Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Is a Dream a Lie If It Don’t Come True, or Is It Something Worse?

with 8 comments

Such ardor has a history. In 1984, George F. Will, in a bow tie and double-breasted blazer, his ears plugged with cotton, attended a Springsteen show. “I have not got a clue about Springsteen’s politics,” wrote a swoony Will, before declaring them like his: “He is no whiner, and the recitation of closed factories and other problems always seems punctuated by a grand, cheerful affirmation: ‘Born in the U.S.A.!’ ” That same year, President Reagan, visiting Jersey, declared, “America’s future rests in a thousand dreams inside your hearts; it rests in the message of hope in songs so many young Americans admire: New Jersey’s own Bruce Springsteen.”

‘The right’s unrequited crush on Bruce Springsteen.’ Via Kevin.

Written by gerrycanavan

December 11, 2009 at 6:00 pm

8 Responses

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  1. There’s a big difference between attacking George Will for casually arguing that Bruce and/or his music reflect some conservative value or another and attacking Chris Christie for just liking the guy and his music. You don’t need to be antiwar, an environmentalist, or pro gay rights to appreciate Darkness or BTR, you just just need to be human. This stuff has literally changed people’s lives, rescued them from depression, etc. Trying to deny them that truth because of their politics is like denying pro-choice Catholics communion.

    I suspect that Bruce himself would frown on a lot of this stuff.

    Shankar D

    December 11, 2009 at 7:54 pm

  2. The article amused me so I put it up; I won’t defend it to the death because I don’t think there’s really all that much of a serious argument here. I will formally renounce, here and now, any implied support for the Bruce Police.

    You’re additionally right that Bruce has certainly refrained from making this an issue, and not I think for purely commercial reasons. The Ministry of Rock ‘n’ Roll is, without any doubt, a universalist church.

    But regardless of all that — are we really not prepared to say that someone who is (1) pro-war, (2) anti-gay and (3) a Bruce Springsteen fan has in some fundamental sense missed the point of the music? There’s nothing that says Chris Christie (or whoever) can’t enjoy the music despite his otherwise conservative politics, but the contradiction isn’t some ineffable, unnameable thing. It’s pretty stark.

    Going further, I would suggest that there’s an affective quality to politics that we often overlook in favor of a false sense that we are performing cold, objective calculations. Politics, like music and religion both, is a visceral, emotional thing; it’s something we feel as well as something we do.

    Reversing one of your sentences captures this:

    “You don’t need to appreciate Darkness or BTR to be antiwar, environmentalist, or pro-gay-rights, you just need to be human.”

    This sentiment is just as recognizable to me as your version, if not more so. Both versions comport with my sense that to be “human” is to transcend the prison of the self and connect with other people on the level of collective life. From this perspective, leftist politics and Springsteenian aesthetics start to look less like radically discrete cognitive spheres and more like alternative manifestations of a single perspectival truth.

    When Chris Christie (or, say, my father, or any other conservative Springsteen fan) listens to Darkness they undoubtedly hear a Bruce that speaks to their sense of what it is to be human and what it means to be alive. This is suggested by what Christie says in that Springsteen-flavored NYTimes profile, and I don’t doubt his sincerity a bit—if again I can’t help but wonder why a person who loves (say) “Prove It All Night” wouldn’t support marriage equality, why, that is, they wouldn’t understand the struggle to be true to oneself and one’s passions in the face of disapproval and scorn. (Everybody’s got a hunger, a hunger they can’t resist…)

    If Bruce didn’t speak to Christie, why would he listen? And if Bruce speaks to Christie, why would I ever want to take that away? I just marvel, honestly and without malice, at how different his Bruce must be from mine, in much the same way I wonder in what sense the pro-war/anti-choice/anti-gay Catholic and the anti-war/pro-choice/pro-gay Catholic can really be said to be practicing the same religion. Putting aside basically unserious territorialism about who Bruce “belongs to,” I think there’s a genuine question here about the affective relationship between politics and aesthetics.

    gerrycanavan

    December 11, 2009 at 9:13 pm

  3. I think we’re mostly on the same page here, and I agree with your line about “alternative manifestations of a single perspectival truth.” That’s part of why I’m such a big Springsteen fan to begin with, in light of my politics. I think the difference is I don’t find it as challenging to imagine that someone couldn’t reach that same conclusion or draw the same connections that we do.

    I admit that if left to my own thoughts, I’d have a harder time conjuring that. But I’ve read enough commentary from conservative Springsteen fans on message boards to recognize that there are multiple truths at play here, and that the alternative interpretations, while not shared by me (or Bruce, for that matter), are not as implausible as they initially seemed.

    Additionally, it’s a big catalog. I think it’s only when we get to Darkness that we see a breakthrough in terms of Bruce’s politics, but even there, I could imagine someone listening to Badlands or Racing or Prove It or the title track and finding in it a message of self-reliance and a politics of rugged individualism.

    There are some songs where I, admittedly, find this to be a tougher stretch (ironically, BITUSA itself is one of them), but again – it’s a big catalog.

    This is suggested by what Christie says in that Springsteen-flavored NYTimes profile, and I don’t doubt his sincerity a bit—if again I can’t help but wonder why a person who loves (say) “Prove It All Night” wouldn’t support marriage equality, why, that is, they wouldn’t understand the struggle to be true to oneself and one’s passions in the face of disapproval and scorn. (Everybody’s got a hunger, a hunger they can’t resist…)

    I think that’s all true, but Prove It is just a reflection of an underlying human truth, which makes it superfluous to your wonder. What you really seem to be wondering is how anyone could be human and be opposed to marriage equality. Maybe that’s your point.

    Shankar D

    December 11, 2009 at 9:49 pm

  4. “Conjuring” was certainly the wrong word; let’s say “fathoming” instead.

    Shankar D

    December 11, 2009 at 9:52 pm

  5. “If dreams came true, oh, wouldn’t that be nice, but this ain’t no dream we’re living through tonight” really could be the précis for any number of tragedies of the closet.

    What you really seem to be wondering is how anyone could be human and be opposed to marriage equality. I won’t deny it’s crossed my mind. I wonder (and worry) about the extent to which political sentiments are basically preconscious or automatic — that persuasive arguments and definitive facts will always be fundamentally useless if we can’t make people feel the right feelings first. This is not a new concern — it’s where a lot of modernist artists were coming from in politicizing art at the turn of the last century — but if a person can be a Bruce fan and a conservative it throws the whole “feel the right feelings” project into serious doubt.

    gerrycanavan

    December 12, 2009 at 12:41 am

  6. I think you’re right to worry about the extent to which political sentiments are basically preconscious. A lot of argument is just rationalizing feelings.

    I don’t know, though, that the Bruce issue throws that project into doubt, it just means that (a) Bruce may be unable to make people feel the “right” feelings that matter to a particular issue, and (b) these things are multivariable. To put the second point as inelgantly as I can, people are moved by different kinds of stuff, and there’s lots of different kinds of stuff that people experience or engage over their lifetimes. Bruce is just one, for any of us. Listening to Prove It 4700 times isn’t going to have the impact that having a gay son or friend or coworker will have.

    Shankar D

    December 12, 2009 at 2:55 am

  7. If I’m hearing you right, and I think I am, we’re going to need some sort of device that turns people gay.

    gerrycanavan

    December 12, 2009 at 2:58 am

  8. If I’m hearing you right, and I think I am, we’re going to need some sort of device that turns people gay.

    Isn’t that conclusion how every conversation about Bruce Springsteen inevitably ends?

    Shankar D

    December 12, 2009 at 3:02 am


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