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Gibbons reports: "At a Paris press conference on Thursday night, Bruce Springsteen was asked whether he was advocating an armed uprising in America. He laughed at the idea, but that the question was even posed at all gives you some idea of the fury of his new album, Wrecking Ball."

Bruce Springsteen has released a new album that he describes as rooted in an 'angry patriotism.' (photo: Columbia Records)
Bruce Springsteen has released a new album that he describes as rooted in an 'angry patriotism.' (photo: Columbia Records)

Bruce Springsteen's Angry Patriotism

By Fiachra Gibbons, Guardian UK

19 February 12


The Boss explains why there is a critical, questioning and angry patriotism at the heart of his new album, Wrecking Ball.

t a Paris press conference on Thursday night, Bruce Springsteen was asked whether he was advocating an armed uprising in America. He laughed at the idea, but that the question was even posed at all gives you some idea of the fury of his new album Wrecking Ball.

Indeed, it is as angry a cry from the belly of a wounded America as has been heard since the dustbowl and Woody Guthrie, a thundering blow of New Jersey pig iron down on the heads of Wall Street and all who have sold his country down the swanny. Springsteen has gone to the great American canon for ammunition, borrowing from folk, civil war anthems, Irish rebel songs and gospel. The result is a howl of pain and disbelief as visceral as anything he has ever produced, that segues into a search for redemption: "Hold tight to your anger / And don't fall to your fears ... Bring on your wrecking ball."

"I have spent my life judging the distance between American reality and the American dream," Springsteen told the conference, where the album was aired for the first time. It was written, he claimed, not just out of fury but out of patriotism, a patriotism traduced.

"What was done to our country was wrong and unpatriotic and un-American and nobody has been held to account," he later told the Guardian. "There is a real patriotism underneath the best of my music but it is a critical, questioning and often angry patriotism."

The tone is set from the start with the big, bombastic We Take Care of Our Own - a Born in the USA for our times - where the most sacred shibboleth of Ordinary Joe America is sung with mocking irony through clenched teeth by a heart that still wants it to be true. "From the shotgun shack to the Superdome/ There ain't no help, the cavalry stayed home." It is a typical Springsteen appeal to a common decency beyond the civil war he sees sapping America.

Like Born in the USA, which got pressed into service as the anthem of the first Gulf war, he's aware it has the potential to be hijacked by the angry right. But Springsteen says that to anyone who cares to listen to the lyrics, the message is clear.

"A big promise has been broken. You can't have a United States if you are telling some folks that they can't get on the train. There is a cracking point where a society collapses. You can't have a civilisation where something is factionalised like this."

Springsteen plunges into darker, richer musical landscapes in a sequence of breath-taking protest songs - Easy Money, Shackled and Drawn, Jack of All Trades, the scarily bellicose Death to My Hometown and This Depression with Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine - before the album turns on Wrecking Ball in search of some spiritual path out of the mess the US is in.

But it is also an ode to hard work, to the dignity it brings, and the blue-collar values he claims made America:

"Freedom son's a dirty shirt
The sun on my face and my shovel in the dirt
A shovel in the dirt keeps the devil gone
I woke up this morning shackled and drawn"

Asked where the fury of this lyric had come from, he talks movingly of his father who had been "emasculated by losing his job" in the 70s and never recovered from the damage to his pride. "Unemployment is a really devastating thing. I know the damage it does to families. Growing up in that house there were things you couldn't say. It was a minefield. My mother was the breadwinner. She was steadfast and relentless and I took that from her.

"Pessimism and optimism are slammed up against each other in my records, the tension between them is where it's all at, it's what lights the fire."

Hope is there. But it is a tempered hope. Land of Hope and Dreams is a plea for America's newest immigrants, those risking their lives to ride the trains up from central America. "This train ... carries saints and sinners ... losers and winners ... whores and gamblers ... Dreams will not be thwarted ... Faith will be rewarded."

Springsteen, 62, says he is not afraid of how the album will be received in election-year America: "The temper has changed. And people on the streets did it. Occupy Wall Street changed the national conversation - the Tea Party had set it for a while. The first three years of Obama were under them.

"Previous to Occupy Wall Street, there was no push back at all saying this was outrageous - a basic theft that struck at the heart of what America was about, a complete disregard for the American sense of history and community ... In Easy Money the guy is going out to kill and rob, just like the robbery spree that has occurred at the top of the pyramid - he's imitating the guys on Wall Street. An enormous fault line cracked the American system right open whose repercussion we are only starting to be feel.

