Written by Liz Buckley


7 Wonders: Bruce Springsteen

Could The Boss be the glue that holds the world together? Over to you, Liz Buckley.

Photo by Craig ONeal, via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0).

I’m fairly sure Bruce Springsteen is the US President. I mean, I realise that probably isn’t true, fundamentally or legally speaking. But apart from that, it’s definitely true.

And if you still insist not, I don’t see why it can’t be rectified as I’m also fairly sure Donald Trump is only the current US President by virtue of winning an under-attended hooky meat raffle in a Russian pub. The Fisher Price-truck driving, pissy-sheeted moron who can’t even find a light switch.

So then our hero. A troubadour for the working class, the people’s laureate, unofficial Ambassador for New Jersey, the (quite literal) soundtrack for Philadelphia, President Springsteen could certainly represent a far more unifying force in a country greatly at odds with itself, he being a man whose songs about the glories and grudges, heartsoars and heartbreaks of everyday American life speak to the whole continent.

Springsteen paints complete characters in his lyrics, painstakingly bestowing them with realistic colour, tone and nuance, and he honours and respects them all, no matter how far they might be from himself because, as he says, “A story isn’t a life.”

Even on Independence Day, a song ostensibly about the breakdown of his relationship with his father, he still makes the song bigger than their family, never wanting to alienate others or box himself in.

As my friend Nadia recently said, “Bruce Springsteen seems like a very satisfying person to be a fan of,” so even those who don’t yet fly his flag can see the value of the man, an artist for whom there are no restrictions/bans. Come one, come all.

Rather astoundingly, Springsteen having always been a vocal and loyal Democrat (having actively campaigned for Obama in 2008 and 2012), he somehow also manages to be the playlist choice of Republicans who don’t understand what words mean.

Back in 1984 (sorry Orwell, but we’re almost starting to think of it fondly), it didn’t matter to Reagan when he was told that Bruce Springsteen was neither a fan of his politics nor wanted to be associated with his party, and Reagan ploughed on with using Born in the USA as his re-election anthem because, hey, a tune is a tuuuune and what does it matter if the lyrics are against everything you stand for? And if ever there was a definition for 2016 Trump voters, it’s “what value: reality?”

“Springsteen may modestly refer to himself as ‘a glorified bar band’, but that bar has the happiest customers, biggest venue and the greatest lock-in for miles.”

This unifying great esteem in which Springsteen is held could be the glue the world is looking for, the beautiful truth that re-binds the US together. Obama said at a 2008 fundraiser, “The reason I’m running for president is because I can’t be Bruce Springsteen,” and I think we all know it is a step down.

Trump, unable to get Springsteen to play his own inauguration ceremony when trying to copy Obama’s afterparty right down to the flipping’ cake, tried to book a cut-price Springsteen tribute act. Who, in turn, cancelled as they realised their hero probably wouldn’t like it.

Whatever side of the tracks you’re from, you want Springsteen to lead you, to sing for you, to represent you, to lyricise you and all that, regardless of whether Springsteen is even up for it. LOCK HIM IN, LOCK HIM IN!

In a recent BBC documentary about the making of The River, Springsteen described his outlook: he doesn’t want to be the outsider looking in, a commentator or the audience, he wants to be “part of it”. In fact, not enjoying any kind of hierarchy, Springsteen rejected the ‘Boss’ nickname for a long time and was actually known more therapeutically as ‘Doctor’ (*speaks into dictaphone – “Idea for BBC Timelord casting”*).

In fact, sometimes Springsteen can be so much the Everyman, I’ve seen articles about the E Street Band with misattributed accompanying photos that are actually of Dylan or Joe Strummer.

Springsteen can be that blurred face in the crowd but he still leads the rally, fills the stadium and brings the house down.

He may modestly refer to himself as “a glorified bar band”, but that bar has the happiest customers, biggest venue and the greatest lock-in for miles. And what Springsteen brings (and can’t be copied) is a real sense of community.

The audience help choose songs, are invited on stage for impromptu numbers, can take home a recording of the gig via an exclusive USB wristband; the entire experience is inclusive. And for those that doubt the impromptu nature of some of these renditions, I doubt he prepared a Chuck Berry tribute for the night of Chuck’s death in quite the same way the broadsheets did with their obituaries.

These aren’t the cynical political rallies we’ve seen that conquer and divide the US, these are the kind of stadium events that bring mass joy. And joy that makes you want to stand on your chair singing your heart out for four hours, not book a circle seat at the back so you can leave before the car park gets jammed.

Now pushing 70 (although looking sprightlier than ever), Springsteen isn’t out to pasture, avoiding issues on the golf course, but shouting (and climbing) to the rafters. In the words of Barack Obama at November’s Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony – the highest official honour that can be given to any US civilian – “I am the President, but he is the Boss.”

Bruce Springsteen for 2020. And Little Steven for Veep.

This column is for my friend Ian Prowse who loves Springsteen so much, his daughter is called Rosalita. 


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Written by Liz Buckley

Department manager at an independent record company. Liker of Frank Sinatra and Nick Cave. Very sudden laugh. Pasty but tasty. Quite tired.