Springsteen's New Album, 'Wrecking Ball,' Captures Rage of Americans Still Rocked by Economic Crisis
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“I have spent my life judging the distance between American reality and the American dream," Bruce Springsteen told reporters after playing his new record, Wrecking Ball. That judgment, on the new record, feels harsh, foreboding, and yet hopeful and defiant in the face of everything.
Springsteen long ago achieved that American Dream, but he's never stopped singing about the people he grew up with, never stopped identifying as a member of the working class. On Wrecking Ball, as with so many of his best records, he brings us a cast of characters that are at times worlds away from our own lives, and at times uncomfortably like us; he echoes America back at it, transcending divisions like “red” and “blue.”
"A big promise has been broken. You can't have a United States if you are telling some folks that they can't get on the train. There is a cracking point where a society collapses. You can't have a civilization where something is factionalized like this,” he told the Guardian.
Springsteen comes from a long tradition of American protest music, folk and country, Johnny Cash and Pete Seeger—with whom he performed at Obama's inauguration, and whose songs he recreated in his 2006 record We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions. But on this album, perhaps the American troubadour he best recalls is Woody Guthrie, whose songs of the Depression gave a voice to the lost characters struggling to retain their humanity in the face of a punishing economic crisis.
It's a working-class tradition, as at home with police officers as with prisoners, with union workers and runaway teenagers, with space for all the forgotten. (On the new song “Land of Hope and Dreams,” Springsteen mentions “whores and gamblers” in a slightly trite but honest tribute to those who work outside the official economy but nonetheless do more honest work than the bankers upon whom he heaps scorn.)
By the time Springsteen started composing his odes to the industrial working-class in the 1970s, it was already dying; he didn't know it then and that's the tension at the heart of probably his best album, Born to Run, a record that celebrated the willingness to escape rather than the urgent need to stay and embody something that was already disappearing. But he returned, thoughtful, three years later to the Darkness on the Edge of Town, an album for which he recorded so many songs that the ones that didn't make it were released in 2010 as The Promise, and he never again considered leaving.
Bruce didn't show up in Zuccotti Park or in Wisconsin even when other class-conscious rockers did (like Tom Morello, with whom he collaborates on the haunting track “This Depression”), but instead, maybe he was at home figuring out how to interpret the rage and the uprising to his aging fanbase, many of whom didn't see anything wrong with the Reagan campaign's use of "Born in the USA."
"The temper [of America] has changed. And people on the streets did it. Occupy Wall Street changed the national conversation – the Tea Party had set it for a while,” Springsteen told the Guardian.
He has a way of seeing the best of America--not in a can't-we-all-get-along way, or a gung-ho nationalist one, but on a deep emotional level. With Devils and Dust, he captured all the sadness that we had buried beneath our partisan rage, at just how broken things were in the middle of the Bush era, and with The Rising he channeled the unity, the solidarity we felt for a brief moment, finding beauty in mourning and tragedy.