Springsteen’s America

Throughout Springsteen’s career, he’s always done a good job of documenting the times we live in. Darkness on the Edge of Town features gritty working-class characters in over their heads and trying to survive. Born in the U.S.A. also tackles blue-collar issues, especially Ronald Reagan’s trickle down economics and what it did to our country in terms of increasing economic disparity. Then, in the 1990s, Springsteen released the quiet acoustic album The Ghost of Tom Joad with a lot of songs from the immigrant’s point of view. On his latest album, Wrecking Ball, out this week, Springsteen addresses these issues again and the financial crash and economic meltdown that put a lot of people out of work. This album, in my opinion, is one of Springsteen’s best. It is big and epic, topical and direct.  Springsteen manages to contrast reality with the promises of the American dream and point out the stark differences.

Musically, Wrecking Ball is one of Springsteen’s most diverse albums, a criss-cross of genres, folk, gospel, rock, and even some hip-hop. “Shackled and Drawn” sounds like an old chain gang song. It also has some of his most poignant working-class lyrics. He sings, “Gambling man rolls the dice/workingman pays the bill/It’s still fat and easy up on banker’s hill/up on banker’s hill, the party’s going strong/down here below we’re shackled and drawn.” Has there been a song, poem, or novel in the last few years that so clearly highlights the economic inequality that has skyrocketed in this country?

Some of the tracks feel like sequels to some of his earlier work. “Death to My Hometown” could be seen as a follow-up to “My Hometown” from Born in the U.S.A. In the new track, there’s nothing left in the hometown. Springsteen sings, “They destroyed our families, factories/and they took our homes/They left our bones on the plains/The vultures picked the bones.” What a rustbelt anthem and truth!

However, the tracks on Wrecking Ball differ from some of Springsteen’s other working-class narratives in the sense that the working-class is starting to rise up and fight back. On “Death to My Hometown,” he sings, “Be ready when they come/for they’ll be returning/sure as the rising sun.”  Springsteen wrote a lot of the songs before the Occupy movement really took off, but he obviously realized enough was enough and America needs a social movement again to challenge power.

The album’s title track is also punctuated with some optimism in the simple refrain, “Hard times come and hard times go.” That seems to be a reoccurring theme on the album. A lot of the tracks state that America has always had periods of economic divide and great uncertainty, so it’s important for people to take care of each other through difficult times, and somehow, we’ll survive.

Wrecking Ball accurately depicts the times we live in, the great economic divides and  inequality, and while the album may feature some of the angriest lyrics the Boss has ever penned, it is clear he believes we will get through this if we take care of each other. Hard times come and hard times go.

The Boss is Back

About a month ago or so, I wrote on here about the collection of essays and interviews about Springsteen I read called Racing in the Street. The collection mostly explores his early days in Asbury Park, his huge success, and his evolution as a songwriter not afraid to shy away from social and political commentary. Today, Springsteen announced dates for the first leg of his U.S. tour, and I’m going to try my best to see him at one of the Philly, NJ, or NY shows because you never know how long he’ll be doing this for.

When I wrote the blog post about the book Racing in the Street, I predicted Springsteen’s new album, which has been named Wrecking Ball and is slated to drop March 6, would certainly feature some commentary on social and economic injustice, similar to his albums the Ghost of Tom Joad, Darkness on the Edge of Town, and Born in the U.S.A. This is the age of Occupy Wall Street, and even Newt Gingrich is talking about economic inequality and how much Mitt Romney pays in taxes.  Springsteen is one of the few big voices we have left to talk about such issues. Dylan pivoted away from that years ago. Jon Landau, Springsteen’s manager, made a few comments about the album to Rolling Stone. You can read them here. Two quotes intrigue me about the album. Landau said Springsteen feels this is his “angriest album yet,” and he says the music will include “unexpected textures – loops, electronic percussion… influences and rhythms from hip-hop to Irish folk rhythms.”
You can click the YouTube video below to hear one of the new tracks from the album, “We Take Care of Our Own.” You can certainly hear some of Springsteen’s commentary on the state of America in the new track. You can check out his tour dates on his website by clicking here.