Bruce Springsteen: The 'Boss' of Mediocrity (Amended)
By Palash R. Ghosh | March 13, 2012 12:13 AM EST
Bruce Springsteen has come out with a new album, an event that gladdens the hearts of millions of his fans in the United States and around the globe. (Indeed, his new album “Wrecking Ball” is already topping the charts in the United Kingdom).
With a recording career spanning almost four decades, including several top 10 singles; 17 albums, at least 60 million LPs sold in the U.S. alone, and hundreds of sold-out concerts, Bruce is a bona fide rock-and-roll superstar and pop culture giant.
He's also the worst, most boring and overrated “rock star” in history.
Taking into account that musical tastes are extremely subjective and “unquantifiable” exercises, allow me to state that I find Bruce's music tuneless, uninspiring, derivative, uncreative, unmoving, tiresome, dull, repetitive, pointless, cloying, forgettable and wholly lacking in either musical quality or originality.
To be fair to Springsteen, I will concede that he's no worse than hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other rock musicians and pop groups who somehow secured recording contracts and pollute the airwaves with equally horrid musical sludge.
Indeed, for every truly great artist like David Bowie, The Beatles or Bob Dylan, there are scores and scores of mediocre performers who exist solely to fill the seemingly unquenchable demand for music from the public.
But what separates Springsteen from this huge grey mass of equally mediocre artists is that he has -- somehow, miraculously, inexplicably -- enjoyed a lengthy career blessed with widespread acclaim and adoration.
Before all you Bruce-lovers pour your hatred and scorn upon me, let me declare that I'm well aware that Springsteen has a veritable army of devoted fans, that he's reportedly a nice man who has raised a fine family and donates to charities.
But none of that has any bearing on the quality of his music, which is absolutely putrid.
His lyrics are insipid and simple-minded -- while he is attempting to make the same declarations about American society as Bob Dylan did 40 or 50 years ago, Bruce's work completely lacks Dylan's irony, humor, grandeur and sheer poetry.
Moreover, what song has Springsteen written that could remotely be compared to such immortal rock classics as “Hey Jude,” “Satisfaction,” “Space oddity,” “Like a rolling stone,” and “My generation”? Is Bruce really even in the same ballpark – or the same galaxy in terms of power and quality?
Some would argue that the very fact of Bruce's longevity supports the notion of the value and integrity of his music. To that point, I'd respond that many dubious “artists” and celebrities have enjoyed lengthy careers and broad acclaim -- within and outside of the pop music realm. The present culture is awash in mediocrity.
However, what truly infuriates me most about Springsteen (aside from his puzzling popularity and success) is the way he seeks to portray himself as a “voice” for the dispossessed and blue-collar Americans whose jobs, lifestyles and aspirations have been wiped out by the decline of manufacturing and by corporate greed.
Need I point out the hypocrisy of a multi-millionaire like Bruce claiming to “represent” the poor and working class?
Need I also point out how Bruce himself has extravagantly prospered in a capitalist economic system he has repeatedly condemned as “unfair,” “cruel” and “exploitative”?
Does he really “feel the pain” and struggles of the country's poor and working classes?
Even John Lennon (a great songwriter, of course, but also a rank hypocrite in many respects) admitted late in his life that the militant left-wing “activism” he once espoused was largely phony and driven by the guilt and embarrassment he felt having amassed such enormous wealth.
Would Bruce – who is worth at least $100 million, perhaps much more – ever make such a dramatic, cathartic admission?
His whole “image” and “persona” is intimately intertwined with his self-styled identification with the working class and their problems.
Such a confession would bring his entire lucrative business empire down like a house of cards.
Moreover, this “blue-collar” image that Bruce has embraced turned into an artistic straitjacket for him, preventing him from changing or evolving his musical style. (On the other hand, he really never had the talent to pursue any kind of versatility).
Bruce seems to be obsessed with being an updated (and better-looking) version of Bob Dylan, or even a modern-day Woody Guthrie – but he comes off as a shrill, third-rate imitation copy.
