Monday, July 2, 2012

Bruce Springsteen: "Death To My Hometown"

They only call it class war when we fight back.

Having laid out the problem as plain as he could in "Jack Of All Trades," our Virgil-guide now lets rip with the righteous anger.  This is a call to arms.  It's a proud attempt to rouse us rabble, to stir some shit up, to get us out into the streets, or keep us there.  Is Bruce Springsteen exhorting us to revolution here?  May fucking be.

It may be just metaphorical violence he's urging us to.  "Now get yourself a song to sing / and sing it 'til you're done / sing it hard and sing it well," seems to be the extent of his exhortation.  But look at what he prophecies will happen if we do:  it'll "send the robber barons straight to hell."  This machine kills fascists, right? 

But what if a little banker blood gets spilled?  After all, they're "the greedy thieves who came around / and ate the flesh of everything they found / whose crimes have gone unpunished now / who walk the streets as free men now / they brought death to our hometown, boys."  They're starving us, putting us out of work, trying to make sure we die if we get sick.  Their policies, their rapacity, are destroying our cities and towns.  They're killing us.  But if you point that out, you're the dangerous one. 

Is Bruce Springsteen exhorting us to revolution here?  If so, he's careful to point out, through his oratory and his music, that he's just taking his part in a long and patriotic lineage.  It's right to want to bring the fuckers to justice.  It's part of the American tradition.  We may not take care of our own.  But, for better or worse, we do fight back when attacked.  So why not this time?

That's why the lilt of the melody, the jauntiness of the cadence, harken back to sea chanties, for God's sake - you can almost picture this song being sung by sailors at sea, Irish immigrants just off the boats, bluecoats marching to the fife and drum.  That's why the lyrics get so bloody and specific - earlier generations of liberals weren't so squeamish about their rhetoric.  It's liberating to call a spade a spade.

Bruce has trod this ground before, of course.  But last time he was content to be subtle about it.  To dramatize it, to observe and let us draw our own conclusions, hoping we'd figure it out for ourselves.  Well, we didn't.  And so he's spelling it out for us this time.  Is that less artful?  Is there not as much art in clarity as in subtlety?

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