Bruce, Bruce, Bruce.

To: Bruce Springsteen
From: Mitch Berg, Once And Always Fan
Re:  Janteloven.

Mr. Springsteen,

I’ve been a huge fan since I was a kid.  Since before I became a conservative, even.

When you’re a conservative Springsteen fan, you get used to the occasional churlish phumpher from some ideology-addled lib scold; “have any of you actually listened to Springsteen’s lyrics?”  To which I reply “yes – in a level of detail people like you only devote to stalking Michele Bachmann.  My question for you is, have you actually listened to the lyrics, especially on his first five or six albums, without passing them through your PC filter?”

They rarely answer.

But the fact remains that you, starting in about ’84, but escalating since 2004, have been slathering yourself and your music with politics – which, like most showbiz-lefty politics, is showy, shallow, shrill, and skin-deep.

Like in your conversation with a Swedish radio station recently. Tim Blair writes:

The Boss goes all svag and hopplöst:

Bruce Springsteen wants to see the United States transformed into something closer to a Swedish-style welfare state, the rock legend said Thursday …When asked if he thought the United States should be changed into something closer to a Swedish-style welfare state, Springsteen responded enthusiastically …

Now, whenever “Springsteen music” comes up in conservative circles – as in Blair’s comment section – you get a slew of standard responses; “haters”, I believe the kids call ’em today.  You hear a lot of the same lines over and over:

  • “Springsteen’s music sucks!” – Well, there’s no accounting for taste as a general rule, but…no.  That is objectively, empirically, physically false.
  • “He’s got no talent” – Wrong again.  He’s a great guitar player, one of the greatest songwriters of the rock and roll era (only Lennon/McCartney, Jagger/Richard, Leiber/Stoller and a few others come close to the impact he’s had, commercially and artistically).  And you just try to arf out a tune, much less in tune, during a three-hour concert, even in your thirties, much less when you’re over sixty, like Bruce, much less without stripping your vocal cords bare and shooting them out your mouth with his “all lung-power” vocal technique?  You can’t do it, whoever you are.  No.  You can’t.  Any of those are talent.  Together, they an amazing combination.
  • “Sprinsteen’s politics are dumb, and he should just shut up and sing” – Well, OK.  Now we’re getting somewhere.

Good example?  Blair points out Bruce’s paean to the fleabaggers:

It’s impossible to know what young Bruce would have made of the Occupy movement, but old Bruce is down with the deadbeats:

“The temper has changed. And people on the streets did it. Occupy Wall Street changed the national conversation …

“Previous to Occupy Wall Street, there was no push back at all saying this was outrageous – a basic theft that struck at the heart of what America was about, a complete disregard for the American sense of history and community.”

Springsteen is worth four times as much as Michael Moore, and he’s still bitching.


It is a simple fact that the “Holy Trinity” – Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town andThe River – are three of the greatest albums in the history of rock and roll.  There is no rational way of denying that.  Absolutely incandescent albums, crammed with moments that grab me and tens of millions of other people right in the liver, sometimes sending a shiver up my spine, others a smokey glimmer of understanding.  And not a partisan political moment in the bunch.  Not that that’d matter, necessarily – although they’d be a tangent that’d really make no sense on any of the records.  I mean, would “Backstreets” have been a better song had the estranged lovers been driven apart by evil capitalists?  Would “Rosalita” have been better if Bruce had gotten a big advance from the Carter campaign instead of the record company?   If what (what) Candy (Candy) wanted (wanted) was (was) his talking points list?

Of course not.

And Nebraska, Tunnel of Love, The Rising and The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle are all wonderful in their own right, full of things – stories, lessons, hooks, characters – that have accompanied me through good and bad times throughout my entire adult life, from junior high through 9/11.

And nothing’s going to change that.

But in your own amiably earnest way, you are turning into a thinner, less-grim, less-outrageous, but vastly wealthier Michael Moore.

It’s the dirty little secret for conservatives who are Bruce fans:  the more into politics he got, the less interesting his music became. Born in the USA was…good, with a few great moments. The relentlessly-political Ghost of Tom Joad got tiring.  And his work since The Rising?  Kinda rote and not that interesting, musically or thematically.

Ah. Bruce.  Sorry you’ve gone off the rails.  We’ll always have the Holy Trinity.

18 thoughts on “Bruce, Bruce, Bruce.

  1. “It is a simple fact that the “Holy Trinity” – Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town andThe River – are three of the greatest albums in the history of rock and roll. There is no rational way of denying that.”

    No hate for The Boss, but I just don’t like his music the way you do.

    Do you have any “Bruce Springsteen Music Appreciation” posts I can read?

  2. Musical styles are a hard thing to convince people about; people are emotionally pretty hard-wired to love what they did when they were in their teenage years.

    But here are a few I’ll suggest, if you’re interested; my pieces on the thirtieth anniversaries of Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town (always my favorite) and The River. And my eulogies for Danny Federici and Clarence Clemons, which go into some of the stylistic aspects of my fan-dom in a way that just talking about songs and albums doesn’t.

