An Unnecessary Role

embracing false choices

What’s the big deal with Bruce Springsteen anyway?

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I first heard Bruce Springsteen’s music (and I mean really heard it, not caught a snatch of Dancing In The Dark on Magic FM) when I bought Born To Run when I was at college. If a more perfectly formed, complete album has ever been released I’ve never heard it. But the thing that really captured was the visceral, driving piano at the start of Backstreets, a sound described by Rolling Stone at the time as “so stately, so heartbreaking, that it might be the prelude to a rock & roll version of The Iliad”. The power, the sheer epic-ness of it just carries you away.

And as you explore his catalogue further, listen to and understand the songs you realise that it’s not just about the grandeur of the music, but it’s also about the stories he tells, of youth, dreams, hope and faith. The River is practically a novel in itself, the story of teenagers torn out of their care-free lives by pregnancy, marriage, and the need to provide for a family. Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse? In that context Springsteen’s most grandiose moments avoid glibness or cheesiness. The endless dreams of Born To Run are brought low by the darkness and despair of Darkness On the Edge Of Town.

And that’s the final piece of the Springsteen puzzle for me. In a sense, Springsteen sings about solidarity. His songs aren’t overtly political, but they paint a picture of lower middle class working life, the dreams and aspirations that we all have, the difficulties we face, the mistakes we make, and the hope and faith that things get better. The song in the video above, Racing In The Street, is superficially about drag racing in Asbury Park, NJ. But set against the unbearably sad piano of Roy Bittan, it becomes a hymn to escapism, the reality of home life, and of youthful dreams disappearing.

There’s a story that after 9/11 someone pulled up to Springsteen in the street in New Jersey, wound down the window and simply said “We need you now.” In the midst of an economic crisis build on the backs of the working poor, I say we still need him.


Written by samelliot

November 25, 2011 at 2:27 pm

Posted in Music

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