I promised myself this morning that I wouldn’t write about David Brooks, Bruce Springsteen, or the state of New Jersey. But I’m in New Jersey as I write, and David Brooks has written about Bruce Springsteen (as he is wont to do, bless his heart).
So much for that.
Apparently Brooks, having heard “you’ve never really seen a Bruce Springsteen concert until you’ve seen one in Europe,” saw some shows in Europe and France and came away amazed not just by the music but by Europeans’ rabid response to it:
How was it that so many people in such a faraway place can be so personally committed to the deindustrializing landscape from New Jersey to Nebraska, the world Springsteen sings about? How is it they can be so enraptured at the mere mention of the Meadowlands or the Stone Pony, an Asbury Park, N.J., nightclub?
My best theory is this: When we are children, we invent these detailed imaginary worlds that the child psychologists call “paracosms.” These landscapes, sometimes complete with imaginary beasts, heroes and laws, help us orient ourselves in reality. They are structured mental communities that help us understand the wider world.
Oh. My. God.
Maybe there’s something to this. Brooks is a smart guy. But “paracosms”? “Structured mental communities”? Really?
There’s a far simpler explanation for all of this: Rock concerts are better when audiences are not dominated by the middle-aged, steak-and-shrimp-munching American corporate class. This fact easily escapes the notice of wealthy baby boomers of Brooks’s vintage. I’m going to take a wild leap here and assume that Brooks hasn’t seen, say, the Hold Steady play in venues like Washington’s 9:30 Club or Baltimore’s Rams Head Live. If it’s youthful fanaticism Brooks is looking for, he needn’t have flown to Europe; he could simply have crossed the Potomac.
The power of “paracosms,” Brooks surmises, is “why younger rock bands can’t fill stadiums year after year, while the more geographically defined older bands like U2, Springsteen and the Beach Boys can.”
That’s crazy. Young rock bands can’t fill stadiums any more for the same reason newspapers are going out of business: The music industry that once had a stranglehold on content distribution is dying, and so can’t produce superstars like it once did. Brooks also fails to mention stadium-fillers like Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones, who don’t fit into his pet theory of geographic particularity.
Speaking of the Stones, I confess I once pulled a David Brooks myself — on my honeymoon, no less. I had heard the same thing about European audiences and traveled to Barcelona to see the Stones in 2003. To hear young fans replacing the soccer chant “Ole!” with “Charlie!” in honor of drummer of Charlie Watts … well, let’s just say it was worth the trip.
These fans were not living virtually in “structured mental communities.” They were there because, like Bruce Springsteen, the Stones are very popular — and they could afford a ticket. Big acts like U2, the Stones, and Springsteen can’t command the same ticket prices abroad as they do in America. Consequently they draw younger and more enthusiastic fans there.
I’ll end with the observation that if David Brooks really wanted to see irrepressible rock fanaticism, he should’ve gone to South America instead of Europe. In my rough estimation, countries like Brazil and Argentina culturally lag behind America and Europe by a good 30 or 40 years. They still greet our geezers with Beatlemania-like energy: