Song of the Day

I got God on my side
And I’m just trying to survive
What if what you do to survive
Kills the things you love
Fear’s a powerful thing, baby
It can turn your heart black you can trust
It’ll take your God filled soul
And fill it with devils and dust

Taking Care of Our Own

Corona Healthcare

I published this piece in 2012 when I was writing a column at Patheos.  I think it holds up pretty well. –JF

What is this experiment that we call the United States? What did Thomas Jefferson mean by the phrase “the pursuit of happiness?” What is the promise of America?

For many, the American creed is about individual liberty. Citizens of the United States are free to worship without government interference. They are able to consume freely to satisfy their material wants and desires. They climb the ladder of success with unrelenting ambition.

While this commitment to freedom and liberty has been an important part of our national history, it has often been balanced with the willingness of Americans to sacrifice their self-interested pursuits for their neighbors and fellow citizens in need. The Founding Fathers called this “republicanism.” Christians call it “living out the gospel.”

In popular culture there is no one who understands this tension between individualism and community better than Bruce Springsteen. As a young artist in the 1970s and 1980s, Springsteen’s music celebrated the American dream as defined by individualism. He encouraged us, in the wildly popular “Born to Run,” to break out of our “cages on Highway 9” in pursuit of a “runaway American dream.” And maybe, if we run hard enough, we will “get to that place where we really want to go and we’ll walk in the sun.”

On the same album as “Born to Run,” Springsteen urged us to get in our cars and drive “Thunder Road”—a two lane highway that “will take us anywhere.” The final words of the song are telling: “It’s a town for losers, I’m pulling out of here to win.”

Such a vision of the American dream, filled with cars and roads and freedom, is selfish. Springsteen understands the human condition. He also understands the American condition.

But as “The Boss” grows older, his music has taken a decided turn away from youthful individualism and toward community. For example, his 2007 album Magic included a song entitled “Long Walk Home,” a moving reflection on his figurative return to home after all those years of running away. There is a sense of new birth in the song, almost as if Springsteen has realized that the community in which he was raised offers much more than what Thunder Road had to offer. He reminds us that “everybody has a neighbor, everybody has a friend, everybody has a reason to begin again.” Perhaps those “losers” were not so bad after all. They at least need someone to love them.

At age 62, Bruce Springsteen is not done making music. In fact, he and the E-Street Band will be heading out on tour in a few months to promote their new album, Wrecking Ball. Those close to Springsteen are talking about the album’s pressing themes of economic justice, social concern, and spirituality. It is being produced by Ron Aniello, a Grammy-nominated producer known for his work with Christian artists Jars of Clay, Sixpence None the Richer, and Jeremy Camp.

Last week, the Springsteen camp released “We Take Care of Our Own,” the first single off of Wrecking Ball. Anyone who listens to this song will hear a Springsteen-like call for an inclusive American community that will only prosper if citizens care for one another. This is Springsteen’s republicanism at its best—a call to serve others that is compatible in every way with our Divine call to live out the gospel. There are echoes in the song of our current economic hardships, hurricane Katrina, and the search for meaning amidst life’s difficulties. Such meaning, Springsteen concludes, can only be found in tempering individualism and fulfilling the promise of America by loving our neighbors.

Springsteen asks:

“Where are the hearts that run over with mercy?

“Where is the love that has not forsaken me?”

“Where is the work that will set my hands, my soul free?

“Where is the promise from sea to shining sea?”

Mercy. Love. Work. These are the kinds of virtues that are central to a happy and flourishing life. As he so often does, Bruce Springsteen calls us to something higher than our own ambitions. Christians take heed.

Springsteen Course at Monmouth University


Check out Steve Strunsky’s piece on historian Kenneth Campbell‘s Monmouth University course “Bruce Springsteen’s America: Land of Hope and Dreams.”

A taste:

The class, as the syllabus states, “explores the history of the United States in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries through the lens of the life, music and lyrics of Bruce Springsteen.”

Campbell and his 21 students meet Monday and Wednesday afternoons in a nondescript classroom in Rechnitz Hall bereft of any signs of Springsteen-mania but equipped with an overhead sound system that Campbell uses to play snippets of the songs, like the sparse piano and harmonica intro to “Thunder Road,” the opening track to his critically-acclaimed commercial breakthrough album from 1975, “Born to Run.”

