and identify, at least with the sing-along points, as a conservative.
Or as a liberal, for that matter:
Liberals “take care of their own”, too – by getting the larger society to subsidize them; conservatives do it, of course, by trying to make opportunity ubiquitous and giving people the freedom to succeed as well as fail. To quote Winston Churchill, liberals level out the peaks to fill in valleys (although not that level; Springsteen is well into “the 1%”, has been for 30 years, and will be the rest of his life); conservatives spread a safety net over the chasm.
But this series has largely been about the messages that don’t need to be debated – the messages that resonate with conservative fans because their messages resonate completely with what it takes to be a conservative.
And that’s what this series is about; resonance. Sprinsteen, despite his best efforts, resonates with conservatives…
…and – here’s the important part – he does it especially when he’s being apolitical.
One of my favorite songs in my crowded list of favorite Springsteen songs is “Land of Hopes and Dreams”:
So listen to it:
Grab your ticket and your suitcase
Thunder’s rollin’ down this track
Well, you don’t know where you’re goin’ now
But you know you won’t be back
Well, darlin’ if you’re weary
Lay your head upon my chest
We’ll take what we can carry
Yeah, and we’ll leave the rest
Big wheels roll through fields
Where sunlight streams
Meet me in a land of hope and dreams
Gospel-revival-style show-stopper? Sure.
Metaphor for everything conservative believe about America, the exceptional nation, the “Shining City on the Hill?”, where all of us…
Carries saints and sinners
Carries losers and winners
Carries whores and gamblers
Carries lost souls
I said this train…
Dreams will not be thwarted
Faith will be rewarded
…are equal in the eyes of God and the law?
Seriously – there may have been descriptions of the conservatives’ vision of America in the rock and roll era that are this good. But have there been any better?
The question – at least in re Springsteen’s greatest music, from ’74 to about ’87, with a bit of a surge after 2002, the “Holy Trinity” (Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town, The River), Nebraska, Born in the USA, Tunnel of Love and The Rising and a few other odds and ends along the way – isn’t “why do conservatives find resonance in much of his best music”…
…but, vagaries of personal taste aside, how could they not?