In addition, there exists a hilariously wide gulf between Bruce's leftist politics and the views of a broad swath of his mostly white male fan base. Bruce espouses a decidedly anti-authoritarian, anti-corporate, anti-conservative, anti-Republican Party stance -- however, many of his most devoted fans find such political views offensive and absurd.
This became crystal clear to me in 1984 when President Ronald Reagan (and many of Bruce's fans) misconstrued the lyrics of “Born in the USA” as a “patriotic anthem” (when that dreary, tuneless dirge was actually about the problems and sorrow of a Vietnam veteran).
I believe this “confusion” over Bruce's “message” has lasted all these years and partially contributes to his adulation.
I also recall during the 2008 presidential election when Bruce endorsed Barack Obama and appeared at a campaign stop with the then-Illinois senator somewhere outside Philadelphia.
It was a surreal moment – the Harvard elitist and “community organizer” (who never worked a single day at a real job in his entire life) and the aging, washed-up, filthy-rich rock star speaking up on behalf of the “common people.” The hypocrisy was so overwhelming it nearly choked the skies above Pennsylvania.
There's yet another – perhaps insidious – element to Springsteen's enduring popularity.
Bruce is one of the few prominent white American rock-and-roll stars still standing. As hip-hop climbed to prominence in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s, many white fans clung tighter to Springsteen as being “one of them.”
Indeed, Bruce represented a familiar and comforting “white symbol” amidst a pop music culture landscape increasingly populated by black rappers and others.
I know white Springsteen fans that have referred to purely racial considerations to defend their attachment to him.
Bruce himself is reportedly an avowed anti-racist who would probably be appalled by such sentiments – but, having to walk a fine line, he can't afford to alienate a significant portion of his record-buying and concert-attending fans.
Also, consider the period when Bruce emerged as a superstar. While his recording career commenced in the mid-1970s, he didn’t ascend to the top of the business until the 1980s.
Do you remember the 1980s? I certainly do.
It marked the end of the classic period of innovative, exciting rock-and-roll groups and ushered in short-lived movements like Punk, New Wave and others. The old rock dinosaurs like the Rolling Stones, The Who, Paul McCartney, Dylan, Bowie and others were still churning out one wretched album after another (selling millions largely on name recognition and the public’s unquenchable thirst for nostalgia).
There were only a handful of decent rock bands around, including The Police, Van Halen and others, but they were not long for this world and would not survive the decade intact.
Meanwhile, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” album sold so many copies that it completely changed the landscape of pop music, perhaps permanently. Jackson’s huge, almost unprecedented, success, threw a damaging blow to “mainstream” rock and roll from which it has never really recovered. (The grunge movement of the 1990s, featuring stellar bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and a few others, offered a brief respite, but didn’t last and simply could not battle the onslaught of slick, overtly-commercial acts like Jackson, Madonna, Prince and a slew of others).
However, there was one who survived this cataclysmic change in the tastes of the record-buying public – “The Boss.”
Springsteen (perhaps by dumb luck) stepped into the void of the 1980s -- a graveyard as far as traditional rock was concerned. With few, if any, competition or peers, Bruce ascended to superstar status (and has kept it ever since, while rock-and-roll has pretty much collapsed). Perfect timing for Bruce -- but rather a hollow victory for a man of such dubious talents.
Bruce is now 62 – SIXTY-TWO – just three years away from the mandatory retirement age for most of us and clearly qualifies as a “senior citizen.” But he still dresses and talks like someone less than half his age. He is, of course, not alone in this delusionary self-deception -- McCartney, Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart, and scores of other aged dinosaurs can't deal with their advancing age either and pretend they're still youthful, relevant and vital.
Bruce is basically a lucrative corporate entity masquerading as a “troubadour for the masses” – but he has actually become a self-parody, and most of his besotted fans don't seem to understand the travesty that he truly is.
When music lovers compare him to such genuine, authentic, hard-living American artists like Hank Williams Sr., Ledbelly, Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard who truly suffered and lived tumultuous lives, Bruce is nothing but a phony and a bourgeois poser. (This must explain why he always has such a constipated expression on his face while performing on stage).
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