The main textbook is Springsteen’s 2016 autobiography, also titled “Born to Run,” which Campbell used to validate the course itself and his academic discipline.

Read the entire piece here.

Will Springsteen Tour with the E Street Band in 2020?


The rumors may not be true. Here is Chris Jordan at the Asbury Park Press:

A band album and tour in 2020 seemed like a sure thing a few months ago, but now band members are making other plans for the upcoming year.

“Let’s just say I thought I was going to be busier than I am,” said Little Steven Van Zandt Wednesday, Feb. 12 on Sirius XM’s E Street Radio channel. “So at the moment, 2020 seems to have opened up.”

Van Zandt was replying to a question about his upcoming plans.

Max Weinberg is also making other plans for 2020.

Read the rest here.

A Class on Bruce Springsteen Will Be Offered at Monmouth University


Springsteen and the E Street Band, 1977 (Wikipedia)

Monmouth University in Freehold, New Jersey is the home of the Bruce Springsteen Archives.  It thus makes sense that the university is offering a course on the life and music of The Boss.  In the Spring 2020 semester history professor Kenneth Campbell will offer “Bruce Springsteen’s America: Land of Hope and Dreams” (HS-398-01).  Here is a taste of Mark Marrone’s article at the Monmouth University student newspaper:

As universities across New Jersey offered classes on Springsteen, Eileen Chapman, Director of The Bruce Springsteen Archives, felt that we were long overdue for a course on The Boss.

“Over the past eight years many professors who teach Springsteen courses have visited the archives to conduct research and prepare course materials. They have come from various colleges and universities throughout New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania but also from Rome, Italy and Canada,” said Chapman.

Chapman brought this up to Campbell, which left him, “dismayed to hear that,” said Campbell. “I have been a huge fan of Bruce for many years and given our location and his generosity in donating his archive to us, I certainly think he (and our students) deserve a course dedicated to his musical legacy.”

Luckily, Chapman mentioned the idea to the right person who could ‘Prove It All Night.’ “Having taught courses on the Beatles for the past ten years, people had frequently asked me why I didn’t teach a course on Bruce Springsteen. I finally decided I needed to do it, if no one else on the faculty is interested,” said Campbell.

Campbell has been a fan of Springsteen’s work throughout most of his life and he wants to share this appreciation to students in the course.

He stated, “[Springsteen’s] music has accompanied me on my life journey for the past 45 years and been a constant through all the growth and experiences of my life.”

Campbell continued, “It has influenced me, informed me, taught me, made me think, and inspired me. I am sure I am not alone in this feeling and think it must be very rare for an artist to have that kind of effect on people’s lives over such a long period of time.”

Campbell intends to teach the course through a historical lens. “I decided to develop a history course because of how much Bruce’s lyrics focus on the history of the United States and how much his life reflects and relates to the past 70 years of that history,” he said.

The course will focus on a wide range of historical events and will feature materials you can buy at your local record store.

“In my syllabus, I intertwine units on past history and topics such as the Great Depression or the American West with units on recent history related to Bruce’s life and music. I have built the course around Bruce’s own songs and writings, including his autobiography, Born to Run, and books about Bruce and his connections to the American tradition,” Campbell stated.

Read the entire piece here.

Angela Merkel Once Dreamed of Driving Around the United States Listening to Bruce Springsteen

President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the G7 Summit, Krün, Germany, June 2015

Two Springsteen fans: President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the G7 Summit, Krün, Germany, June 2015

Here is Angela Merkel, in an interview with Der Spiegel, reflecting on her life in East Germany before the Berlin Wall fell:

DER SPIEGEL: Germany is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Imagine, if you will, that the wall had never come down and East Germany (GDR) was celebrating the 70th anniversary of its founding this autumn. What do you think would have become of you?

Merkel: We certainly wouldn’t be here talking to each other. That much is clear.

DER SPIEGEL: And what would you be doing?

Merkel: I would have at least been able to realize my dream. In East Germany, women retired at 60, so I would have picked up my passport five years ago and traveled to America. Pensioners were allowed to travel outside of East Germany. Those who were no longer needed as socialist workers were allowed out.