  3. I’ll take the music of The Band anyday over Springsteen. The best part of the E Street band for me was Clarence Clemons, he was special (sigh).

  4. Why choose?

    Why indeed?

    Agree with you completely, Mitch. Only one pedantic quibble — Rosalita was on The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle, not one of the “Holy Trinity” albums. Rosalita was a sign of what was to come.

  5. Do you notice that as he has become a millionaire many many many times over, is when he has turned a little goofy (and I say this also as a Bruce fan). When you live in a Manhatten penthouse or an exclusive gated community, you can:

    -Write songs attacking NYC policeman, as you are never in danger of a violent crime.
    -Can have Billy Ayres host a program on your SIRUS satellite radio channel as you don’t know anyone who is a victim of a terrorist attack
    -Call for socialism as even if your tax rate goes to 75% on earned income, you have so much money in the bank that you don’t have to worry about gov’t taking most of your paycheck.
    -And do you honestly think that Bruce has ever held a conversation with a conservative-American since Ford was President?

  6. Bruce Springsteen has money, talent, recognition and fame. This does not equate to him having a brain. He can write a song and sell it convincingly, but that has nothing at all, whatsoever, to do with his ability to reason. He’s not a fireman or an athlete or a philosopher or a window washer. He emotes and has made a lot of money emoting. This says nothing about his ability to think. From what I’ve seen of his thinking, he needs to keep his guitar plugged in.

  7. I started to lose interest after “The River”, and “Greetings From Asbury Park”, “The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle” and “Born to Run” are my holy troika, though “Darkness” and “Nebraska” both grew on me over time. I thought “River” was kind of uneven with some great songs and some so-so songs,and I never really cared for the “Brilliant Disguise” era. “Rising” was great, though and since then I pretty much listen if Bruce is singing and tune out if he’s talking.

    I guess the rich really are different from you and me.

  8. So Bruce finally “made it.”

    That’s how you know you’ve “made it,” is when you stop worrying about tucking aside a little bit for a rainy day and start thinking grand thoughts about taking away other people’s money to spend on wonderful ideas.

    Bono. Bruce. Buffett. Dang, no “N’s” in that list. Guess I haven’t made it yet.

  9. What did that “email” have to do with Janteloven?

    Never understood the Bruce either. Nor 80s music – well, certainly not to degree you do, Mitch. But I guess that’s why we’re all individuals.

  10. Mitch Berg wrote:
    people are emotionally pretty hard-wired to love what they did when they were in their teenage years.
    I had a pretty severe concussion about 12 years ago (I was out for a few days, no permanent brain damage, or so they tell me). It changed my musical tastes. Before it was the pop-rock from the late 70’s and 1980’s you’d expect for someone my age and social class.
    After: classic country, bluegrass, and folk. Especially cowboy yodeling.
    No, I’m not kidding. Slim Whitman was a genius, I tell you, a genius!

  11. I would argue that Bono hasn’t gone moonbat. Actually if you read what he was saying in his younger days (he really got into early 1980s trendy anti-Americanism), he actually has matured quite well. I won’t want him to run a bank, but his heart is in the right place. He even praised George Bush (over his African aid) during last years tour.

  12. Again, I say this as a Bruce fan, but I was at the U2 concert last July. After the show, I was talking to a friend who was also there, comparing Bono & the U2 guys to Springsteen coming to the Excel center in 2004 to attack President Bush. Bono was quite classy with his work (even if some of it isn’t all that effective), while Bruce spews angry politics on his tours.

    I wonder if it is who they surround themselves with.

  13. Well, Bono has learned that he actually has to work with the people in authority to get things done, he can’t just stand on stage (or on a bully pulpit) and hurl thunderbolts at the people you disagree with who hold power. Bruce may stir hearts, but Bono is filling bellies.

  14. I hate to weigh in so late, but of course I’ll do it anyway. I don’t think it’s original on my part, but I think when you look at Springsteen’s lyrics, especially from the earlier years, they are more conservative than not, although he tended even then to throw in some populism. His themes from back then focused on love, family work and redemption (in addition to good old fashioned partying), along with an interesting set of characters. The River is an excellent example. Making mistakes, paying for them, but still seeking redemption and happiness.

    Even if you jump to “Magic,” written and released during GWB’s presidency, those conservative themes come through, although not as overtly as his lefty pronouncements. Take, for example “Last to Die.” Outwardly, it’s an antiwar song, no question. But it’s just as much about distrusting unaccountable institutions. “Long Walk Home” “I’ll Work for Your Love” and “Devil’s Arcade” – neighbors, love and comrades in arms. Even when he tries, he cannot avoid those themes, even if he cloaks them with lefty bromides and campaigning for Democrats, it comes through in his writing.

  15. PJK,

    GREAT comment. I may have to develop that into a bigger post for an upcoming event.


  16. Well thanks Mitch. I’d have to do some checking, but it is quite possible that that idea originated (for me anyway) on SITD. Springsteen conservative, but doesn’t realize it. It makes his statements somewhat less annoying – almost amusing. I did read in the last week or so that he is not going to campaign for the President, so that’s good (still voting for him, though).

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