"Nobody had talked about income inequality in America for decades - apart from John Edwards - but no one was listening. But now you have Newt Gingrich talking about 'vulture capitalism' - Newt Gingrich! - that would not have happened without Occupy Wall Street."

Having previously backed Obama, Springsteen says he would prefer to stay on the sidelines this time. "I don't write for one side of the street ... But the Bush years were so horrific you could not just sit around. It was such a blatant disaster. I campaigned for Kerry and Obama, and I am glad I did. But normally I would prefer to stay on the sidelines. The artist is supposed to be the canary in the cage."

Obama hasn't done bad, Springsteen says. "He kept General Motors alive, he got through healthcare - though not the public system I would have wanted - he killed Osama Bin Laden, and he brought sanity to the top level of government. But big business still has too much say in government and there has not been as many middle- or working-class voices in the administration as I expected. I thought Guantanamo would have been closed but now, but he got us out of Iraq and I guess we will soon be out of Afghanistan."

The album is the last on which Clarence Clemons, the legendary saxophonist from the E Street Band, played on before he died last year. "When the sax comes up on Land of Hope and Dreams," Springsteen says, "it's a lovely moment for me."

• Wrecking Ball is released on 5 March via Columbia. your social media marketing partner


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+176 # Bill Clements 2012-02-19 16:36
No one should underestimate the power of music to galvanize the masses, especially when that music and those lyrics come from someone as gifted and as grounded as Bruce.

I'd like to see more music like Wrecking Ball coming from other American musicians.
+82 # grouchy 2012-02-19 23:46
Love it! Perfect timing! Thanks Bruce!
+115 # Carbonman1950 2012-02-19 23:49
In 2006, when Canadian Neil Young released his angry and powerful "Living With War" he said he'd only done it because he got tired of waiting for a U.S. artist to do it.

We've waited a lot of years for one of our musicians to accept the challenge. I hope Mr. Springsteen's work will be as angry, as powerful, and much much more effective.
+37 # Ralph Averill 2012-02-20 03:17
"We've waited a lot of years for one of our musicians to accept the challenge."
We've been waiting because musicians have gone the way of Wall St; it was all about business. The music "industry".
+37 # Majikman 2012-02-20 00:12
Wait til OWS groups learn the lyrics
+87 # rradiof 2012-02-20 00:20
Do not stand on the sidelines, my friend (e.g. Willie Nelson and Farm Aid). Woody Guthrie had a sticker on his guitar that read simply: "This Machine Kills Fascists." Do yourself and your audience a favor and place that sticker on your Fender. You are one of the only artists who has the capability to reach the masses of Americans who are stupefied in this, our darkest hour. Bruce, do not remain in the shadows. Reclaim your words from the corporatists! You have access to the stage! You have access to the power! Do it now, or all of your career will have come to naught because your words meant nothing. They were just a way for you to succeed. There is no popular artist in America today that is in your position. You can galvanize those who are silent, or deluded. Martin Buber, the great Hebrew theologian, talked of the sense of "oughtness." Bruce, you ought to come out of the shadows, and you ought to use your machine to kill fascists. "This land is your land. This land is my land, from California to the New York Island; from the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters this land was made for you and me. . .In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people, by the relief office I seen my people; as they stood there hungry, I stood there asking: is this land made for you and me? Nobody can ever stop me, as I go walking that freedom highway; nobody living can ever make me turn back, this land was made for you and me." It is time my friend, if not now, never!
+56 # angelfish 2012-02-20 00:36
Angry? ANGRY? Guess what? He's Not the ONLY one! When will our Leaders SEE what is happening in America and Realize how Sick to Death of it the 99% Truly are? Are they Deaf, Dumb, Blind? I guess so.
+5 # genierae 2012-02-21 18:10
They will not see it until we rub it under their noses. Now that we have our music, let's run with it. Bless you Bruce Springstein.
+42 # narguimbau 2012-02-20 00:42
You listen to the politicians at the top in both parties and all you hear is pretense. There is a reason for it - they can't get corporate money without being clinically psychopathic, literally - having no ability to empathize and so having to put on false plays of feeling.

Springsteen's are real - he comes on as strong and clear and eloquent in a spontaneous interview as he does in song.

We haven't heard REAL people speaking out to the public in America for forty years. What a relief.

