Thursday, April 17, 2008

“The Screen Door Slams, Obama’s Dress Waves … ”

An audible murmur of discontent arose Monday night at the Toyota Center after Bruce launched into the longest of his two or three brief anti-Bush spiels of the evening. (We can't remember if it accompanied the one when he was swinging around on the mic stand like it was a maypole or the one when he was stomping along at the back of stage and speed-mumbling about “rendition”* and some other stuff we didn’t catch.) It wasn’t exactly widespread booing---although we detected plenty of scattered boos, from both the grandstand** and ringside seats---but more like a sustained groan or collective sigh, as if the malcontents were saying, “Oh no---we gotta listen to this political horseshit again, when what really wanna do is hear Born to Run and Thunder Road for the 999th time played exactly like they sounded on the record …” But the grumblers were quickly drowned in a wild sea of cheers and applause, and Bruce rowed on.

We don’t suppose anyone was surprised. Springsteen’s been boring fans with his political profundities for years, and Magic, his bestest album since [insert name of your own last bestest Bruce album here---we gonna just pick Lucky Town out of the air and mosey along], is chock-a-block with anti-Bush songs, too many for us to remember without hoisting up our tired carcass and retrieving the CD jacket.

This does not bother us at all; we are not a “shut up and sing” grouser. Springsteen is at least as intelligent and well-informed as Tucker Carlson or Edward R. Murrow cutout Keith Olbermann---no, he’s as intelligent and well-informed as both of ’em combined (we’ll throw in Joe Scarborough and Chris Matthews to narrow the gap a wee bit). And we tend to generally agree with him, at least on the broad outlines of his Bush-Cheney critique, although we have to step out of the cha-cha line when it comes to the notion that those two bumblers have brought Fascism to America (as if they would be capable of such, although that seems to be one of the prevailing themes of Magic [e.g., Livin’ in the Future]).

But as of Wednesday, a mere two days after we exited the Toyota Center with our ears ringing and the feeling that we almost got our $95 worth***, Bruce has officially begun to bug us. It’s not just that he considers himself important and influential enough to issue a statement endorsing Obama---he’s been making favorable remarks about the Illinois senator for a while, and Obama supposedly has said that Bruce was No. 1 among Americans he’d like to meet---but what he said in doing it:
[Obama] has the depth, the reflectiveness, and the resilience to be our next president. He speaks to the America I've envisioned in my music for the past 35 years, a generous nation with a citizenry willing to tackle nuanced and complex problems, a country that's interested in its collective destiny and in the potential of its gathered spirit. A place where "...nobody crowds you, and nobody goes it alone."
OK, now we understand Obama---he's a Springsteen song!

We know Bruce is a decent and generous guy---amply demonstrated Monday when he brought Austin journeyman Alejandro Escovedo (still with the cool red boots!) on stage and plugged Escovedo's upcoming album---but we're afraid the old boy has now crossed the line into self-caricature. He makes an endorsement because the candidate "speaks to the America I've envisioned in my music" (one, we suppose, where no one clings to God 'n' guns or gives a second thought to illegal immigration) AND THEN QUOTES HIS OWN SELF (no matter that it's an evocative line). We stupidly thought it was all about winning an election, when it's actually all about validating Bruce Springsteen's artistic vision. It's like he believes every word that Dave Marsh ever wrote about him! Obviously Bruce still harbors overly romantic notions of self and world, which come in handy when you're 25 and composing The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle but suggest a much too prolonged adolescence when you're 58 (still waiting for a savior to rise from these streets, apparently).

(Oh, Bruce did acknowledge those gathering problems:
... critics have tried to diminish Senator Obama through the exaggeration of certain of his comments and relationships. While these matters are worthy of some discussion, they have been ripped out of the context and fabric of the man's life and vision ...
Yeah, there's gonna be some discussion ... like all summer and fall until the second Tuesday of November.)

And this America he envisions: Is it anything like the one we saw at the Toyota Center? Because that one is overwhelmingly white (hey, we did see two black people---looked like a mother/daughter combination, very light skinned, and they left early not looking real happy) and affluent (those ticket prices, plus the frickin' parking downtown) and transparently self-satisfied (as in "not wanting to be challenged or surprised in any way"---when he sang with Escovedo we saw lots of people in our section bolt for the restrooms, and you could almost feel the restlessness surge through the crowd 'cause he wasn't doing something they'd already jerked their knees to 15,000 times previously).

But we're not going to stop liking Bruce just because he's a pompous old fart, and, as we said, we enjoyed the show, especially Nils Lofgrin's searing [insert additional rock critic cliche here] solo on Because the Night and Bruce's geared-back version of Out in the Street (one of our all-time faves, and how dated is that "I work 5 days a week, loadin' crates down on the docks" line?---those jobs were going thew way of analog television even when he wrote it 30 years ago). We dutifully hopped to our feet with everybody else when he and the band closed out with America Land, a self-penned tune from his Bruce-as-Woody Guthrie oeuvre (Bruce-as-Woody being a most uninteresting pose; Woody-as-Woody wasn't even that interesting). It's a rollicking, Pogues-ish number, without the bracing Pogues-ish bile, that celebrates America as a nation of immigrants, or something. Despite the upbeat message, we think Bruce was aiming a little jab at all those folks who, as his man Obama put it, still cling to "anti-immigrant sentiment," apparently because they need a scapegoat and not because they might be more directly affected by illegal immigration than, say, Bruce Springsteen. It reminded us of that great line by a better songwriter, the late Warren Zevon****, who never aspired to be Woody Guthrie: "Bruce and Patti ... they don't live around here."

*Which is vile indeed.
**Which is where we were: Section 407, Row 6, Seat 1, near the top of the Toyota Center and lined-up with the stage: so high and far away we couldn't have hit Bruce with a heft-able rock, or even hit a larger, less mobile target, like "Little" Steven.
***Actually, it was our wife's $95, our ticket being a b-day gift. Poetic license.
****Who, unlike Bruce, was a fairly reprehensible individual, not to mention a stone-hard right-winger, at least according to that recent biography by his ex-wife.

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