Jewish World Review Sept. 30, 2002 / 24 Tishrei, 5763

Greg Crosby

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Confessions of a pop culture ignoramus | "The Rising," the new Bruce Springsteen album released over a month or so ago honoring the 9/11 victims, has given me cause for introspection. Not introspection related to the attacks on America -- not even introspection concerning the songs on Mr. Springsteen's album, but introspection of my own cultural deficits, of which I readily admit there are many.

I found the amount of publicity and media to-do over the latest Springsteen record surprising and overwhelming. The attention shown to it seemed to me to be on a par with Frank Sinatra coming back from the dead to record just one more album. Media coverage included constant television buzz and dozens of newspaper and magazine articles, most notably an exhaustive cover piece in Time Magazine which examined not only the record album, but chronicled the life and career of the man himself. The hype over "The Rising" throughout the nation set the stage for the 9/11 commemoratives which were to come later -- on the first anniversary of the attack.

My point in all of this is not to put down Bruce Springsteen -- hell, I don't even know who he is. And, well, that's my point. I don't know Bruce Springsteen. Oh, sure, I've heard the name for years-- one can't help hearing names of various cultural celebrities from time to time, but the fact is I don't know his music at all. Never bought his records. Never attended his concerts. Never read anything about him. I even had to look up Springsteen on the Internet search in order to get the title of his new album for this article.

Right now you're probably saying to yourself, "Wow -- what a jerk!" But on the other hand, if you're a nice charitable person you're probably saying, "Well, that's understandable. After all, how could an eighty-three year old man be expected to know who Bruce Springsteen is?" Unfortunately, I'm not an eighty-three year old man, I'm fifty-three -- Springsteen is of my generation. By all the rules of modern pop culture I'M SUPPOSED TO KNOW WHO HE IS. But ... I don't. (Now I'll bet even the nice charitable people are calling me a jerk!)

Actually, I know two things about him: 1. He's a pop singer. And 2. He's called "The Boss." Wait. There's one other thing I know about him -- he recorded an album to commemorate 9/11. That's it. I might be able to identify him in a photograph if I had to because of all the publicity he's gotten, but I would hope my life wouldn't depend on it.

It's a very strange feeling to be part of a society and not be familiar with an important cultural icon of that society, but Springsteen is only one of many for me. Bruce Springsteen is part of a group of early 1970's male pop singers that have, for whatever reason, totally escaped my interest and, therefore, my awareness. Not only that, but I get them all confused -- Bruce Springsteen, Rick Springfield, James Taylor, and Neil Young are all the same person as far as I can tell. I think they all play guitar and write their own songs but don't ask me to name one -- I can't.

It's not as if I don't like music either -- I have an enormous record, tape and CD collection (much too enormous in the view of my wife) encompassing a wide variety of music styles and periods. And it's not as if I purposely avoided the music of "my era," I didn't. I bought and listened to quite a bit of contemporary pop music at that time (although I find much of that stuff unlistenable today). So how to explain my pop culture illiteracy?

It's a weird thing, like being out sick on the day they taught an important lesson in class. I don't know how I missed these guys, but I did. They just didn't speak to me then, I guess, and now I've moved on to other things. Am I sorry about it? Do I feel like I missed out on something? No, not at all. Am I a cultural nincompoop regarding certain aspects of "my era?" Oh, yes. Am I proud of that fact? No. That's just the way it is, as Walter Cronkite might say.

Since the days of my callow youth I have discovered a wide range of music far superior from the top forty stuff they played thirty years ago and I've enjoyed the discovery. I continue to explore various forms of music, and have developed a real love and appreciation for Classical. Currently I've been listening to Handel and Rachmaninov. As a twenty year old I never imagined I'd be enjoying their music. Maybe someday I'll even get around to Bruce Springsteen. You never know.

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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. A freelance writer in Southern California, you may contact him by clicking here.

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© 2001 Greg Crosby