Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Are People Actually Listening to the Lyrics of Springsteen Songs?

Being a Red Sox fan was a lot easier before they won three World Series in ten years. For one, getting tickets to Fenway was easier and cheaper. Before 2004, once you got to Fenway, you were lot more likely to be surrounded by real Sox fans like someone who listens to the game in the car on a crackly AM radio even when they were in last place or someone who remembers Oil Can Boyd and knows who Yaz is. Now when you go to a game, a good many of the "fans" are front runners with little loyalty to the team or the brand and no sense of the team's history. This is one of the drawbacks of success. Everyone wants in.

This is what it is like to be a Bruce Springsteen fan these days. Before he put out the Born In the USA album back in the 1980's, which had a pile of top 40 hits, Bruce already had a lot of dedicated fans, but he wasn't a household name. Perhaps it is conceit, but I have a feeling that those of us who were fans, before he was "Dancing in the Dark" on MTV, are the real fans. When we listened to Darkness on the Edge of Town or Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ, the entire albums, we listened to the lyrics. We memorized them and thought about their meaning. He wasn't a brand, an icon or even an image back then. He was just a guy from Jersey who could write a song. He was originally signed to Columbia Records back in 1972 because they were looking for a new Bob Dylan. Singer/song writers were in. I still purport that Dylan is a better song writer, but Springsteen is definitely more accessible. Where Dylan is profound, Springsteen hits you in the gut.

Springsteen has become so big now that the icon overshadows the music. Something beautiful is getting lost. Few seem to be listening to what he is actually saying.

The song "Born to Run" is not about running. So if you are watching a promo for a marathon and this song comes on ... if you are watching a political rally where a candidate announces that they are "Born to Run" with the "last chance power drive" wailing in the background .... clearly ... they don't understand the song. The running in this song is running away from something, a bad situation, a trap ... not for office or exercise. I grew up in a Northeast mill town and the only thing that I ever wanted was to get out, to get away, to run away. The image I get when I hear this song is someone driving to work at one of those dehumanizing mills and just getting on the highway instead. When I tune into the Boston Marathon on Monday, if I hear "Born to Run" even once, I am turning it off.

"Glory Days" is not a baseball song. One verse of this song mentions a baseball player. The second verse is about an old girlfriend and the third is about drinking through your sorrows. This is not a happy song. It is about living in the past, about sitting around drinking and talking about old times instead of living for now. Yet, when NPR has a special to talk about baseball, what song do they play?  Not "Centerfield" by John Fogerty. No, that would make sense, that song is about baseball. Not a slew of other great songs by guys that actually make an effort to write baseball songs like Dan Bern ("This Side of the White Line," "Come Back Andy Pettitte,"  "Ballpark" or "When My Buckner Moment Comes") or Chuck Brodsky ("Bonehead Merkle," "Moe Berg: The Song," "Ballad of Eddie Klepp" or "Lefty"). They play the icon whether it is relevant or not.

"Born in the USA" is not a patriotic song and yet, at Independence Day celebrations, they play it and it just makes me shake my head. Clearly they haven't listened to it. It is full of bitterness and anger about a guy that was screwed over by his government. He is disaffected, alienated and shell-shocked.
Had a brother at Khe Sahn fighting off the Viet Cong
They're still there he's all gone
He had a woman he loved in Saigon
I got a picture of him in her arms now
Down in the shadow of penitentiary
Out by the gas fires of the refinery
I'm ten years burning down the road
Nowhere to run ain't got nowhere to go
Not patriotism. The irony that they are playing a protest song mistaking it as patriotism isn't lost on me. Patriotic events are all about blind nationalism so why would they actually listen to the lyrics of the song? It says "USA" in it.  That's enough, right?  Are they only listening to the driving anthemic chorus and not the verses? This song was supposed to be on his earlier album, Nebraska, but was supposed to be slower and acoustic. You wonder if it would have been as well received and misinterpreted as much.

Considering how little people listen to lyrics, it is no wonder what passes as songs. Perhaps I should just be grateful that they are playing Bruce at all.


Olga Hebert said...

You have hit a home run here, Mark! The kind that deserves the Springsteen lyrics of your choice playing in the background.

Mark Peloquin said...

Would you believe they played Springsteen's "The Rising" today at the Red Sox game commemorating the bombing and actually think it was completely appropriate? Someone was listening to the lyrics. Maybe I inspired them. :)