I will be in Hershey Stadium tonight to once again hear Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band in concert. (In fact, by the time you read this I just might be in the arena). The last time The Boss was in central Pennsylvania he did a show on November 1, 2012 at the Bryce Jordan Center on the campus of Penn State University. It was in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and a few days before the 2012 presidential election. He was promoting his album Wrecking Ball. On the morning of that show I published a piece on Springsteen in the Harrisburg Patriot-News.
Bruce Springsteen’s vision of America**
By John Fea
Forget about the election on Tuesday. Take a break from hurricane clean- up. The Boss is in town. And we need him more than ever. Tonight at the Bryce Jordan Center, Bruce Springsteen brings his “Wrecking Ball” tour to central Pennsylvania.
In case you haven’t noticed, Springsteen has been everywhere lately. His song “We Take Care of Our Own” blared over the loudspeaker immediately after Barack Obama spoke at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., and The Boss stumped for the president in Pittsburgh last week. TBS and Fox made Springsteen’s song “Land of Hope and Dreams” the anthem for its coverage of postseason baseball.
As an American historian, I can’t help but listen to “Wrecking Ball” and hear the echoes of an older tradition of civic responsibility, made popular by our Founding Fathers, which taught us that a good society and a strong republic is only possible when individuals sacrifice personal self-interest for the greater good of their communities.
In the song “Jack of All Trades,” Springsteen exhorts us to “care for each other like Jesus said that we might.” I don’t think Bruce Springsteen would be a candidate for the elder board at my church, but a lot of his message resonates with my evangelical faith. This is a message we need to hear in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Natural disasters such as this remind us that we are all in this together.
“Wrecking Ball” is angry and prophetic. In “Rocky Ground,” Springsteen invokes Jesus driving the money changers out of the temple. “Death to My Hometown” is a rollicking Irish lament on the way corporate greed devastates local communities. In “Shackled and Drawn,” we are introduced to the people who live on Banker’s Hill:
“Gambling man rolls the dice, working man pays the bills
“It’s still fat and easy up on Banker’s Hill
“Up on Banker’s Hill the party’s going strong
“Down here below we’re shackled and drawn.”
Springsteen’s populism celebrates the dignity of hard work. In “Shackled and Drawn,” he equates freedom with a dirty shirt and a shovel in the dirt. In “We Take Care of Our Own,” work “sets my hands and soul free.” But what happens when there is no work available? What happens when the ground that we walk is so rocky that our shovels cannot penetrate it? This is where Springsteen addresses one of the great paradoxes of the human experience — the co-existence of tragedy and hope.
Springsteen understands the sinful world in which we live (although he might not put it in such theological terms). Yet though we are drowning in “Noah’s flood” (or Sandy’s flood), and our prayers seem to be going unanswered and “hard times come and hard times go,” he tells us to “hold tight to your anger and don’t fall to your fears.”
We can trust in God’s goodness to us in these hard times. Consider the words of the rap embedded in the lyrics of “Rocky Ground”:
“You use your muscle and your mind and you pray your best
“That your best is good enough, the Lord will do the rest
“You raise your children and you teach them to walk straight and sure
“You pray that hard times, hard times, come no more.”
In the end, Springsteen loves America. He’s a patriot. I’m sure that the message we will hear tonight will be the same message Springsteen has been preaching since he started the “Wrecking Ball” tour.
It will be a message about God and country. It will remind us that we can no longer be satisfied with the great distance that now exists between American reality and the American dream. It will be a message we need to hear in the wake of this devastating hurricane.