Jewish World Review August 13, 2004/ 26 Menachem-Av, 5764
This Gun's for Hire
Minnesota's Republican governor, 43-year-old Tim Pawlenty, opened his weekly radio show on Aug. 8 with the familiar song "Born to Run," and then told listeners he was "heartbroken" that Bruce Springsteen has joined a roster of pop music entertainers to tour swing states this fall in an effort to defeat President Bush. "I really appreciate his music," Pawlenty said, "but I wish he wouldn't interject his music with politics."
There's little capacity for surprise in this increasingly surreal presidential election, so the news that Springsteen, a multimillionaire who lives in a New Jersey mansion with his family, has enlisted in MoveOn.Org's army, breaking his career-long resistance to trade on his celebrity for partisan causes, didn't cause me to lose a wink of sleep.
Some of his fans are less cavalier, including Maria Castronova, who was quoted in last Friday's Asbury Park Press, the hometown newspaper of the town where Springsteen first turned heads more than 30 years ago. The Spotswood, NJ resident said, "I love Bruce Springsteen's work. I love the man. His music has been the soundtrack for my life. But this announcement [of his upcoming concerts] disappointed me. I don't take political advice from a college dropout."
I scratched my head over this not atypical reaction from a Bush supporter, wondering why in the world Castronova would admit Springsteen's songs have been the "soundtrack" of her life but then slam the rock superstar as a "college dropout." Actually, what puzzles me is why Springsteen, who's mostly avoided the limelight and paparazzi, letting his music stand on its own merits, would abandon this principle over an election. It's predictable that less iconic eminences such as the Dave Matthews Band, Jackson Browne, John Mellencamp, Bonnie Raitt and Pearl Jam, for example, are touring on behalf of the Kerry-Edwards ticket it's not a bad way to revive or sustain a career but Springsteen, a superior songwriter and performer than any of the aforementioned, has always, at least to this longtime fan, been above simple sloganeering.
Springsteen published a short op-ed in the Aug. 5 New York Times, explaining his decision to enter this ugly campaign fray. It's somewhat astonishing how the man who penned classics such as "Atlantic City," "Brilliant Disguise," "Prove it All Night," "Dancing in the Dark," and "Nothing Man" would willingly commit to print his political naiveté. He writes: "I don't think John Kerry and John Edwards have all the answers. I do believe they are sincerely interested in asking the right questions and working their way toward honest solutions. They understand that we need an administration that places a priority on fairness, curiosity, openness, humility, concern for all America's citizens, courage and faith."
Huh? That paragraph could've been cribbed from the set stump speech of any one of 300 Democrats running for office this year. How does Springsteen know what Kerry and Edwards "understand"? Is he now an adviser to the campaign, spending hours with the candidates, jawing about issues? Springsteen says that the Iraq war was "unnecessary," so how does he square the reality that both Kerry and Edwards voted in favor of the invasion? Or Kerry's refusal to spell out exactly what he'd do differently than Bush in Iraq, aside from the quixotic attempt to persuade France, Russian and Germany to commit money and manpower to a country that's now forming an embryonic democracy?
Springsteen is usually more articulate. In an Aug. 5 online interview for the magazine Backstreets a publication dedicated entirely to the singer's career he made an interesting comment that's in stark contrast to his current flight into Ben Affleck territory. He said: "I love John Wayne's work like crazy. I've found great inspiration and soul in it my whole life. I'm not a fan of John Wayne's politics. But I love John Wayne, and I love the work he's done."
In the last week, discussing his decision to become a member of the Anybody But Bush brigade, Springsteen has cited Bob Dylan as an artist he "admired" and "emulated" as youth partly because of his "very clear political voice." Lesser lights such as Browne and James Taylor also pay homage to Dylan, who rose to prominence in the early 60s with his protest songs. What's forgotten, however, is that for Dylan this period was just one of many phases he embraced and then discarded. In fact, Dylan was absent during the Vietnam War demonstrations, instead raising a family in upstate New York and recording his albums in Nashville with studio musicians who were considered rednecks back then. Dylan helped resuscitate Johnny Cash's career in 1969, appearing with him on tv and recording an unreleased record of country standards and a few of each other's songs.
Dylan's never endorsed a presidential candidate, preferring not to lend his name and prestige to the Beltway culture he finds abhorrent, regardless of whether Democrats or Republicans are currently in power. Springsteen has worn politics on his sleeve slightly more than Dylan, but he too, until now, has generally kept his own counsel.
By the way, don't expect Springsteen and John Fogerty to appear anywhere in Maryland, a state that's considered in the bag for Kerry. You'll have to travel to Philadelphia, Orlando or Cleveland, cities in swing states to hear him sing "No Surrender." One can only hope that unlike that stunning intellectual, Ozzy Osbourne, Springsteen and co. won't be flashing images of Bush with Hitler on the stage.
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JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press (www.nypress.com). Send your comments to him by clicking here.
© 2002, Russ Smith