And he is absolutely right about "angry patriotism." America was born with great dreams, imperfect but still great, and much of our history has been about correcting the imperfections. Forget that America has a strong element of nobility,forget that we've worked hard to correct its imperfections, and we'll forget that nobility is possible and come to believe the imperfections are the core.

Nicholas C. Arguimbau
+31 # CCB5er34 2012-02-20 01:09
Bruce is incredible,insp iring, and what is so needed these days. I am grateful for him. Been a fan of his a long time. Great guy. He is one of the few who tell the truth.
+29 # TomDegan 2012-02-20 03:28
Bruce Springsteen is back - AND HE'S NOT TOO HAPPY. His new LP is bound to set a hundred million tongues a'waggin, a

We take care of our own. Don't you dare forget it. This is what rock 'n' roll's supposed to be all about. Bring on your wrecking ball.

Tom Degan
+48 # X Dane 2012-02-20 03:48
Bruce Springsteen is right. There IS a civil war in this country, but it is not fought with guns. It is fought with money and power.
The one percent is using it to keep the 99 percent poor and powerless. If they keep it up, it very well COULD be a war of guns.

An awful lot of people are...and feel powerless. Bruce Springsteen can find ways of expressing that pain and anger. I wish I had the talent to give voice to what I feel.
We are lucky to have an artist of his caliber and heart.
+39 # Peace Anonymous 2012-02-20 05:22
I have heard it said that the corporate media empire has such a tight grip on the future of new artists that they must do as they are told or they will not succeed which why there exists such a huge underground movement in the music industry. Perhaps Bruce will dispell some of the fear and we will begin to hear from the soul of America as we did in the 60's & 70's. Maybe our generation needs to finish what it started.
+19 # Observer 47 2012-02-20 11:38
I got chills when I read your last sentence, Peace. I believe you're right: it's time for those who led the way all those years ago to lead once again. They were the courageous ones!
+32 # cordleycoit 2012-02-20 06:46
There comes a time when you fight back. Brutal cops corrupt whoring mayors rotten police chiefs, psychotic prosecutors, schools like prisons,pervert s at the airports, out sourcing. enslavement of illegals, hidden tent cities, armies of provocateurs. There is a time when we say no. How we do it seems to be so limited by the army of militarized thug cops high on steroids ready to kill our children. Lines are drawn and the artist cannot stand there pristine. The artist is the witness commissioned by the people. Goya, Naste, Posada, Homer, Moore, Capa,Smith, MaCallem and now Springsteen. The helping hand of the street medic or the angry hand hand reaching for a rock or petrol bomb. It appears the government has made it's choice, now its time for the people to speak....How angry goes the government want? We are here and we are witnessing.
+49 # animas 2012-02-20 07:03
Check out Joni Mitchell, she has been sining about our world unravelling politically, environmentally and socially for decades... as a true artist does she's been surveying the land and reporting back! Her last CD is called, Shine. She sings in Bad Dreams:

But we have poisoned everything, And oblivious to it all
The cell phone zombies babble, Through the shopping malls
While condors fall from Indian skies, Whales beach and die in sand...
Bad dreams are good, In the great plan.

You cannot be trusted, Do you even know you're lying
It's dangerous to kid yourself, You go deaf and dumb and blind.
You take with such entitlement., You give bad attitude.
You have no grace, No empathy, No gratitude

Before that altering apple, We were one with everything
No sense of self and other, No self-consciousness.
But now we have to grapple, With our man-made world backfiring
Keeping one eye on our brother's deadly selfishness.

And everyone's a victim!, Nobody's hands are clean.
There's so very little left of wild Eden Earth
So near the jaws of our machines.
We live in these electric scabs., These lesions once were lakes.
No one knows how to shoulder the blame
Or learn from past mistakes...
So who will come to save the day?
Mighty Mouse? Superman?
Bad dreams are good in the great plan.
+17 # Bill Clements 2012-02-20 12:34
Thanks for mentioning Joni Mitchell and sharing lyrics off her recent CD; it's been years since I listened to her. But you're absolutely correct, many of her songs have reflected her activism on any number of issues.

