The clarion sound of
three chords and the truth will never lose its potency.
BY JASON BUGG AND RANDY HARWARD
Bruce Springsteen doesn’t get enough credit. His detractors say
there is something inherently disingenuous about a man—who has only held one real
job in his entire life—chronicling the lives of working class America. They
claim he weaves a cliché-ridden tapestry of “cars,” “girls” and “nights,” and
that those who quote his music like the gospel buy into a rock n’ roll pyramid scheme.
Whether The Boss is genuine doesn’t matter. What does? Another cliché: The
music, and the message.
It matters most now, as we feel crunch of the economic
crisis. Either you or someone you know has been laid off, cut back, furloughed
or canned. These are bleak times, and the light at the end of our tunnel
doesn’t shine all that brightly. An oppressive burden sits atop our chests, and
it feels like there’s not enough hope to fill our lungs. Springsteen’s music sounds
like Friday night: No matter how lousy your week, at least you have a job, and
you just got paid, taught your buddies a lesson at the pool table, and bought
the last round before you hit the road with your Rosalita. Destination: wherever
the money runs out. Well, now that the money’s running out, we still can dream.
Maybe it’s trite, but these fantasies are common to everyone
from the mechanics to middle managers trapped in thankless jobs, even a few
well-to-do folks who are prisoners of their own success. Almost none of them
will get to actualize that reverie and experience that freedom. The most they
can hope for is that the job holds out, the paychecks still come, and the
yearly physicals hold no bad news. In the meantime, there’s that good rock ‘n’
roll escape: a three-minute song, an album side or the entire 512MB run of your
The clarion sound of three chords and the truth is as real
as the shuttered stores on Main Street and the despair within them. As signs of
a coming Second Great Depression swirl around us and politicians on both sides
shirk blame, it’s easy to blast Bruce on his Wal-Mart deal, his Super Bowl
shilling. He’s dealing with the devil because he hasn’t reached the point where
the money has run out. Maybe he is too far removed from the Jersey boy who made
good. It’s depressing, but do we cling to our perception of the man or what his
songs still—and will always—say?
The stories never get old, because they play out for
somebody, somewhere, daily. They may be fraught with heartache and loss, but
also hope, because while you’re broke and jobless, you know better days will
come and, most importantly, your struggle is shared. This music, which doesn’t
just come from the Boss, but also Tom Petty, The Hold Steady, Neil Young,
Gaslight Anthem, Drive-By Truckers, John Mellencamp, Southside Johnny, et al,
reminds us what life is about, lest we all get lost in the relative minutiae.
Like Super Bowls, corporate monoliths, and thankless jobs.
In these desperate times, as our nation scratches its heads over
eight misguided years and ponder uncertain ones to come, a good cliché—a tune
about a boy and a girl trying to make right by the world—is at least safe and
stable. Even better, it’s therapeutic. America is ready for its big second
chance, and we’ll meet it in our best white T-shirts and blue jeans, buoyed by the
magic, the mystery and the audacity of rock ‘n’ roll.