DER SPIEGEL: The United States was your dream destination?

Merkel: Of course, I would also have spent some time looking around West Germany. But I wanted my first longer trip to be to America because of its size, variety and culture. I wanted to see the Rocky Mountains, drive around in a car and listen to Bruce Springsteen. That was my dream.

DER SPIEGEL: In a huge American cruiser?

Merkel: No, I prefer smaller cars. But it would certainly have been something better than a Trabant.

Read the entire interview here.

Did Bruce Springsteen Bring Down the Berlin Wall?


Of course he did. 😉

Here is Erik Kirschbaum’s piece at the Los Angeles Times:

Springsteen’s July 19, 1988, concert, the largest in East German history, reflected the growing thirst for freedom of young people inside East Germany, which, unlike other Eastern European countries warming to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms, had continued to clamp down on its citizens.

Some 160,000 managed to get tickets to see the Boss, but more than 100,000 stormed the gates, Woodstock style, shortly before the show — an astonishing act of defiance at a time when East German police still routinely used force.

“The show in East Berlin was a major moment for us…. It was one of our greatest shows,” Springsteen said in an interview with German TV network WDR in 2016. “It was just the stakes involved. The band tends to play well when the stakes are very high. We knew going into East Berlin at that time that we were rolling the dice quite a bit. And then the amount of people that showed up … it was an epic evening for us. It just seemed like a very important show to play….”

In any case, authorities hoped Springsteen’s appearance would pacify restless East Germans clamoring for more reforms, freedoms and rock ’n’ roll.

But Springsteen decided he would try to set the record straight about his motive with a short, powerful speech in German, which he had scrawled on a piece of paper: “I’m not here for or against any government. I’ve come to play rock ’n’ roll for you in the hope that one day all the barriers will be torn down.”

The crowd erupted in joy, fully understanding Springsteen’s reference. Some later said that it was a message they had been waiting their whole lives to hear.

Read the entire piece here.

*Western Stars*: A Brief Review

I”ve now seen Bruce Springsteen’s new movie Western Stars twice.  Last Wednesday night I attended one of the advanced showings with Joy and on Saturday night I saw it with Joy and my daughters (and my daughter’s roommate’s boyfriend) in Grand Rapids.  I’m not sure how to describe the genre of this movie.  Producer Thomas Zimny called it part concert and part documentary.  Springsteen plays through the entire “Western Stars” album from the top floor of a horse barn on his family farm.  It is an incredible space.  There is room for a small audience, a bar, a full band, and a 30-piece orchestra.  I want one of these barns! 🙂

Following the performance of each song on the album the scene shifts to Joshua Tree National Park in California where Springsteen sets-up the next song through his trademark storytelling.  In one interview he described these as short movies.   Looking weathered from the sun and occasionally wearing a cowboy hat, Springsteen wonders around the desert leading a horse through the shrub or staring into the sunset. In some scenes he drives a blue El Camino along the park’s dusty roads.  Many of them are integrated with old Springsteen family movies.

The desert provides the backdrop for Springsteen’s musings on family, roots, marriage (his relationship with Patti Scialfa is featured prominently), aging, depression, and his own journal of personal transformation.  There is something deeply spiritual about this movie.  Springsteen spent most of his earlier career running, but for the past three decades he has been on a journey home.  In Western Stars he describes, in a way that goes deeper than even his memoir and Broadway show, his daily struggle to come to overcome the “destructive parts” of his character and his quest to live a life of integrity and honor.

This movie is not only entertaining, but it will feed your soul.  It is a gift.

Springsteen on Learning to Let Go of the “Destructive Parts of My Character”

I saw Western Stars last night and I hope to blog about it soon.  I am still getting my thoughts together.  In the meantime, here is the first part of Springsteen’s conversation with CBS’s Gayle King:

In the second part, scheduled to run tomorrow morning, Springsteen comments on Donald Trump: “The stewardship of the nation…has been thrown away to somebody who doesn’t have a clue as to what that means …And unfortunately, we have somebody who I feel doesn’t have a grasp of the deep meaning of what it means to be an American.”