Tuesday, 17 November 2009
Bruce Springsteen: Rock & Redemption by Dr Gary Burnett
Who is he & why does it matter?
I’ve seen Bruce play on a few occasions since then, most recently a couple of months ago. On 12 July this year I went down to see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band play the RDS in Dublin. It was a fine evening and I got myself a prime spot leaning against a barrier about 30 yards from the stage. I’d got there early about 5pm so there was a bit of a wait before Bruce appeared, to rapturous applause at the appointed time of 8 o’clock. And to my absolute delight, there, in the middle of Dublin on the 12th of July – what did he kick off the concert with – a song from his 1984 Born in the USA album entitled – “No Surrender”. I turned excitedly to point out the significance of this to my new found friends on either side of me, one, a Dubliner, the other a guy from Limerick, but they looked at me as if I was mad! Never mind, I liked it!
As we made our way out of the RDS after 11 o’clock, after Bruce had given us over 3 hours of his magic, I overheard a couple talking in front of me. One said to the other “that was like a religious experience, wasn’t it?”
He was right, of course – it was like a religious experience. We all felt it – the power of the music, the sense of community, the recogition in the songs of the desperateness of the human condition, the sense of darkness, the failure – and yet the aspiration, the hope for something better, for redemption, and, yes, the joy and celebration. A bit like church, then, on its better days!
Increasingly, I think, Springsteen is deliberately aiming his performances as something more than just music performances with the realization that what he does, both as a song-writer and a performer has the power to touch people quite deeply and inspire them. Springsteen commentator Jimmy Guterman says “Springsteen may not believe he can heal his audience through his art, but it’s clear he thinks his job is to make people feel more human, feel more alive, feel more understood”. Eric Alterman, another Springsteen commentator reports of having been at a concert – the “music filled every crevice of that small hall with rock’n roll so powerful and majestic, it grabbed your soul out of your body and scrubbed it clean before putting it back in”
At times during the concerts these days, Bruce becomes a gospel preacher, exhorting and whipping up the emotion of his audience. This has been going on for quite a few years now - in the highly acclaimed Reunion Tour of 1999, when he and the E Street Band came together again after an 11 year hiatus, Entertainment Weekly said the tour was “as much travelling tent revival as reunion tour”. Z Magazine said “as we come to the end of the 20th C, it’s increasingly difficult to believe in the power of rock & roll to change lives. But with the current Bruce Springsteen tour, the tradition rediscovers a glorious, life-affirming eloquence”.
And in case you’re wondering, there’s seems to be no send-up or irony intended when Springsteen goes into preacher mode – it seems like he feels he’s tapping into a rich vein of American heritage, which is entirely appropriate to utilize in his very different context. Preacher Springsteen.
Now, for for those of you who are not a big Bruce fans, or are unfamiliar with him, let me give you a brief introduction, before talking about the spiritual elements in Springsteen’s body of work.
Introduction to Bruce Springsteen
Born in 1949, in New Jersey, Springsteen was raised a Roman Catholic. His early life was marked by struggles at school with both fellow pupils and the nuns, and at home by a difficult relationship with his father. By the time he was 16, he was leading bands and recording songs and by the time he was 21, a music critic was saying, “"I have never been so overwhelmed by totally unknown talent”. In 1972 Springsteen signed a record deal with Columbia with the help of John Hammond, who had signed Bob Dylan to the same label a decade earlier, and in 1973 released his first 2 albums to critical acclaim but not much commercial success. It was around this time that music critic and producer Jon Landau said famously, "I saw rock and roll future, and its name is Bruce Springsteen. And on a night when I needed to feel young, he made me feel like I was hearing music for the very first time."
With the release of Born to Run in 1975, Springsteen finally found success. With its panoramic imagery, thundering production, and desperate optimism, many people would rank this among the best rock and roll albums of all time and it is possibly Springsteen's finest work. It established him as a major rock artist and later that year, Springsteen appeared on the covers of both Time and Newsweek. He had arrived in the public concsiousness and within 9 years, after he released his Born in the USA album, one of the best selling ablums of all time, Springsteen had become a house-hold name and one of the most highly visible figures in popular culture.
25 years later, after some 30 albums, Springsteen seems as popular and relevant as ever. To be sure, the 1990s were a period when he admits himself “some people would say I didn’t do my best work”. But after he re-formed the E Street Band in 1999 and embarked on a triumphant tour, he returned to major success with a series of critically acclaimed and popular albums in the last 7 years.
This last decade has seen Springsteen become more and more active politically, supporting Amnesty International and the presidential campaigns of John Kerry and Barak Obama. During the Obama campaign he appealed for "truth, transparency and integrity in government”...he said “our freedoms have been damaged and curtailed by eight years of a thoughtless, reckless and morally-adrift administration.”
This year has seen Springsteen play to over 2 million people already. The concert I attended in Dublin in July is typical where I saw people of all ages from children to senior citizens enjoying the fun. There’s a wide appeal in Springsteen’s music and performances, which have the power to draw in people of all ages and background.
The first 11 comments are the continuation of this great article.