Bruce Springsteen at the Political Conventions

Bruce Springsteen is probably the only American artist who can get play at both political party conventions.

New Jersey governor Chris Christie referenced one of his songs in his RNC keynote address, talking about his childhood and the role his mother played in his life:

“I was her son as I listened to ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ with my high school friends on the Jersey Shore.”

And the Obama campaign has been using “We Take of Our Own” as a campaign theme song. It played at the DNC as Obama ended his acceptance speech.

For the record, Springsteen is publicly supporting Obama and made a new video of the above song for the campaign.

Springsteen has a storied history of politicians invoking him and his work.

Wikipedia has the tale of the mixtape for the 1984 election. And Salon has a more detailed overview of Springsteen’s evolving politics and ideology.

It started with Reagan name-checking Springsteen in a speech:

“America’s future rests in a thousand dreams inside your hearts. It rests in the message of hope in [the] songs of a man so many young Americans admire—New Jersey’s own, Bruce Springsteen. And helping you make those dreams come true is what this job of mine is all about.”

Springsteen responded at a concert a few days later:

“Well, the president was mentioning my name in his speech the other day, and I kind of got to wondering what his favorite album of mine must’ve been, you know? I don’t think it was the ‘Nebraska’ album. I don’t think he’s been listening to this one.”

Then he sang “Johnny 99,” a song about a laid off autoworker driven to robbery – which inadvertently leads to murder – to pay his mortgage. “I ain’t saying that makes me an innocent man,” Johnny tells the judge. “But it was more than all this that put that gun in my hand.”

According to the Associated Press, Walter Mondale stepped into the fray, too:

…Mondale went to New Brunswick, N.J., and accused Reagan of trying “to steal one of New Jersey’s most important heroes.”

“Bruce may have been born to run, but he wasn’t born yesterday. And when Bruce heard what President Reagan had said, here’s what the Boss had to say to him,” said Mondale, pulling out a U.S.A. Today article in which Springsteen was quoted as saying:

“There’s something really dangerous happening to us out there. We’re slowly getting split up into two different Americas … I don’t think the American dream was that everyone was going … to make a billion dollars. But it was that everyone was going to have a chance to live a life with some decency and some dignity.”

“That’s the real Bruce Springsteen, and he’s for the Mondale-Ferraro ticket,” Mondale said to cheers. But his press secretary later admitted there had been no formal endorsement.

Whoops.

The confusion probably started with columnist George Will, who mistakenly declared “Born in the U.S.A.” a paean to hard work and patriotism. In fact, it’s about a veteran who is let down by a lot of empty promises and misguided decisions from his government.

An artist’s worst fate, even more so than being ignored, is to be misunderstood. Being misused by politicians probably sucks even worse.

In any case, Springsteen seems to have taken matters into his own hands.

It’s much harder to confuse the message of “We Take Care of Our Own” than “Born in the U.S.A.” And he’s become much more explicit about who he does and doesn’t support for president.

If politicians are going to invoke you by name, they practically invite you to declare yourself for or against them and their policies. And while a lot of artists might have responded by taking a long vacation every two or four years, Springsteen made the right decision — to stand up for himself and what he believes in.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *