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Springsteen The Phony

For the record, I have no opinion whatsoever of Bruce Springsteen, whose music I could take or leave. But boy, Leon Wieseltier sure is on fire in an essay claiming that Springsteen is washed-up. For example: The musical decline of Bruce Springsteen has been obvious for decades. The sanctimony, the grandiosity, the utterly formulaic monumentality; […]

For the record, I have no opinion whatsoever of Bruce Springsteen, whose music I could take or leave. But boy, Leon Wieseltier sure is on fire in an essay claiming that Springsteen is washed-up. For example:

The musical decline of Bruce Springsteen has been obvious for decades. The sanctimony, the grandiosity, the utterly formulaic monumentality; the witlessness; the tiresome recycling of those anthemic figures, each time more preposterously distended; the disappearance of intimacy and the rejection of softness. And the sexlessness: Remnick adores Springsteen for his “flagrant exertion,” which he finds deeply sensual, comparing him to James Brown, but Brown’s shocking intensity, his gaudy stamina, his sea of sweat, was about, well, fu–ing, whereas Springsteen “wants his audience to leave the arena, as he commands them, ‘with your hands hurting, your feet hurting, your back hurting, your voice sore, and your sexual organs stimulated!’ ”, which is how you talk dirty at Whole Foods. Remnick lauds him also for his “exuberance,” which is indeed preternatural. I was twice at The Bottom Line in August 1975 and I have never been in a happier room. But there is nothing daft or insouciant, nothing crazy free, about Springsteen’s exuberance anymore. The joy is programmatic; it is mere uplift, another expression of social responsibility, a further statement of an idealism that borders on illusion. The rising? Not quite yet. We take care of our own? No, we do not. Nothing has damaged Springsteen’s once-magnificent music more than his decision to become a spokesman for America. He is Howard Zinn with a guitar. The wounded workers in his songs do not have the authenticity of acquaintance; they are pious hackneyed tropes, stereotypical class martyrs from Guthrie and Steinbeck. Springsteen’s sympathy is genuine, but his people are not. His 9/11 and recession songs are bloated editorials: “where’s the promise from sea to shining sea?” His anger that “the banker man grows fat” is too holy: “if I had a gun, I’d find the bastards and shoot ‘em on sight” is not a “liberal insistence.” I prefer Dodd-Frank. The drawl in his voice is a production value, the grit a mannerism. A few minutes with one of Johnny Cash’s last records and it is impossible to take Springsteen’s vernacular seriously. A few minutes with Lucinda Williams (who is perilously close to becoming a prisoner of her own mannerisms) and the costs of preferring sermons to experiences are clear. When was the last time Springsteen wrote a song as moving and true as Alejandro Escovedo’s “Down in the Bowery”?

“Which is how you talk dirty at Whole Foods.” Oh, man, it burns, it burns…

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