Springsteen‘s ’authentic’ (whatever that means in pop terms) blue collar New Jersey background probably carried him through a lot of over-romanticised attd flimsy characters. Even when he sang about having his back against the wall. he did it with such cocky bravado that it was hard to believe it.
The road was the yottng Springsteen‘s most potent symbol. and represented the endless promise of the future. the chance to follow your
Springsteen’s ‘authentic’ blue collar New Jersey background probably carried him through a lot of over-
romanticised and flimsy characters.
Even when he sang about having his
back against the wall, he did it with
such cocky bravado that it was hard to believe it.
dreams and rebuild your life. How tarnished its lustre now. By the time we get to 1987. we see Tunnel ()flmw‘s ‘C‘autious .\'lan‘ automatically striding down to the highway to escape frotn a situation he doesn‘t feel he can cope. with. But ‘When he got there he didn't find nothing but road.‘
()n The (i/msr ()_/"l‘nni loud. the road has been expunged of all romance. People hit it otit of desperation. transients in a new Depression humming around the country for temporary menial work. when they can get it — so vulnerable that they run the risk of being senselessly murdered as they lie beneath the stars.
The recurrent symbol itt Springsteen‘s new work is the immigrant. the refugee. and in place of the highway is the border. There‘s even a song ‘:\cross The Border". born of dreams that the grass really will be greener on the other side. But because of where it‘s placed on the album. three songs from the end. we‘ve seen enough to predict the outcome. The dark cloud hangs too low and heavy for its silver lining to look like anything but fools‘ gold.
The more rounded and accomplished of these songs are among the most evocative Springsteen‘s ever written. In ‘The Line‘. an army veteran takes a job as a border guard and falls for an illegal immigrant called Louisa. He helps her get her child and brother across only to realise he‘s been a patsy for drug smugglers. After the experience. he leaves the service but haunts local bars. still obsessed with the woman who was his downfall.
‘(ialveston Bay" tells the story of a Vietnamese refugee living in Texas who‘s forced to shoot two racist attackers in self- defence. Billy Stttter. another of the war veterans who proliferate in Springsteen‘s songs. decides to kill him in reprisal. but at the last moment sticks his knife back into his pocket rather than into Le Bin Son’s back. No words are wasted to explain Sutter’s change of heart. and. given the album's starkly-structured songs. none are necessary.
All these underdogs are linked by the spectral figure of Tom Joad. Played by Henry l‘onda in John Ford‘s version of 77W Grapes ()f ll’rur/z. .load was a working class militant. champion of the oppressed. Springsteen has referred to Steinbeck before. but never on such a scale. He's never seemed so close to filling that Woody Guthrie-shaped hole iti American culture either. though — even given his perennial man-of-the-people appeal. the fact that he's
played benefits for strikers. encouraged food banks and campaigned for human rights — he‘d doubtless shrink from it.
In WOO. he took to introducing ‘.\'ebraska‘ live with the words. ‘l’ve always been fighting between feeling really isolated and looking to make some connection or find sortie community to belong to.’ ('ommunity. whether of a family or a wider group. has always been his tnain concern. and now as a songwriter he’s poking around the real fringes of his nation‘s extended family. But for some time after Born In The USA. years which saw him marry twice arid succumb to the lure of l.os Angelcs. he wrote mainly about relationships. "cause that‘s what I was trying to sort out’. The experience broadened his scope and depth. but it also led to the dottble set of Human Your/i and Lucky 7min. generally reckoned to be his worst albums ever.
Consequently. ‘Streets 01‘ Philadelphia‘. written for .lonathan Demme‘s film /’/u'/u(/('//i/n'u. was greeted like the resumption
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN FEATURE
of tablet production on Mount Sinai. The two brand-new tracks recorded with the reformed F. Street Band on his Greatest Hits last year seemed to confirm that. after a fallow period. he was back on track.
Interestingly. although The (Inns! (2/ Tom ./()(1(/ is largely a solo effort. Springsteen recently said that he brought the F. Street Band back together because ‘they were symbols of what I wrote about. I realised that they represented trust and loyalty. friendship and community. The power of companionship. That they were a bridge between my work and my audience.‘ lt's widely believed that he’ll reform the batid properly after his current tour. but there's no such thing as certainty in Bruceland. .lust the suspicion that. with the value of more than two decades’ experience shining out of his work. he could tackle just about anything now. The stage is set.
Bruce .S'/n'1’ng.vlven p/uys‘ I/u' l’lrrvlunrs‘e 'I‘Iu’ulrc. lir/in/nn'g/i on Sunday 3 rl/larc/i.
Bruce Springsteen: close to titling that Woody Guthrie-shaped hole in American culture
The List 23 Feb-7 Mar NW» 15