The Hess Report

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

You're Not the Boss of Me 

I heard an interview with Bruce Springsteen just the other day. I've never liked the guy or his music. It sounds sweaty to me, and I've never a big fan of the sweaty sound. I've also always gotten a giant "phony" vibe from him. As for his political activism, well, shut up and sing.

Anyway, in his interview, he said something that was just so stupidly navel-gazingly artsy-fartsy self-indulgent that even I was astounded. He was discussing song-writing, and where your inspiration comes from. If I ever utter this phrase, hunt me down and shoot me:

"Sometimes your voice merges with other lives."

If that statement doesn't epitomize undergrad Lit major garbledygook (and trust me, I've been in the thick of it), then I don't know what does. In fact, it takes me back to my wonderful days at Penn, where I started saying the most buzzword-laden ridiculously desconstructive things in class that I could think of to see if anyone could tell the difference between their "real" analysis and my making fun of them. No one called me on it. Not once. The professors would nod their heads sagely, and classmates would say "I can speak to that..." and proceed on some silly digression about the meaning of the word "cockswain" and how it was used within the confines the author's implied rubric. Jackasses, every single one.

As Daniel Hoffman, former Poet Laureate and one of my only English professors I had any respect for, said in class when confronted with a student who was trying to claim that Sam Clemens had intended Huck Finn to be an exploration of Huck and Jim's homosexuality: "That's just bullshit."

But, the Boss said it, and he's like, a genius or something, so I guess his narrative voice has some kind of vampiric properties that mine lacks.

He then went on to talk about the authenticity of his songs' characters. He actually used the word "characters", and continued by saying that he puts on a work shirt when he performs, and it could just as easily have been a sequined jacket or something else. He's been a singer all his life, no decades wasted in the mines or on the assembly line, and the working-man persona was the one he chose through which to portray the characters' voices that had merged with other lives. So, it seems I was right all along! Bruce doesn't understand the common man. He's just a big old phony. Well, at least he admits it.

Of course, that doesn't stop a lot of people from thinking that the Boss somehow "understands" them, when nothing could be further from the truth. He, like a lot of liberals I know, is just playing with symbols, and often seems to confuse actual practical reality with the symbolic world he has set up in his mind.

It is a tribute to his skill as a manipulator of symbols that he still has such a following. I am forced to wonder, though, how "authentic" that following is. Do his fans really come from the blue-collar world of which he sings, which I would view as a validation of his ability to generate authentic characters, or do they instead come from the limousine liberal set who listen because they feel like they're getting an authentic lower-class experience? It's an interesting question, but I don't care enough to even bother checking. Maybe you can, if it that's your bag, baby.

I am reminded, though, of Stephen Crane, author of The Red Badge of Courage, which is another book about which Dr. Hoffman had some great things to say. Crane wasn't even old enough to have fought in the Civil War, and yet his book, which was serialized in a newpaper at the time (I think), produced letter after letter from Civil War vets who said "Surely this man was in my regiment!" and "I had forgotten what it was like. Thank God for Mr. Crane who remembered well enough to write it all down." In fact, Crane had based the combat portions of the book on his experiences in playing schoolyard football. Apparently, Crane had achieved an authentic conversion of the symbols at play in the practical world. He was also a damned good writer.

The point? This was a long way around just to say that Bruce Springsteen is a pompous idiot, but that's it. Daniel Hoffman and Stephen Crane: Good. Bruce Springsteen: Bad.

Sometimes your blog merges with other lives!
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