The lyrics of Bad Dreams are brutal in their truthfulness. She doesn't sound very hopeful about our prospects, does she? How IS the world going to wake up from this bad dream?
+32 # MainStreetMentor 2012-02-20 07:09
Contrast the “doing something about it” attitude of Mr. Springsteen, against that of business owners (large and small) who refuse even to put a “poster” of a candidate running for office, using the excuse: “It might hurt my business to … choose sides”. Mr. Springsteen understands: If you don’t stand up now, in the future you may not have a business at all. I predict his album will do well, because America is fed up – and they need anthems to support their feelings and stance. Patriotism is, indeed, represented in many forms.
+25 # Floridatexan 2012-02-20 07:32
Powerful and timely...thank you, Boss!
+20 # wfalco 2012-02-20 10:29
I am so happy to read what Bruce had to say and also even more pleased to read these comments.
So many unenlightened people don't get Bruce. They hear the name Springsteen and think he is just some over-commercial ized star from the 80's (during the Born in the USA TOUR)-when Bruce was all cleaned up-his All American boy phase. But for us Bruce purists we knew that period was by design and just a ruse. Never under-rate this guy's tremendous intellect. Back during the Reagan era he was one step ahead. Bruce knew he had to present that clean image to get mass appeal. Wasn't much radio time for Born To Run and "Darkness"-perh aps two of the best albums commentating on American working class life as has ever been composed.
Take it from a guy who has seen Bruce over twenty times in concert-see the show if you have an opportunity. His combination of commenting on loss of American ideals with a ray of sunshine, however dim, may change your life.
+24 # fredboy 2012-02-20 10:39
Springsteen and the free other courageous artists are indeed the canaries in our coal mine, reflections of the disappointment, anger, and rage many of us a feel as we see our nation and its best values raped and pillaged and thwarted. This is such a contrast as today I hear GOP candidates decry the poor and despise the Earth, our life source. The Boss is trying to warn us, much like Dylan did in the 60s. Unfortunately, the ears are deafened by a sustained media frenzy, and cowardice seems to have captured what was left of the heart of most Americans.
+25 # Bill Clements 2012-02-20 12:51
A wrecking ball is such an apt metaphor for what the OWS movement (and like-minded people) believes is necessary for real change to happen. The system is so thoroughly rotten that it has to be leveled first before it can be replaced with something better. In other words, quick fixes and small alterations aren't going to get the job done; the whole edifice has to come down.

And as Joni Mitchell's Bad Dreams makes clear, waiting around for a super hero to "save the day" is a waste of time. The only way we're going to wake up from this collective bad dream is by acting together. We have to be our own super heroes.
+18 # lincolnimp 2012-02-20 13:17
Bruce will start it rolling and then he can step back and watch it spread!! Other musicians will grow some cojones and follow suit. I have my order in for "Wrecking Ball" and can't wait to play it over and over and over. When the stations play it over and over and over, we're on our way back, baby!
+8 # nancyw 2012-02-20 13:59
"This land was your land, but now it's my land - from California to the New York Island
From the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters
This land was yours but now it's mine..."

That song ... as patriotic as Guthrie meant it to be... still reflects only the white man's theme ... Take what you want no matter who it belonged to before ... raping, stealing, wrecking the land and the peoples is our history and continues as the same theme via Wall Street Fortune-100s and beyond.

Bruce and Occupy hopefully will make a difference for everyone, not just the white man... the educated, the middle-class cultured, etc. ... The rest of our population has always been taken from even tho each group has given and given and given ...
+17 # Terrapin 2012-02-20 14:15
"All you Fascists are bound to to loose ... you're bound to loose, your're bound to loose!
--- Woody Guthrie
BRUCE ... the Force is strong in this Jedi.
+7 # ozken 2012-02-20 18:54
Good on you Bruce. Brilliant work. That's one cd I will be buying.
-7 # Hot Doggie 2012-02-20 23:58
Anybody, including Bruce, who thinks that Obama did a good job connot be right in the head.
+4 # noitall 2012-02-21 16:40
The voice and message from musicians is as rooted in the people and as viable as the corporate media claims to be; we , the People, will be the judge of accuracy. Springsteen is among warriors in this battle for minds and the words to "Universal Soldier" says it all:

Written by the multi-talented Cree warrior, Buffy Sainte-Marie expressed pain, when I saw her last summer, that these words still reflect the reality that we experience today, over 40 years after she wrote them.
+1 # mudbug49 2012-02-23 19:47
I wonder who they are/The men who really run this land/And I wonder why they run it /With such a thoughtless hand./Tell me what are their names,/And on what streets do they live?/I'd like to ride right over/This afternoon and give/Then a piece of my mind

David Crosby (1971)

Same as it ever was!

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