October 15, 2016

EVEN BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN ISN’T IMMUNE FROM CONQUEST’S FIRST LAW OF POLITICS:

Springteen’s experiences in his early bands taught him he preferred total control, and he formed his own backing band for his little hit-making factory, a nifty, tight, hard-rocking outfit that eventually evolved into The E Street Band. But make no mistake, the band served and continues to serve at the Boss’ pleasure, what Springsteen refers to as “the real world.” In other words, Bruce Springsteen is not only a heavily guarded and protected brand but a thriving corporation overseen by its chief executive officer’s steel fist.

An example: One day I had one of my musicians come to me and explain he would need more money if he were to continue doing his work. I told him if he could find a more highly paid musician at his job in the world, I would gladly up his percentage. I also told him I could spare him the time to search. All he had to do was walk into the bathroom, close the door and walk over and take a look in the mirror. There he’d find the highest-paid musician in the world at his post. I told him, ‘That’s how it works in the real world.’ He then looked straight at me and, without a trace of irony, asked, ‘What do we have to do with the real world?’ At the moment I knew I had sheltered some of my colleagues perhaps a bit too much.

The Boss also pared down the E Street Band to record his solo album, “Tunnel of Love,” believing that’s what the songs he was performing at the time required. While he ultimately toured with the entire band to support the album, he disbanded them entirely afterwards, recording and touring with a different collective for his twin albums of the 1990s, “Human Touch” and “Lucky Town.”

Ten years later, he’d reform the group for several successful recordings and tours, but rest assured the E Street Band members were left to their own financial devices when the Boss shuttered (albeit temporarily) the music factory. Some of them thrived, others not so much.

Corporate Rock for Blue-Collar Americans

What would Woody Guthrie say about all this? And how is this different from the closed factories and laid-off workers Springsteen’s songs depict? Aren’t the economic realities behind such events also “how it works in the real world”? Of course it is.

This disconnect between corporate America and corporate rock is hardly surprising when Springsteen names Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States,” Henry Steele Commager, and Guthrie as major influences on his lyrics and worldview from 1980s “The River” forward. The curse of progressivism is that it is consistently inconsistent in perceptions of how not only the economic but also the artistic world works. You may want to reconcile these two “real worlds” the next time you record another “Nebraska” or “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” Mr. CEO.

Everyone is conservative about what he knows best.

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