Spirits in the Night

Paul Harvey

Today's Weekend Edition Sunday features an interview with Jeffrey Symynkywicz, the author of The Gospel According to Bruce Springsteen: Rock and Redemption from Asbury Park to Magic. No "Spirit in the Night" in the interview, but here's his exegesis on "Jungleland":

In an interview, host Liane Hansen takes Symynkywicz through a few choice Springsteen songs, including the last song on Born to Run, "Jungle Land." Symynkywicz says it's an ethics song about perceived powers and the powers that be. Ultimately, he says, "Jungle Land" gives the sense that the bad guys have won — until that famous last scream from Springsteen.

"That scream is the exhaustion and the pain of living life in this world," Symynkywicz says. "In that scream is a defiance that it's not going to be the last word."

And yes, it's a middle-aged white guy thing, so shut up already. I'm counting on the youngsters here, especially you Ed and Katie and Randall and Luke, to resurrect our hipness quotient after this brief excursion to the heart of middle America.

In what should be, with any sense, one of my few stabs at quasi-hipness in the field of book reviewing, I once compared Eugene Genovese and Elizabeth Fox-Genovese's Mind of the Master Class to a recent Springsteen recording:

I rather feel about it [the book Mind of the Master Class] as I did listening to Bruce Springsteen's Devils and Dust--the critics praised it, eminent music-listening friends loved it, and I admired it in parts, but I could not help feeling that the talents of the artist were constrained by the form, that something was being held back, and that I was denied the impassioned masterpiece that I wanted to hear/read. Yes, this is an aesthetic rather than an intellectual critique, but there you have it. Oh, for the days of The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle--Springsteen's flawed, sprawling, but ultimately grand equivalent, I believe, to Eugene Genovese's problematic but still matchlessly interesting work Roll, Jordan, Roll (1974). By contrast, Mind of the Master Class . . . somehow lacks the majestic narrative that carried forward the earlier classic.

I'm going on 50, what can I say? But Bruce is about as religious a songwriter as you'll ever find. As he constantly reminds us, we're all hiding on the backstreets, tying faith between our teeth.


Luke Harlow said…
Paul, the Boss is about as hip as it gets these days. Many of the best (that is to say, bands I like) up-and-coming indie bands are referencing his sound. The Hold Steady, The Gaslight Anthem, Marah, The Loved Ones, and many, many others are finding Bruce quite influential. (Of course, maybe its a late-twenties white guy thing, but I don't think you're giving your relevance with the "younger crowd" enough credit.)
Anonymous said…
Of all the great armies of rock fans, few can match the devotion of Bruce Springsteen's. Anyone who has experienced Springsteen in concert will testify that the bond between audience and artist transcends the usual adulation. Something magical, almost mystical happens. Some might describe it as spiritual-most definitely it is life affirming. It is in trying to nail this phenomenon that the beautiful hardbound For You has arrived.
Edited by Lawrence Kirsch and replete with an amazing welter of outstanding photographs, it's a mind-blowing collection of thoughts and stories from fans of every age and many nations, each explaining why Springsteen occupies such an important place in their hearts. Covering all four decades of Springsteen's career it is possibly the ultimate volume for it is the fans who have made the journey and whose words tell us as much about them as they do about Springsteen. The warmth and humanity that flows from every page is truly moving and provides a beacon of hope from which we can all draw strength in these hard times. Not a book to be read at one sitting but rather to revisit and enjoy over time.
BlakeatRice said…
I remember reading that review of The Mind of the Master Class, and I found the reference somewhat hip. But I grew up listening to country music, so I am far behind my fellow white guy liberals in revering the Boss. I only got into him in college. I think a little Springsteen devotion never hurt anyone; you just don't want to take it to Russert-like proportions or that will be all people talk about at your memorial services. Just a thought.
Art said…
"I'm counting on the youngsters here, especially you Ed and Katie and Randall and Luke, to resurrect our hipness quotient"

Now that hurts my feelings. Is it because I'm in my mid-30s? Or is it because I'm irredeemably uncool? Heck, I once taught a section in "American cool" in a philosophy class. Oh wait... analyzing cool is decidedly uncool. So I guess you're right.

Still, I did send Blog Master Harvey a link to a fine OCMS song , which represents the best in interreligious song-writing.

I hear the tender words from Zion,
I hear Noah's waterfall,
Hear the gentle lamb of Judah,
Sleeping at the feet of Buddha,
And the prophets from Elijah,
To the old Paiute Wovoka...

Tracy said…
Don't know what it does to the hipness quotient here, but I love Bruce. I always thought of it as a working-class Catholic thing, never a white guy thing or a middle America thing--it made perfect sense to me that he opened Jazzfest after Katrina, for example. The only academic thing I could ever stand to read about him though is James Fisher's haunting essay "Clearing the Streets of the Catholic Lost Generation" in Tom Ferraro's "Catholic Lives, Contemporary America" (Duke 1997). Anyone still putting a syllabus together: this is a fabulous collection.