Death To My Hometown

To some of us of a certain vintage (aged nicely like a bottle of wine), Bruce Springsteen holds a special place in our musical hearts. He appealed to our youthful restlessness, a passionate desire to be someplace other than where we were, someplace that had to be more exciting, more grittily rock-and-roll. Where there was an opera out on the turnpike and a ballet being fought in the alley.

Teen-aged intensity gave way to a certain level of disinterest which I blame more on our move from vinyl to CDs rather than to any decline in quality in Springsteen’s output. We became more distant, less engaged and hands-on with our music. Our attention wavered and The Boss demanded utter devotion.

Or we just got old. I’m willing to accept that distinct possibility. But at some point Born To Run became less an anthem than a song that filled the dance floor with drunken wedding guests.

I bring this up not as some sort of Saturday nostalgia trip but because I came across an excerpt of Marc Dolan’s “Bruce Springsteen and the Promise of Rock and Roll” earlier this week in Salon. Even if you aren’t a Springsteen fan or even know who he is, I highly recommend reading the article as it traces the politicization of the musician during the Reagan era and Springsteen’s own rise from cult status to full blown superstar. It is truly fascinating.

In my beer drinking days before I became a Chardonnay swilling elitist, I remember having a heated drunken barroom argument about the politics of Springsteen’s Born in the USA song. “What do you mean it’s all rah-rah America’s great!” I said indignantly. “Have you listened to the lyrics aside from the chorus?” Born down in a dead man town/The first kick I took was when I hit the ground/You end up like a dog that’s been beat too much/Till you spend half your life just covering up. “What part of that screams, Morning in America to you?”

In his book, Dolan suggests that both Reagan and Springsteen shared an overlapping ideology if not politics. A particular rugged individualism and a dream of freedom for people to pursue life on their own terms, unhindered. So much so that during the re-election campaign in 1984, the president’s handlers overtly sought to piggyback on Springsteen’s growing popularity in order to expand beyond Reagan’s traditional base. There’s a hilarious description of a buttoned-down and bow-tied George Will attending a Springsteen concert.

“In general, Will found Springsteen androgynous, noisy and surrounded by pot smokers, yet in the end he concluded that the singer was ‘a wholesome cultural portent’  As a political commentator, Will may not have cared about rock ’n’ roll’s future, but he did see Springsteen’s abundant success as an emblem of a robust American present.

The difference was, ironically, the politics of freedom and individualism espoused by the much older Reagan’s was formed by a combination of his fervid anti-communism and an adherence to the nascent neo-conservative belief in the supremacy of the free market while, according to Dolan, “…Springsteen finally moved beyond his 1960s rock ’n’ roll individualism, back to the New Deal communalism he had instinctively absorbed from his parents.” Freedom from the tyranny of the state versus being free only if we’re all free. Freedom for me versus freedom for all.

What’s all this got to do with the forum I’m currently writing in? [I was just about to ask that question. – ed.] Well, Ronald Reagan’s vision triumphed and, despite its worst excesses still afflicting the world at large, it continues a slow creep, further perverted by conservative zealots who would be unrecognizable to the man they claim as their idol. This includes an extreme form of it here in Toronto under the Ford administration.

But nowhere does this type of ideology fit worse than it does at the municipal level. It’s hardly surprising that when a society turns inward and gives primacy to individual rights above all else, the first place it’s felt is in our cities. Not for not are they called communities and by pulling more and more out of the public sphere, the impact is felt almost immediately. Roads crumble. Parks go untended longer. Pools open later and close sooner. Libraries reduce their hours. Busses appear less frequently. [Or, as a certain member of Team Ford says: Widows and orphans make do with less cupcakes. – ed.]


It simply runs contrary to the building of better cities. Cut is the opposite of build. You can’t untax your way to a better city. The numbers simply won’t add up.

In the end, what you have is a Tenth Avenue Freeze Out in the midst of a Jungleland with the bridges all fallen down and no way to get yourself over for that Meeting Across the River.

[Yeah, yeah. We got it. You know every word to every song on Born To Run. Now take your white wine and vamoose. – ed.]

bossily submitted by Urban Sophisticat

1 thought on “Death To My Hometown

  1. Looks like the rebirth of Transit City will be wounding some neighborhoods for longer than expected.

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