Monday, November 3, 2008

Voting For Change: Bruce's Politics in the 21st Century


For two P
residential elections in a row, Bruce has come out with a prominent endorsement of a candidate, in both cases the Democratic Party. While anyone listening close enough to his music over the last several decades, along with scattered side comments at various shows documented on various bootlegs, would know that Bruce tends to come down on the Democratic Party's side of the aisle, his endorsement of Senator John Kerry marked the first time his allegiance was made explicit. In this Election season, Bruce has chosen to endorse the Democratic candidate for President once more, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois.

In a PSA type speech Bruce has been giving on the campaign trail in support of Obama, he states "I've spent most of my creative life measuring the distance between that American promise and American reality...I believe Senator Obama has taken the measure of that distance in his own life and in his work. I believe he understands, in his heart, the cost of that distance, in blood and suffering, in the lives of everyday Americans." These statements level the playing field between artist and politician, making their values, their desires, and their goals similar so as to be indistinguishable. Surely any pure-bred Bruce Tramp will not deny the unfailing nuance and intellect with which he casts his eye towards the American character as a whole. The journey through America in Bruce's eyes beginning with Born To Run's "runaway American dream" continuing throughout the Darkness and River records and especially incisive on the Nebraska album, a stark black and white portrait of the country seen through the eyes of those not quite so lucky as to receive the benefits of the era of Reaganomics. There is an undeniable through line of dissection and thought, and it is through, not a telling, but a showing of what the country is, was, can be, can't be, will be, should be.

In these recent years, Bruce has seen fit to make that which was implicit into something explicit. There has been a shift from allowing the music to show and demonstrate an idea to making that idea unmistakably clear through speaking it, preaching it, outright saying it free from metaphor or Flannery O'Connor-esque storytelling to shroud the point in drama and detail. The facts are these: Bruce Springsteen is a Democrat, Bruce Springsteen supports Democratic candidates for the Presidency, Bruce Springsteen believes his music and vision of America within his music reflects a Democratic ideology.

The first two facts no one may take issue with, as a man and his values are to be his own and his own alone. Personal freedom of voice, of expression, of opinion in this country are some of the best parts about America and Bruce's integrity is admirable. Certainly no one in their right minds would accuse him of being anything but a patriot. Where the train comes off the tracks is in the third fact, the idea that the vision of America being represented in Bruce's music is a Democratic one.

Fans and journalists alike, when praising the music, time and time again cite one the greater parts of the music is it's cinematic quality, the epic nature of the picture painted in the music. The canvas is as far and wide as this country is, and the trains carries all, saints and sinners, losers and winners, as started by one of his best songs about America, community, and redemption. The vision is larger than life...until now. It seems by aligning this music with a particular party, it goes against the very fundamental ideal of the music to begin with. The tent of Bruce fandom is a big one. When one partakes in the concert experience it is clear to see that it certainly takes all kinds. But the populist message of the music is significantly de-emphasized when Bruce sings and dedicates songs to people who are, at the end of the day, politicians running for office.

The concern isn't a conservative one or a liberal one but rather the non-partisan plea of a passionate fan to not see music larger than life, larger than one politician or one party, be co-opted for a specific purpose and message that from now on resonates in the ears in the political context. As if now going to a concert and hearing "The Promised Land" will fill the non-registered Democrats ears with thoughts of Bruce slying winking to Democrats and singing "And I believe in the promised land....but really I'm singing about how great President Obama's universal healthcare program is gonna be"

In short, there is now a divide, a gap between between Bruce and those fans that may not be so quick to invest their faith in a politican, Republican or Democrat. These fans aren't crazy. They aren't gonna burn their records in effigy while waving Nobama signs in the air. They probably aren't going to stop going to the concerts and paying $100+ to see the best show by the best artist and the best band they know. But for these fans, the gap between artist and audience has become wider as the associations become entrenched. “No Surrender” was John Kerry’s campaign song and “Working On A Dream” was Barack Obama’s song on Sunday. For the people who gladly voted for these candidates, no dissonance exists. But for the other kind of listener, the dreamer who still dreams of an America too big for parties and politicians, Republican or Democrat, it up to this listener to reclaim the vision for their own and know that the land of hope and dreams lies not in the words of Barack Obama or John McCain but in the heart and soul of every American citizen who would believe in it. While his words outside his songs may fail to completely capture it, it is this truth that is self-evident in the music and lyrics of Bruce Springsteen.

1 comment:

Raff said...

Excellent post IMO. Establishing a direct connection between music and politics implies diminishing the message that music carries within itself; a great song (such as the cited Promised Land) is more than just the "sum of its parts" and has to be left free of any political or social meaning, otherwise it is "limited" in its very meaning. You take something "universal" and give it a "local", limited -ultimately censored- meaning. This is the exact opposite, I think, of what art really should be. Thanks for the really interesting reading.