Among the various notable dates in history being celebrated this year was the 40th anniversary of what remains very possibly the greatest rock and roll album ever released… Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run. (Just to save time, all of you haters can stop reading now. I still love The Boss and this was probably his crowning achievement.) But not everyone “celebrating” this milestone really seems to get Springsteen or, for that matter, Born to Run. I was unfortunately pointed to a lengthy analysis of the deeper cultural meaning of the album at The Atlantic, written by Ivy League history professor Joshua Zeitz. Hoo boy.
This is the point where I would normally insert some extracted tidbit from the article as an example of what I’m talking about, but I simply can’t do it. I’ve gone through this incredibly off-point document at length and there’s really no single section which fully encapsulates how thoroughly Zeitz misses the entire tone and pulse behind one of the greatest works of rock and roll of my lifetime. Fortunately, Kyle Smith at the NY Post is the person who directed my attention to the wretched argument in the first place and he’s already taken the time to rip it to shreds.
The Atlantic piece by academic Joshua Zeitz tries to shove Springsteen’s lyrics into a predetermined mold as awkwardly as Cinderella’s stepsisters trying to jam their large, nasty feet into that tiny slipper.
Zeitz, a college history teacher, expends several paragraphs praising subjects the album doesn’t even hint at — labor movements, strikes and a failed candidate for the presidency of the United Steelworkers (Ed Sadlowski) who is supposedly relevant to the album because his political coalition resembled the E Street Band.
The piece’s subheadline makes the strange claim that the album is about “the tense, political, working-class rejection of an increasingly unequal society,” as though Springsteen’s hustler poets were worried about what the effective tax rates of hedge fund managers might be 40 years later. Zeitz also tags Springsteen’s crew as suffering from “dislocation.”
No. The album is almost the opposite of what Zeitz says it is: It’s a celebration, not a rejection. It’s a barbaric yawp. It’s a blaze in the dark, a cry of pride amid desolation.
If you have any love left at all for Springsteen’s classic work, read Smith’s essay in its entirety because he’s really spot on, describing the reality of the meaning behind the lyrics in a way which the Atlantic author will likely never grasp. Zeitz takes a celebration of rebellion and a challenge to find joy in even the darkest of times and turns it into some sort of retrofitted Social Justice Warrior paean. He scrambles Springsteen’s lyrics into a bowl and comes up with arguments against capitalism, corporate fat cats and income inequality. It’s truly a wonder to behold in much the same way as watching a train fly off of a not yet constructed bridge.
Part of this may be explained by the fact that Zeitz was born in 1974. (One year before the album came out and two years before I attended my first Springsteen concert.) By the time the author had crawled out of his mother’s womb – presumably kicking and screaming about the lack of Obamacare coverage for her stay in the hospital – Springsteen had already been playing music for the public for ten years. The Boss’s early work may not have fared well, possibly because of the oft floated theory that he was trying too hard to sound like Bob Dylan on his first two albums, but when Zeitz was being weaned from his mother’s teat Springsteen was on the verge of exploding. And it was not a battle cry to support the Democratic Party (though he would certainly do so in later years.) It was a gritty rumble in the streets, mostly learned from his days in Asbury Park.
So don’t let the Left try to abscond with one of the few good things we have left from that era. Instead, sit back, put on your headphones and spend a little time with The Boss.