You expect rock stars to be liberal, even stridently leftist. Like movie stars, they don’t experience reality the way you and I do because they are hedged off from it behind phalanxes of security guards and ridiculous income levels. And their heedless naivety is, in a way, part of their childlike Peter Pan charm; they never outgrow their angry-high-schooler phase because in most cases they went directly from high school to show business.
Take Bruce Springsteen, who has been a professional musician since his late teens and has never held any other meaningful job. Springsteen sees himself as a liberal tribune of the working class in the mold of John Steinbeck and Woody Guthrie, and his humble working-man shtick is appealing enough. His increasingly politically pointed songs aren’t his best work, but he has every right to perform them, though they threaten to cost him fans who don’t necessarily go to a rock concert in pursuit of nakedly partisan and somewhat droning appeals.
What he should not do is what he does on his latest album, which is to advocate violent revolution, class-and-politics-based bloodshed, and the murder of bankers and perhaps other capitalists.
Surely I’m exaggerating? I wish I were.
The Springsteen album released March 6th contains some of the most inflammatory and inexcusable rhetoric ever heard in a major pop star’s work. Even the 1960s upheavalists were rarely this reprehensible.
To celebrate the ascendancy of Barack Obama, in 2008 Springsteen wrote a song in praise of, and to, the then-presidential candidate. In “Working on a Dream,” Springsteen sang, “Out here the nights are long, the days are lonely I think of you and I’m working on a dream.” It’s a bouncy ditty — not much of a song compared to his shadowy epics like “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” — but even those who didn’t vote for Obama hoped he would be a good president.
Now Springsteen evidently feels his dream has been betrayed, and instead of blaming Obama, the “you” he sang to in 2008, he blames…Wall Street.
The new album quickly proceeds to a series of savage denunciations and explicit calls for violence.
On the second track, which is called “Easy Money,” Springsteen sings:
There’s nothing to it mister, you won’t hear a sound
When your whole world comes tumbling down
And all them fat cats they just think it’s funny
I’m going on the town now looking for easy money
I got a Smith & Wesson .38
I got a hellfire burning and I got me a taste…
True, Springsteen has written many times about lowlifes and crime — songs like “Atlantic City,” “Johnny 99” and “Meeting Across the River.” Often these songs are in the first person. But it was always completely obvious that a character, not Springsteen, was talking. Springsteen himself has never been a gangster, never urged these songs on his audience as imperatives.
With the new album, though, Springsteen has openly credited his inspiration to Occupy Wall Street, whose inclination toward anger and violence quickly became apparent. So the sentiments he expresses on the album are closely linked to (in fact indistinguishable from) his actual persona.
Continuing in OWS style, in “Shackled and Drawn” Springsteen sings,
Gambling man rolls the dice, working man pays the bills
It’s still fat and easy up on bankers hill
Up on bankers hill the party’s going strong
Down here below we’re shackled and drawn
Growing more explicit, on “Jack of All Trades,” which is narrated by a laborer, perhaps an illegal immigrant, Springsteen sings:
The banker man grows fatter, the working man grows thin
It’s all happened before and it’ll happen again
It’ll happen again, they’ll bet your life
I’m a Jack of all trades and, darling, we’ll be alright
Now sometimes tomorrow comes soaked in treasure and blood…
So you use what you’ve got, and you learn to make do
You take the old, you make it new
If I had me a gun, I’d find the bastards and shoot ’em on sight.
On the most incendiary song on Wrecking Ball, “Death to My Hometown,” whose title sounds like some sort of al-Qaeda parody of eighties-era Springsteen, the Boss ventures even further. The song sounds like a traditional Irish fighting anthem, and he apparently feels that the old-timey feel gives him cover to say exactly what he’s thinking about how bankers — “vultures,” “marauders,” “greedy thieves” and flesh-eaters — allegedly came to town and ruined everything:
No cannonball did fly
nor rifles cut us down
no bombs fell from the sky
no blood soaked the ground
…but just as sure as the hand o’ God
they brought death to my hometown
…they destroyed our families’ factories
and they took our homes
they left our bodies
on the plains
the vultures picked our bones…
At this point Springsteen urges his audience to shoot the evildoers.
So listen up my sonny boy
be ready when they come
for they’ll be returning
sure as the rising sun
…send the robber barons straight to hell
To make it clear how the robber barons should be sent to hell, the song climaxes with the sound of a rifle or shotgun being cocked and fired.
Springsteen’s meaning couldn’t be clearer, and though he will no doubt claim that his words aren’t meant to be taken literally, he has millions of devoted followers hanging on his every word. How would he feel if someone acted on his bloodthirsty directives? At the very least, Springsteen should apologize, recall the album, and edit out the sound of the gunfire, and maybe the line “If I had me a gun, I’d find the bastards and shoot ’em on sight” as well.
No conservative or Republican entertainer could escape outrage and condemnation after issuing such a naked appeal to kill anyone by whom they feel victimized, and Springsteen should know that shooting bankers isn’t the solution to the failed promise of the Obama presidency.