Way back, before even Abe Vigoda was born, there used to be people named minstrels. These people would travel around playing songs about historic events or distant places. There was also a group of people, back in the day, named troubadours. The troubadours would recite poetry or sing songs about stuff, much like the minstrel or maybe even a bard, which was a person who rich people would pay to write poems about stuff.
Then, shortly before and directly after the birth of Abe Vigoda, guys like Woody Guthrie, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, and Pete Seeger would travel around America and sing songs, often about leftist politics, but sometimes about historic events or distant places. These dudes were called folk singers. Now, we can’t really be certain about the minstrels, bards, and troubadours, but one can be certain that at some point around the beginning of Abe Vigoda’s life these folk singers began to feel a sense of responsibility to their fellow man.
I don’t know how they got it into their weirdo, booze addled, ramblin’ minds that some of those songs that they sang might alter the way the people listening might think about things, but for some reason they did. So, these traveling freak shows started writing and singing songs that they intended to make people think about things in ways that might help them, make them feel better, or make the world a better place. Mock them if you will, but I think even the most cynical creep among us will have to admit that “This Land is Your Land” or “We Shall Overcome” have had a pretty big impact in our American culture and still do.
So, what does a songwriter or singer who feels that sense of responsibility to his fellow man do as he starts getting older and figures out that popular song is primarily a young man’s game. Woody Guthrie didn’t have to worry about it because Huntington’s disease made his career choices for him while he was still a young man. Ramblin’ Jack Elliot and Pete Seeger just kept on going as their popularity and productivity rose and fell through the decades.
A lot of singers and songwriters have felt that sense of responsibility to their fellow man since the days of a young Abe Vigoda. Some of them gained massive fame as pop singers before singing their social responsibility songs like Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, or John Lennon. Some of them rose to fame with political messages like Public Enemy, Bob Dylan, and Rage Against the Machine, but pop culture has a lower tolerance for politics than it does for love songs and those artists either had to adapt by learning to write love songs or fall from the heights of fame that they once knew. Yet, many have been able to maintain respectable music careers.
The Boss, Bruce [mother@#$%ing] Springsteen’s career has been a mix of both of those two types. Springsteen became kinda famous for writing songs that sounded like 60’s Dylan (“Blinded by the Light”) and performing like Sam and Dave. However, The Boss got REALLY famous for writing and singing songs about New Jersey dreamers pulling out of towns full of losers to win and performing like Sam and Dave. Then he became REALLY REALLY famous for writing a political song about a Vietnam veteran and performing like Sam and Dave on performance enhancing substances.
At some point in Springsteen’s career he must have either felt a sense of responsibility to write songs that make the world a better place or become a master of imitating singer/songwriters who make the world a better place. I happen to be of the opinion that The Boss is a true believer. He believes in kindness. He believes in social responsibility. He believes in truth. He believes in justice. He believes in what he believes is the American way.
His popularity has risen and fallen in ways that Pete Seeger (one of his heroes) could only imagine, but throughout it all The Boss has continued to write songs with that sense of responsibility to his fellow man. Whether he is telling the story of immigrants dying in a meth lab explosion (“Sinaloa Cowboys”), families looking out for each other (“Highway Patrolman”), Tom Hanks dying of AIDS in a cruel judgmental environment (“The Streets of Philadelphia”), the death of the American dream (“My Hometown”), or its triumphant rebirth (“The Rising”), The Boss has been consistently delivering for nearly half of Abe Vigoda’s long ass life.
One can pretty much count on Springsteen responding to any major event in his American life and his new album “Wrecking Ball” does just that. This is Springsteen’s answer to the financial collapse and the ongoing economic trials and tribulations of his beloved birthplace. The first song, the one he performed at the Grammys with the E Street Band (missing the “Big Man” Clarence Clemons – underrated musical giant of his time), is called “We Take Care of Our Own” and it is probably the least amazing song on the new album.
“We Take Care of Our Own” is patriotic, but it sounds as if it could be mistaken for nationalism. However, The Boss’ love for America is more akin to Yeats’ love of Ireland or Walt Whitman’s love of America. It is a real and inclusive love that can be critical and sometimes hard to maintain, but it is about the land, people, and ideals of our “Great Experiment.” He is appealing to what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.” I can’t speak for Mr. Springsteen, but I think he just wants you to volunteer at a soup kitchen, donate to a food bank, give blood, and vote.
“Rocky Ground” is my favorite track on this new album (I’m kinda weird). It includes a rap (don’t worry he doesn’t rap, somebody else does). I also love “Land of Hope and Dreams,” “Shackled and Drawn,” and “Jack of All Trades,” but there is not a bad song on the record. This is the best music that the man has made since 2007’s “Magic” (which is definitely in my top 5 Boss albums).
The reason why Bruce Springsteen, and often times the awesome E Street Band, has continued to write and sing songs for so many years to varying degrees of success is because The Boss is INSPIRED and he wants to inspire you. It is obvious that the guy feels a sense of responsibility to his fellow human beings. He will continue to write great songs until Huntington’s disease takes him or he gets too old to hold a pen because he is a true believer in the things that he believes in and the world could always use people who believe in kindness, truth, and justice.
I have always felt sorry for people who don’t get The Boss. My generation missed out on “Born to Run,” and “Born in the U.S.A.” Casual listeners have never really given him a chance because he hasn’t fallen into any recent trends since the early 90’s. The hipsters abandoned him in the early 70’s, picked him back up in the early to mid 00’s, and dropped him again after Arcade Fire won the Grammy for best album. If you don’t get The Boss you are really only hurting yourself. The man just wants to inspire you. He just wants to make the world a better place.
When Miller isn’t teaching fish how to swim upstream, you may find him sitting cross legged in his grandmother’s rocking chair, smoking a 100 year old porcelain pipe, Sennheisers over his ears, merrily yet purposefully rocking away his blues. The results of which become words on this page.