Bruce Springsteen has an unwanted groupie. Fat, temperamental, pushing fifty, and even possessing the wrong downstairs equipment, the infatuated fanatic has gone to more than 100 shows with the dream of one day having a backstage moment, alone, with the Boss.
It’s not the groupie’s weight, explosive personality, or even exaggerated manliness that prevents him from getting a backstage pass. It’s his politics.
Chris Christie is from Republican. Bruce Springsteen is from Democrat. And never the twain shall meet.
Isn’t this a microcosm of our fractured times?
Jeffrey Goldberg profiles the New Jersey governor’s unreciprocated love affair with his state’s most famous inhabitant in the Atlantic. Despite the concertgoer’s hard-to-miss bowling-ball body barely containing his even bigger personality, the musician on stage has neither acknowledged nor met with the politician in the seats. Goldberg writes, “Christie takes comfort in something that, I imagine, leaves his idol unhappy and confused: the people who grew up with Springsteen in Freehold, the people who first came to listen to Springsteen, the people whose lives Springsteen explores in his songs — they voted for Christie.”
Nearly two-thirds of whites with mere high-school diplomas who voted in New Jersey three years ago cast ballots for Christie. The people in the singer’s seats and in his songs don’t look like they will vote his way come November, either. It’s hard to know your audience with all those lights shining in your eyes.
“I don’t get conservative rock ‘n’ roll fans in general,” the Daily Beast‘s Mike Tomasky confesses regarding Christie specifically. “Yeah, yeah, people are complicated and all that. But rock ‘n’ roll exists to destroy everything conservatives say they believe in and hold dear…. there’s a reason most rockers lean left. They don’t like authority, and if you’re going to love rock ‘n’ roll, you shouldn’t either.”
Are “bebopaluba,” “obladioblada” and “shadoobie” code words laden with political meaning for liberal listeners?
It’s strange that Tomasky would recast a creature of the Red States as the cultural property of Blue Staters. The rebels who invented rock ‘n’ roll all came from Dixie, a fact not missed by a man whose singing voice sounds less like the kids on The Jersey Shore than the cousins on The Dukes of Hazzard. There’s no such thing as a Jersey twang.
There is also no such thing as a working-class millionaire. A one percenter playing troubadour to blue-collar America doesn’t exactly scream authenticity. But who sings odes to the workingman better than Bruce?
Chris Christie’s favorite Springsteen song, “Thunder Road,” details a lover’s plea to his girl to seize their chance to hit the highway to freedom, to the promised land, to their dreams. My favorite Springsteen number “Racing in the Street” describes how life takes the life out of some — and how it makes others anxious to live it. In the case of the song’s protagonist, street racing and his jaded girl make it all worth it. They’ve suffered but “tonight the highway’s bright.”
Both songs echo the problems and possibilities of America. The characters in the sonic stories are sick and tired of being sick and tired. We hear of cars and girls, sin and suffering, redemption and rebirth. There isn’t any sermonizing on who to vote for or what cause to support.
Why can’t Chris Christie or anyone else who rejects Springsteen’s politics embrace his music?
The oeuvre contains topical songs to be sure (“Devils and Dust,” “41 Shots,” “Paradise,” etc.). But they pale in number to the numbers about girls in their summer clothes, guys playing pinball on the boardwalk, and Crazy Janie, Hazy Davey, Wild Billy, and other Saturday-night spirits.
The real question isn’t how a Republican could sing along at a Bruce concert. But how could Bruce not realize that the people singing along at his concerts vote Republican.
Granting a marketing monopoly on a recent collection to Walmart, dodging millions in property taxes by classifying land surrounding his residence as a farm, and closing in at a net worth of a quarter-billion by the end of the current tour (cheapest ticket in my town: $125), Springsteen has lost touch with his roots. The party he supports has too.
Thomas Edsall of The New York Times reported late last year that Campaign Obama “will explicitly abandon the white working class” in its reelection strategy. “All pretense of trying to win a majority of the white working class has been effectively jettisoned in favor of cementing a center-left coalition” of “professors, artists, designers, editors, human resources managers, lawyers, librarians, social workers, teachers and therapists,” as well as a secondary group comprised of racial minorities.
When the Boss last answered to bosses, Democrats represented blue-collar workers. Nearly a half-century later, Democrats write off the white working class to guys like Chris Christie. Even Springsteen recently conceded that Obama has been “more friendly to corporations” and “there’s not as many middle-class or working-class voices heard in the administration” as he had imagined when campaigning for him in 2008. He will be touring for dollars rather than trolling for votes this year.
In mocking Christie’s love of Springsteen, Alternet’s Sara Jaffe claims that unlike the rich Republican “Bruce is the ultimate populist artist.” Brand Bruce, with its blue jeans and flannel chic, makes populism its business. Chris Christie does too.
It’s not just that they share energy, charisma, and a home state. The governor and the Boss share a profession, too. It’s called show business. And the love of New Jersey’s governor for its favorite son, like the love of this Boss — but only this one — for the workingman, is a show that’s good for business. What part of the spectacle is genuine and what part is contrived is for the spectator to determine.