Bruce Springsteen and the Rise of Rock Populism

(MANDATORY CREDIT Ebet Roberts/Getty Images) Bruce Springsteen performing at the CNE Stadium in Toronto, Canada on July 24, 1984. (Photo by Ebet Roberts/Redferns)

This is Part Five of SPIN’s November 1985 cover story, “The Meaning of Bruce,” wherein we asked seven writers to consider the Springsteen phenomenon. (Check out the other essays, by Tama Janowitz, Richard Meltzer, Amiri Baraka, Glenn O’Brien, Scott Cohen, and Eric King, respectively.)

It sure is great to be livin’ in the U.S.A., because this is a country where a common man like Boss Springsteen can get on stage wearing a work shirt and jeans, strap on a guitar, and sing about other common men. And that’s it! No makeup (except in the videos), no bullshit hairdo, nothing between him and his fans but an electric guitar…well, except for a mega platter-pusher called CBS Records, a vast web of monster-kilowatt radio programmers, an inbred army of national record promoters, various slimy back-patters and back-stabbers, some prominent American film directors, and a few unidentifiable hand-holding general music-biz types. But that stuff doesn’t matter, because Bruce is great. He’s a poet and he don’t know it. So cool, he can shrinkwrap Old Glory and not get his pants pulled down for it. So hip that both presidential candidates cop to him. And best of all, he just got married to the girl next door (assuming you live next to Jenilee Harrison).

Yeah, it’s a great country, and it’s a great year—not just for Bruce but for the whole Blue Collar Brigade. Huey is only one platinum yard behind the Boss (B-USA is at 7 mill; Sports is at 6), George Thorogood has broken the 40. Tom Petty‘s newest has been on the charts 20-plus weeks. Bob Seger was revived by Risky Business. And John Cougar (né Mellencamp) can expect heavy chart action and MTV rotation for Scarecrow. The other two blue-collar Johns—Fogerty and Cafferty—have had a dynamic year. Even our Canadian brothers Bryan and Corey hit their stride. No doubt about it, this army of the common people is sweeping through radio formats like a rock ‘n’ roll A-Team.

But like all great trends, the rock populist movement is one part destiny and two parts strategy. The strategy comes from a coalition of silent conspirators, heads of U.S.A.-based conglomerates who own and control our sources of entertainment and consumer products. Unlike other multinational conspiracies, this group is seeking more than product manipulation. They are attempting to influence a generation on the verge of massive baby-making. They are gearing for the turn of the century, when the American Dream is going to face some serious global problems. In order to guarantee that apple pie is not replaced with apple croissants, we need to instill a value system that will give some Gary Cooper-type American backbone to the Class of 2010.

And if you want to reach the baby-makers, you have to go to pop music, because ever since Elvis, the premise and promise of rock music (and the reason why it’s packed with short guys and ugly faces) is that The Guy With the Guitar Gets the Girl!

So, let’s face it, if you’ve got a heavy investment in the red, white, and blue, you’re going to want Miller-time bambinos. That’s why Bruce pulled the All-American brunette onstage in his “Dancin’ in the Dark” video, and that’s why a media bomb was dropped over his wedding. Somebody out there is mixing Elvis Presley and the Constitution in a last-ditch attempt to create a race capable of manning the danger-bound U.S.A. Mothership.

We can’t do much to control this kind of long-term fascist planning, but we can certainly rejoice in the baby-making. Let’s support all Americans in love. Best to Bruce. If his “Glory Days” video is an accurate prophecy, maybe we can expect some real born-in-the-U.S.A. action: baby bosses!


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