There have been a lot of discussions in this election cycle about moving oratory, words, and speeches. Debates on how oratory can inspire, educate, and motivate people. Debates on if it means anything without action and follow through.
Well last night I went to Milwaukee to see my favorite band for the 3rd time this year and I think my 8th time overall. That would be as The Boss refers to it "the heart stopping, pants dropping, earth shattering, hard rocking, hips shaking, earth quaking, nerve breaking, Viagra taking, history making, legendary E-Street Band" (pictured above).
I started going to Springsteen shows after he wrote a brilliant album inspired by the tragedy of 9/11 called "The Rising". Saw my 1st show back in November of 2002 when I was living in the great city of Louisville, Kentucky. I drove up to Cincinnatti and heard him divide the crowd against him when he lended his voice to a a boycott by civil rights leaders who were protesting police brutality and opened the show with the song American Skin (41 Shots). This song was written about Amadou Diallo, who was killed in his New York City doorway when police shot him 41 times after mistaking his wallet for a gun.
Needless to say I was hooked and inspired. I had just finished a campaign that we lost and was again doubting why I was working in politics and was instantly inspired by the words, emotion, and power of the crowd at the concert. I had been to concerts before, but this one was different, I left on a high. From that point on I went from a fan of one of his CD's to what is now a total fanatic of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
In his most recent album titled Magic he eloquently voiced the frustrations of many, including myself, with the direction that our country has headed recently. Springsteen took a lot of heat from some long time fans when he campaigned for John Kerry in 2004. While always on the left of the political spectrum, he had stayed out of campaigns directly.
Unlike many in opposition to the policies of President Bush, Springsteen spoke out when the President was over 60% approval and flying onto aircraft carriers proclaiming "Mission Accomplished" and having recently captured Saddam Hussein. Some fans wrote him off as they felt he betrayed them. In my three shows this year, talking to die hards think many of those fans are back already and many new ones are around as a result.
Springsteen is no stranger to politics. John Edwards used the song The Rising at his campaign events and even Hillary used it after she started losing early. John Kerry used the song No Surrender in 2004.
It not just Democrats who felt Springsteen's music was appropriate. Most famously in 1984 former President Ronald Reagan used the song Born in the USA for a while as his campaign song and praised Springsteen for his patriotism. At one point the Reagan campaign tried to get endorsed by Springsteen. The problem is that Reagan, like many others, never really listened to what the song said. Born in the USA is actually a brutally honest strory of the hardships suffered by returning Vietnam Veterans. It's patriotism is in the truth it was telling, not in a phony flag waving, flag wearing patriotism that has become too prevalent in the country today.
In response to Reagan's praise Springsteen responded in Pittsburgh by playing Johnny 99 a song about a laid off autoworker who turns to murder. He questioned if Reagan had ever listened to an album of his and then wondered aloud, "I don't think it was the Nebraska album. I don't think he's been listening to this one." Nebraska was a rather dark view of things and showed the irony of Reagan's praise.
Springsteen never endorsed Reagan and in interest of full disclosure never endorsed Walter Mondale either. In fact Mondale's campaign claimed an endorsement the Springsteen camp. The Springsteen camp denied the endorsement causing Mondale to have to correct their statement.
At two points last night Springsteen got politically motivated in his talk. When he introduced the title track of the new album called Magic he told what he meant when he wrote the song. Not a hokey song aboutmagic tricks like pulling a rabbit out of a hat (though its a line in the song), but rather he says the real magic tricks "that have been going on in this country the past eight years." Without saying it he's talking about the deception perpetrated by the Bush Administration. The message is clear in Magic with the following lines that make a point.
- "Trust none of what you hear, And less of what you see, this is what will be"
- "And the freedom that you sought's, Driftin' like a ghost amongst the trees"
In a later, brutally honest, 20 second rant Springsteen talked of the recent attacks on the Constitution, from rendition, to habeaus corpus, to civil liberties and wrapped it up by stating the obvious.
"We're gonna do what we can to stop this,,,,, we're gonna sing about it!" Which drew laughs from crowd amongst a chorus of "F&^* Bush" from every direction. The boo's against his clearly biased statements were lower than I remember in recent concerts. Keep in mind this was in Milwaukee, not the most liberal place in the country.
He then went into another of his protest songs titled Livin in the Future.
This brilliant song has the chorus:
"Don't worry Darlin', now baby don't you fret. We're livin' in the future and none of this has happened yet"
And has the long two stanzas near the end of the song you can read for and interpret for yourself.
"The earth it gave away, the sea rose toward the sun/ I opened up my heart to you it got all damaged and undone/My ship Liberty sailed away on a bloody red horizon/ The groundskeeper opened the gates and let the wild dogs run/ I'm rollin' through town, a lost cowboy at sundown/ Got my monkey on a leash, got my ear tuned to the ground/ My faith's been torn asunder, tell me is that rollin' thunder/ Or just the sinkin' sound of somethin' righteous goin' under?"
He followed that song up with a classic Springsteen song "The Promised Land" with the well known defiant yet hopeful lyric
"If I could take one moment into my hands. Mister I ain't a boy, no I'm a man. And I believe in a promised land."
Springsteen is a communicator, whether you agree with him or not the messages his ability to get his point across in his lyrics has always been powerful and written from his blue collar roots. Springsteen is by no means 'blue collar' anymore, yet he has remained true to his beliefs. Writing about textile mills closing their doors and crippling towns in a song like My Hometown written over 20 years ago.
In the vacuum of disappointment that has been celebrities, athletes, and politicians, Bruce Springsteen is a light of hope for me. For me its easier because I happen to agree with him politically, but the guy speaks to this politics geek, more than most any politician does.
In the past 5 years have been told I am too young to be such a fanatical follower of The Boss.
The truth is unlike any actor, artist or politician, in my lifetime, this guy has made had a profound impact on me. Only the words of Aaron Sorking compete with the message of Springsteen.
I recently wrote an article titles "Beware Those You Admire" in reference to the letdown of Elliot Spitzer. I truly hope that it never happens with Springsteen. He is a brilliant, thoughtful and compassionate artist who creates thought with his words and his songs. This fan is hoping that Magic is followed by many more albums, songs, and tours to raise important questions and views.
**********For the record Patrick, disappointingly Girls in Their Summer Clothes was not played last night.