Occupy Music: Bruce Springsteen’s “Wrecking Ball”

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“The polarization of the country has gotten so extreme, that people want to force you into being either a phony “patriot” or an “apologist” Nuanced political dialogue or creative expression have been hamstrung by the decay of political speech and it’s infantilised our national discourse. I can’t go for that and I won’t write that way.” Bruce Springsteen, 2012

At the center of Bruce Springsteen’s lyrics is his own personal and eloquent dismantling of the American dream, which he witnessed turning into a nightmare over the course of his life. (He calls it the distance between the American reality and the American dream) His own success story, to him, is just a lucky anomaly, while countless other people have suffered increasingly over the last 30 or so years. In one of his early songs from the seventies, “the Promise”, he sings :”I feel like I’m carrying the broken spirits of all the other ones who lost.”

Once hailed as the future of Rock’n’Roll the now 63-year-old was always a protest singer at heart, even if he didn’t always sound like one, musically covering the whole spectrum from Pop to Jazz. But there are more acoustic albums like Nebraska (1982), The Ghost of Tom Joad (1996), Devils and Dust(2005) and the relatively recent “The Seeger Sessions” (2006), his only album of covers, containing many protest classics like “We shall overcome” and “Keep your eyes on the prize”.

One of his more famous songs from the eighties “Born in the USA, was officially voted as being the most misunderstood song ever, with the jingoistic-sounding chorus merely betraying the dark sarcasm of a Vietnam vet, who after coming home from an unwinnable and unjust war, cannot find a job or a place in society. Th acoustic version of this song, released as an outtake later, was actually the original demo, and does a much better job at explaining the desperation in the dark and angry lyrics, than the more famous “Radio version”.

Last year, during the Occupy Wall Street period, Springsteen was strangely silent. The only sign of life was a tour announcement for 2012, which implied that there would be a new album, but that was all. I was puzzled by the fact that he was not speaking up, almost wondering whether it signified some sort of resignation on his behalf. As a joke I invented a fictional Springsteen album called “I told you so”, which supposedly contained 60 minutes of silence, accompanied by liner notes saying:” dedicated to Occupy Wall Street, I wrote about this stuff for 30 years, what more do you want ?”

But of course we (The die-hard fans) wanted him to prove that he understood exactly what was going on and maybe write us a song or two for what is going on Right NOW, so we wouldn’t have to rely on Bob Dylan and Bob Marley over and over again (Not that there is anything wrong with them!)

Then ‘Wrecking Ball” was announced. It became immediately obvious, that , unlike the mainstream media, Bruce knew exactly what “they were protesting against.” His own words from a recent Rolling Stone Interview with Jon Stewart from the Daily Show:

“For the majority of my lifetime you saw an increase in inequality. It has only been in the news since Occupy Wall Street, but it was something that was a long, long time coming. The levels of greed at the top of the financial industry and people basically walking away scot-free, completely unaccountable. That lack of accountability is the poison that shot straight to the heart of the country. It goes back to Watergate. Watergate legitimized the hustle at the top of the game…all the radical hippies, longhairs – no one ever came as close to sinking the USA as the guys in the pinstriped suits.

And this record is an opportunity to bring the questions that have obsessed me for a large part of my life, to the forefront..I think it’s a moment that’s here, and you have to give credit to the folks at Occupy Wall Street for changing the national discussion, which I really believe that they did.

All of these issues aren’t going to be solved immediately, obviously. I have faith that through pressing on and through paying attention and listening and being vigilant and voicing your concerns and insisting that the right thing can be done, you can move your world inches closer to where you want it to be for your children. You have to have faith in that.. You have to have a clear eye, but you still have to have an open heart and mind.”

And there it was , the new album, bright and shiny and full of promise. For me, who has been listening to Springsteen since the desolate and despairing “Nebraska” when I was still in my teens, something came full circle. We knew something was wrong, but we couldn’t put our finger on it for so long.

In the album’s central song “Death to my Hometown” Springsteen is angrier and more defiant than ever, squarely pointing his finger at “the robber barons, the greedy thieves who came around and ate the flesh of everything they found, whose crimes have gone unpunished now, who walk the streets as free men now” In another song he sings”If I had me a gun, I ‘d find the bastards and shoot them on sight” And, acknowledging the never-ending cycle of greed and betrayal, which is spans millenia, in “Wrecking Ball” (A curious song which was originally written a few years ago about the dismantling of Meadowlands football stadium in New jersey but has now become a call to arms for people to dismantle a system which no longer works) . he bellows :” Hold on to your anger, don’t fall to your fear, hold on to your anger , don’t fall to your fear” over and over again. EXACTLY . Thanks Bruce.

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3 responses »

  1. Great post. As a native of New Jersey, I avoided Bruce in my younger days simply to buck the stereotype, but I’ve come to appreciate him more and more as time passes. Concidentally, I also discussed Springsteen on my blog tonight, though not in the depth with which you did here.

    Cheers!

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