Greetings From The Asbury Park Wal-Mart

As I wrote in November about Bruce Springsteen:

To borrow from the vernacular of The Boss’s early ’70s glory days (to coin a phrase), has any musician become more Establishment than Springsteen?


Over at Andrew Breitbart’s “Big Hollywood” salon, Nick Gillespie of Reason magazine (who, like me, grew up in New Jersey in the middle of Springsteen mania) makes it official–and asks, “did Janet Jackson’s nipple really condemn us to a lifetime of Super Sunday misery?”

To be fair it’s the Super Bowl halftime show–whether it’s Up With People or a corporate dinosaur rock star, it’s supposed to be miserable. But at least Up With People was honest in its own relentless polyester cheer. Springsteen will be singing to 66,000 people who have paid thousands of dollars to be in attendance, and tens of millions watching the game in their warm suburban homes in Dolby Digital Surround Sound on 52-inch rear projection HDTVs about how Dickensian the nihilistic purgatorial Hell the American existence is. Gillespie adds:

I will say this much in anticipation of the composer of “Mary, Queen of Arkansas” performing this weekend: I grew up in Monmouth County, New Jersey, which contains both Springsteen’s hometown (Freehold) and his early haunt (Asbury Park), so I can’t stand him in the same way that only a New Yorker can really, really hate the Yankees. I think that even his biggest fans will admit that his output over the past 25 years or so would make even Beethoven nostalgic for the first few albums. Springsteen is in that elite group of rock stars who have objectively sucked two, three, or even four times longer than they were ever any good (are you listening Sting, David Bowie, R.E.M., Patti Smith?). That, and in the video for “Glory Days,” he had the worst fake baseball throwing arm since Gary Cooper in Pride of the Yankees. Which is saying something.

Watching Springsteen perform at the Super Bowl–and before him, rock mummies like Tom Petty and Rolling Stones–let’s just say I’d rather go straight to the Bodies exhibition, where at least no one is pretending that the corpses on display aren’t actually dead.


But then, as Mark Steyn notes, (quoting from another “Big Hollywood” essay), “for half-a-century now rock has very successfully been ‘both establishment and anti-establishment'”:

In fact, “a rebellious underdog distributed by the status quo” is the very definition of rock: All those fellows calling for revolution while contracted to Capitol, Columbia, EMI., Warner Bros – the exact same companies running the music biz back in the days when Glenn Miller and Bing Crosby were where the big bucks were. A few years ago the Warner Megabehemoth Globocorp launched a rap label called “Maverick”, and nobody laughed.

Rockers attending the Obama inauguration are like visiting royalty at a Bourbon or Habsburg wedding. By the way, over the years I’ve met kings, princesses, dukes and all the rest, and none of ’em were as hung up on precedence as the aristorockracy. A decade or so back, Sting had to issue a formal apology because at one of his big save-the-rainforest banquets at his country pile he committed the ghastly social faux pas of seating Jools Holland (of the band Squeeze) next to some no-name session musician. In Britain, these guys all live in stately homes, and any of their number who makes it to 50 without choking on his own vomit or being found face down in the swimming pool gets knighted – Sir Elton John, Sir Mick Jagger, Sir Paul McCartney, etc. Obama’s pal Bono has a knighthood. You say you want a revolution? Sorry I’m having tea with the Prince of Wales that day.


Or apologizing to your fan base on the left for — gasp! — selling records in Wal-Mart.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that–though of course, as Billy Joel said to John Cougar Mellancamp when the latter man was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, “You’re right, John, this is still our country and we’ll always be victims of powerful people.”

No matter how many tens of millions they stuff into your bank account.


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