Saturday, November 24, 2007

Springsteen on Rolling Stone's 40th: 'A Low Point in American History'

Unlike the Rolling Stone interview with Bono, which we discussed below, where Bono showed some capacity both for reason and individualism, the interview with Bruce Springsteen followed the Rolling Stone line--shall I say slavishly--with the result that my plummeting opinion of the man can plummet--geologically speaking--no farther.

The interviewer's very first lob to Bruce, “On the whole, are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future?” got this response:

I’m optimistic as far as people go and pessimistic as far as the government goes, for pretty clear reasons. In 2006, the American people said, “Throw these bums out!” They would have voted Bush out at that moment if they could have. There was a clear message about the war in Iraq, and yet we sit here today with no front-running presidential candidate on either side who’s going to take us out of there.

Of course, we may just get out of Iraq the best way, victoriously, leaving behind a stable, secure, non-terror supporting, friendly Iraq, But who the hell wants to write a song about that?

Aside from this, Springsteen has nothing concrete to say about the challenge this nation--the heartland of which he is credited with speaking for-- has faced since 9/11. For him, the key issues are “race and poverty,” which he thinks were lost to the national discourse, “not unintentionally through the use of other issues.” (The war against Islamic jihadism, presumably.)

Springsteen really seems stuck on the poverty issue this time. He seems to think LBJ's plan was a good one. Or John Edwards's. Well, at least Edwards's anti-poverty plan worked for him. Maybe Springsteen's concerns for the impoversihed are why he's always photographed with the same old Telecaster with the worn-off finish, and of course, the Levis and T-shirt--that means he's poor, too, I guess.

You see, Bruce explains, the big movement of the powers that be in this country "is towards a plutocracy” [??], a movement which in turn is pushing the critical conversation about race and poverty out of the national discussion. But, he says, that conversation can’t be stopped all together:

I’ll tell you when it wasn’t stopped--when a guy that doesn’t care that much about it had to say something about it. [He’s talking about Bush, of course]. When people turned on the television during Hurricane Katrina and said “Where did all those poor people come from?”

You wanna give us a break, here, Bruce? I may not have known just how poor New Orleans was, but I always knew there were lots of poor people in every big city, because I grew up in one, and I still live right next to one. Does that mean I’m not a plutocrat?

Or maybe Springsteen was only expressing his own surprise at all these poor folks in New Orleans, because none of those impoverished black folks on TV getting pulled off their roofs looked familiar from the last time he’d played the Superdome for $100 a cheap seat.

Springsteen credits Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” with having an “enormous impact” on him, empowering him “to feel that in my small way, I had something to say, I could do something.” That something that he and the E Street Band can do, as we have note elsewhere, is to “sing.” To sing, and in 2004, to help raise money for that other working-class hero, and terror to plutocrats everywhere, John Heinz Kerry.

But for sheer historical myopia, nothing beats the response Sprinsgteen gave when he was aked how he thinks this time will be judged in 40 more years:

Many parts of it will be remembered with the same degree of shame as the Japanese internment camps are remembered --illegal wiretapping, rendition, the abuse of prisoners, cutting back our civil rights, no habeas corpus. I don’t think most people thought they’d ever see the country move far enough to the right to see those things happen here. And I don’t believe those are things that strengthen us. The moral authority to stand up and say, “We are the Americans,” is invaluable. It’s been deeply damaged, and it’s going to take quite a while to repair that damage, if we can.

This will be remembered as a low point in American history--as simple as that. People are going to go, “Was everybody sleeping?” But people get frightened, they get crazy. You wonder where political hysteria can take you--I think we’ve tasted some of that.

All I want to do is be one of the guys that says, “When that stuff was going down, I threw my hat in the ring and tried to stand on what I felt was the right side of history.” What can a poor boy do, except play in a rock & roll band?

Well,. Bruce, I'm not sleeping, but this kind of shit does make me crazy.

At least all this national darkness has given Bruce an excuse to update some of his old songs. I've even heard there's a new version of “Born to Run” the band's been playing around with in the studio:

Antiwar’s Way Too Much Fun

In the day I’m tryin’ to rhyme “
habeas corpus” while I do my Nautilus routine
At night I preach ‘bout the last man to die and defective voting machines
Straight from the mean streets in John Kerry’s mind
"Rendition!" "Katrina!"
They’re clich├ęs but I can’t change a line
Baby this stuff rips the soul from your rap
Sounds real dumb out loud, like rehashed Maureen Dowd
But those cheers make me feel I’m still young

So for chumps like us,
baby, antiwar’s way too much fun

Trendy set I’m in says they can’t be my friend
If I ain’t hawking the old sixties vision
It’s that iron hand in that velvet glove
That’s strangling all my good intentions
I tell myself, you gotta bust this trap
Gotta drop all this pap, can’t ya go back to just playin’ rock?
Singin’ platitudes makes my soul tired
But frankly I’m just a scared and lonely shaman
Who’s got a jones for the way that it feels
I gotta hear crowds go wild
So what if I don’t mean it for real?

At my shows each night mobs of middle-aged drones swoon when I say “times are dark”

I guess they live their lives in rearview mirrors
Because reality’s just too hard
The amusing thing's how we're getting paid to sing

Then get to brag we’re doing dissident work
I’d rather kid myself, baby, ‘neath these lights each night
Than admit I’m a political jerk!

Now the gossip shows glow with celebrity heroes all strugglin’ to stay alive
Every one of us knows that the Left’s in its throes

But there’s worse things than shuckin’ jive
The truth is we all hocked our brains away gladly
For a promise of more of that badly needed fame
Someday buddy I can’t say when

I’m gonna find my lost soul
The one that made all my old songs roll
even admit there’ve been victories won
But till then chumps like us
Think antiwar’s way too much fun

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