Bruce, Grit, & The American Dream
On a recent Marc Maron podcast “The Boss” spoke on his early childhood experiences, troubled relationships, and anger. In his raw tone, Bruce stated:
“If you’re lucky, it’s fuel for the fire. People don’t end up in my circumstance who generally had these very placid, loving, very happy, fulfilled lives. That’s not how you become a rock & roll star. You got to have some chaos, tumult, disastrous relationships, humiliation at a young age, feel disempowered, enormous amount of weakness – and suddenly things start to burn, burn, burn. And when that burn’in starts, if you take that flame and aim it towards the right thing, it’s a powerful weapon.”
More of this please! Perhaps I’ll pick up his 500+ page memoir Born to Run to flip through next. In the mid-eighties when we watched Bruce spring into “The Boss” he dawned ripped sleeves over his blue collar jeans and screamed Born In The U.S.A. on stages across the world, a song heard as a call to the American dream. In fact, the song itself opens with,
“Born down in a dead man's town
The first kick I took was when I hit the ground
End up like a dog that's been beat too much
Till you spend half your life just covering up”
These words seem to echo his quote from the WTF podcast above. There is no doubt this song seems autobiographical, but is a protest song in nature. As patriotic as it sounds, it is anything but. The next line reads…
"Got in a little hometown jam
So they put a rifle in my hand
Sent me off to a foreign land
To go and kill the yellow man"
Although Bruce never saw combat, he traded in the option of an army rifle and acquired a six-string axe he would use to play chords and rhythms to rock the world and change his life forever.
So if Born In The U.S.A. is a protest song and a slam on the American Military Industrial Complex, how is it representative of the American dream and why do so many politicians use it in their campaign efforts and confuse its meaning so unknowingly?
The answer is in the tone of his vocal chords. It is the gruff, raw, patriotic anger in his voice. That is what we hear when he sings,
“Born in the U.S.A…
I was born in the U.S.A…”
Bruce’s story is one of raw grit and boot-strap progress. He takes the deep gut experience of anger and defines it in the context of justice. It is a testament of survival of the fittest and speaks to every cliché possible related to our individualistic, deal-with-it-yourself-culture. His platform was run on jaw-clinched-glory and painted an image of a hard steel working, coal mining, north Jersey driven roots image of success.
I believe we identify so deeply with the music of Bruce Springsteen because he is us. He symbolized the struggle of the isolated American experience, left on his and her own to scramble towards survival.
In another podcast, titled, "On Jersey, Masculinuty, And Wishing To Be His Stage Persona", Fresh Air host Terry Gross shared her belief that so many of us want to be just like him. She asked how to adopt such a confident and cool on-stage persona, to which Bruce replied, “I want to be like that guy too”.
He is quick to claim to be no better than you. To perform as “The Boss” gives him a chance to escape the normality and struggles of his everyday life and effort to balance his health, relationships, pain, joy, and overall mental wellness. In fact, Bruce has said before that, "success makes life easier, it doesn't make living easier."
When so much of our culture places a stigma on our anger, when we are taught to define it as a negative emotion, that we must tame what often feels uncontrollable, Bruce might say otherwise. He would tell you to ride anger like an old bike. The ride might be loud and bumpy but will guide you towards your goals and dreams. He would tell you to find your instrument, your tool, your talents, and play them loudly. He would tell you to emote those voices inside you whether you’re a musician, student, corporate executive, or a stay-at-home parent and to make noise in productive, meaningful ways.
He might even tell you – it’s time for You to be Boss.
This Land is Your Land was originally recorded in 1944 by Woody Guthrie, and covered live by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band on the set list of their 1985 Born In The U.S.A. Tour. Bruce calls this anthem the greatest song ever written about America. What many believe is a protest song is still relevant today, especially in a time of such extreme political divisiveness. Bruce's current activism runs deep. He recently canceled a show in North Carolina as a protest to the bathroom laws to fight for the rights and equality of our transgender community.
Like Bruce stated, "When that burn’in starts, if you take that flame and aim it towards the right thing, it’s a powerful weapon.”