VARIOUS TEXTS: Springsteen takes up Dylan’s banner of social protest with attack on Wall Street

Will Hodgkinson Chief Rock Critic
TimesOnline, February 17 2012

Bruce Springsteen is a man used to being misunderstood. Witness Born In The USA, his Eighties anthem about a disenchanted Vietnam Vet coming home to no work and no prospects, which was widely interpreted as a chest-beating ode to patriotism.

But yesterday the man they call “The Boss” ensured that there was no mistaking the core argument of Wrecking Ball, his latest album — that the financial crisis and rising social inequality have ruined the American dream.

“We’ve destroyed the idea of an equal playing field,” he announced. “And there’s a critical mass where society collapses. You can’t have a society as fractionalised as that.”

Springsteen, 62, speaking in Paris as journalists were granted a “first listen” of his new album, went on to compare the 2008 banking crisis to theft, and endorsed the Occupy protest movement that sprang up in New York, London and elsewhere in response.

He explained how the album began when he wrote We Take Care of Our Own, a critique on US domestic policy that opens the album.

“The first half of the album is angry,” Springsteen said. “After 2008 we had a huge financial crisis and there was really no accountability. People just lost their homes. Nobody went to jail, nobody was responsible, and prior to Occupy Wall Street there was no pushback, no voice saying this is outrageous. A basic theft has occurred that ignores what the American idea is about,” he said, “a disregard of history, of community, just ‘what can I get today?’. It’s a fault line, a crack that has left the American system wide open.”

Wrecking Ball welds folk melodies with a big rock sound. It also echoes the early protest writing of Bob Dylan, whom Springsteen cited as a primary influence.

One song, Easy Money, describes an average man’s response to the crisis. “It’s about a guy going out on a robbing spree. He’s imitating the guys in Wall Street in the only way he knows how.”

Speaking at the Théâtre Marigny, not far from the designer stores and luxury hotels around the Champs-Élysées, Springsteen credited the Occupy Wall Street movement with changing the political conversation in America: “Now you’ve got Newt Gingrich calling Mitt Romney a vulture capitalist. That would not have happened before.”

But he claimed his biggest inspiration came not from the political landscape but his Catholic upbringing in working-class New Jersey. “Once a Catholic, always a Catholic,” he said. “It’s given me a very active spiritual life — and made it very difficult sexually.”

Did Springsteen feel the burden that Dylan once did, of being the moral voice of a generation? “Oh, I’m terribly burdened in my big house,” he answered, sarcastically. “It’s a rough life, the rock life . . . No, it’s a joy. I’ve got an audience that come to dance and enjoy themselves. It’s pretty much a charmed life.”

Springsteen rejected suggestions that he was a political figure of significance, stating that artists work best when they are far from the seat of power. On his calling in life, he concluded: “My job is to do for you what Bob Dylan did for me, to kick open the door to your mind . . . To reach for something higher than yourself and grovel around for something lower too. That’s the job description: to be paid for something that can’t be bought.

“And I have no other skills whatsoever.”
585 words

1. According to Springsteen, what has ruined the American Dream?
2. What figurative language does Springsteen use to illustrate the frustration many people suffered from the power of banks?
3. What is Springsteen's view of the Occupy Wall Street movement?
4. How does Springsteen look upon himself? Is he a moralist, does he try to use his popularity, does he exert influence, does he admonish? Express your opinion.
5. Have a look at the lyrics of 'Born in the USA' (bottom of this page) and deliberate on what the message of this song is.

Wrecking Ball: track by track review
By Will Hodgkinson
TimesOnline, February 17 2012

We Take Care Of Our Own A massive, gospel-tinged anthem, this is classic Bruce: patriotic but critical lyrics, huge drums, swelling guitars. “Wherever the flag’s flown, we take care of our own,” he sings, but a Hurricane Katrina-referencing line like “from the shotgun to the superdome” suggests the opposite is true.

Easy Money This tale of an average guy turning to crime has the spirit of a hoedown, with what sounds like a childrens’ choir raising spirits in the background.

Shackled And Drawn A country blues guitar and a stomping beat soundtracks angry but uplifting lyrics urging the working man to “pick up the rocks and carry on”.

Jack Of All Trades Electronic effects courtesy of producer Ron Aniello open this song about a crisis of masculinity in the US, as labour skills are devalued in the face of a service economy. It transforms into a Dylan-esque ballad.

Death To My Hometown More anger at the destruction of industry, this time in Springsteen’s native New Jersey. A civil war march backs up a powerful rant against bankers that have “stripped bones like vultures”.

This Depression A sombre love song, this is one of the most intimate acoustic songs on a big-sounding album. “This is my confession: I need your heart in this depression,” Springsteen sings.

Wrecking Ball Sounds like it could fit on his 1978 classic Darkness On The Edge Of Town, this slice of straight-up rock finds Springsteen singing about being “raised outta steel in the swamps of Jersey” and offering hope for a better tomorrow: “hold tight to your anger and don’t fall to your fears,” he implores his beleagured home state.

You’ve Got It An acoustic strum opens another love song, this one more flirty: “baby you’ve got it, come on and give it to me.” Heavy guitars come in later.

Rocky Ground A gentle song with sweet female backing vocals courtesy of wife Patti Scialfa, this combines futuristic samples with religious imagery of Judgement Day, like a Christian singalong with added electronics.

Land Of Hope And Dreams Another big anthem, this has a gospel soul feel and a message of hope for America, with images of a train “with bells of freedom ringing”.

We Are Alive An old fashioned folk song held together by a banjo rhythm, this ends the album on a cheerful note, with handclaps, stomps and a spiritual message of the soul continuing as the body dies.

Born In The U.S.A. lyrics
Born down in a dead man's town
The first kick I took was when I hit the ground
You end up like a dog that's been beat too much
Till you spend half your life just covering up
Born in the U.S.A.
I was born in the U.S.A.
I was born in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A.

Got in a little hometown jam
So they put a rifle in my hand
Sent me off to a foreign land
to go and kill the yellow man
Born in the U.S.A.
I was born in the U.S.A.
I was born in the U.S.A.
I was born in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A.

Come back home to the refinery
Hiring man says "son if it was up to me"
Went down to see my V.A. man (possibly: sb from the Veterans' Administration)
He said "son don't you understand now"
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 (Gefängnis, Strafanstalt)
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

Born in the U.S.A.
I was born in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A.
I'm a long gone daddy in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A.
I'm a cool rocking daddy in the U.S.A.

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