Entertainment Music

Monday 27 January 2020

American hero who takes care of his own

"Bruce is an itinerant prophet of a faded tradition of social conscience"
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

Bruce Springsteen's latest album takes on the greedy profiteers who have razed his homeland.

BONO sometimes gets it right. His induction speech for Bruce Springsteen at the 1999 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony was a tour de force of doing just that.

"Bruce is a very unusual rock star, really, isn't he?" the U2 singer began. "I mean, he hasn't done the things most rock stars do. He got rich and famous, but never embarrassed himself with all that success, did he? No drug busts, no blood changes in Switzerland. Even more remarkable, no golfing! No bad hair period, even in the Eighties.

"No wearing of dresses in videos. No embarrassing movie roles, no pet snakes, no monkeys. No exhibitions of his own paintings," said Bono (who paints a bit). "He didn't buy the mythology that screwed so many people. Instead he created an alternative mythology, one where ordinary lives became extraordinary and heroic. He's America's writer, and critic ... to be so accessible and so private ... there's a rubric. But then he is an Irish-Italian, with a Jewish-sounding name."

(In 2003, I phoned in a review of the Boss at the RDS late on a Saturday night. The copytaker must have misheard my Churchtown mumble because the article the next morning referred to a certain Bruce Springstein throughout. I have never lived it down.)

"They call him the Boss," continued Bono in 1999. "Well, that's a bunch of crap. He's not the boss. He works for us. More than a boss, he's the owner, because more than anyone else, Bruce Springsteen owns America's heart."

Thirteen years on, Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen still owns America's heart. Bruce, some argued, was entrusted with the biblical task of helping heal the soul of the American nation. In my opinion, his subsequent albums The Rising and Devils & Dust were successful in that regard.

I remember being at the Springsteen concert in Dublin in the summer of 2008 with my sister Marina and him playing The Rising about that dreadful September day in New York in 2011: "Spirits above and behind me/Faces gone black, eyes burnin' bright/May their precious blood bind me/Lord, as I stand before your fiery light".

Marina went to school with a beautiful girl called Joanne Cregan who died on the 105th floor of the North Tower.

Bruce is an itinerant prophet of a faded tradition of social conscience, the voice of the American everyman, the heir to Woody Guthrie and John Steinbeck, even. His lyrical concerns and the primal passion with which he delivers the words have a universality that resonates on many levels, some of them too deep to explain. But we get him.

That's why most of us identify so strongly with the music and words of Bruce Springsteen (and why he has sold more than 120 million albums worldwide). That's why every other summer he can sell out outdoor arenas in Ireland -- indeed he is playing with the E Street Band at the RDS Main Arena on July 17 and 18. His new album The Wrecking Ball, his 17th studio album and first record since 2007's Magic, resounds existentially with the raw emotional power of his best records. It is rock with a bit of folk, gospel and the blues rolled into one.

Inspired, in part, by Occupy Wall Street and what is going on in America, Wrecking Ball is, writes Rolling Stone in its review, "the most despairing, confrontational and musically turbulent album Bruce Springsteen has ever made. He is angry and accusing in these songs, to the point of exhaustion, with grave reason. His America is a scorched earth: razed by profiteers, and suffering a shameful erosion in truly democratic values and national charity."

The spirit of Steinbeck and Guthrie is invoked on songs such as Shackled and Drawn, This Depression, and the breathtaking anthemic We Take Care of Our Own -- which one critic described as being "obviously about abandoned ideals and mutual blame that no candidate would dare touch" aimed at the "heart of the republic". Intriguing no less as America gears up for an election.

Sunday Independent

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