Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Trouble in the Heartland


There’s no official publication date yet but I think the buzz has started to really build about a new anthology of stories inspired by Bruce Springsteen songs, Trouble in the Heartland.

I’m thrilled to have a story in the collection, especially since I grew up in a big city very far from the ‘heartland.’ untitled (9)

And yet, even though through the 70s Montreal was famous for hosting some massive prog rock concerts in the Olympic Stadium – ELP and their full orchestra and choir, Pink Floyd and the giant pig (legend has it that it was at the Olympic Stadium concert that Roger Waters first got the idea he wanted a wall between himself and the rowdy crowd – and then the rest of the world), Queen Rocks Montreal is a pretty good DVD – Bruce Springsteen is also massively popular there – as he is everywhere.

Sometimes I watch YouTube clips of Springsteen playing at soccer arenas in Europe and wonder what the crowd there really knows about Nebraska?

The Vietnam War is pretty much at the heart of America’s baby boom generation and yet there are audiences in Amsterdam and Oslo singing, “Got into a hometown jam, so they put a rifle in my hand, sent me off to a foreign land, to go and kill the yellow man.” (you’re singing along right now, aren’t you). It can’t just be the catchy beat.

So, while no other country had its young men drafted and sent to war in Vietnam, the feeling – the feelings, the strange, confusing, contradictory feelings that young men go through as they make their way from adolescent to adult – the desire to be a ‘good guy’ and a hero, to defend their country, to do their part, to not let people down – is universal.

And so is what Springsteen hit on so perfectly; “Go and kill the yellow man.”

Lately I’ve been doing some research on Vietnam War Resisters – draft dodgers as they were called at the time – and one thing that keeps coming up again and again isn’t men saying they were afraid to die, but men saying that they did not want, “to go and kill the yellow man.”

So I guess Springsteen gets to the universal heart of the matter for young men.

But what I’ve always loved about Bruce Springsteen songs are the women. And the relationships. He also gets to the heart of the matter there, too.

Springsteen songs aren’t about guys who try really hard and the women who don’t understand them. The women in Springsteen songs aren’t manipulative femme fatales selfishly getting what they want and tossing the men aside. These are people who struggle together.

Or not together. And there’s always that possibility that things will fall apart.

“Cherry says she’s gonna walk, ‘cause she found out I took her radio and hocked it, But Eddie, man, she don’t understand, that two grand’s practically in my pocket.”

Oh no, Cherry understands. Cherry’s been through this before. More than once. That radio’s gone and there won’t be two grand in this guy’s pocket. He’s an amateur and he’s going to get schooled by a pro. He’s the only one who can’t see it coming.

For my contribution to Trouble in the Heartland I picked the song, “Spare Parts,” from the Tunnel of Love album because I really like Janey. Sure, maybe after she gets pregnant (“Bobby said he’d pull out, Bobby stayed in”) Bobby gets let off a little easily, “Bobby got scared and he ran away,” and Janey has to deal with everything, but it is Janey’s story.

It was a thrill to imagine a little more to Janey’s story and I want to thank Joe Clifford and the guys at Zelmer Pulp and Gutter Books. I can’t wait to read the stories.


Jay Stringer said...

Great post. TUNNEL OF LOVE is one of my go-to Bruce albums. Particularly as someone who's been through a divorce (though I loved it before that, too) it speaks to the compromises, the lies, the small little failures, it's a brutally honest album.

More than that though, I think your post hits on something that I've not seen raised often.

When "we" (the royal we, meaning all fans to an degree) praise Bruce and talk about his music, we probably contribute to a certain view on his music; so often we discuss the blue-collar working class man in his music, the struggles and the fights of these men to find identity and survive. And though that is all there, and though it's all a vital part, we maybe don't often enough talk about how broad his canvas is. We don't talk about the women, the immigrants, the children, the various "other" to male-oriented rock that he brings in. We don't talk about the migrants, the families and the homeless on the Tom Joad album, for example.

I remember listening to "This Hard Land" when I was 15 and singing along to "one kiss from you, my brother" and being challenged to think about what i was singing, and what i felt about what i was singing, in a way I wasn't getting from the increasingly boring macho laddishness of the Britpop on the radio.

So, sometimes I wonder, do the fans do Springsteen's work a disservice in our biased praise of him?

John McFetridge said...

I think we do a disservice to the fans of the music. I think we underestimate the blue-collar men and women in the songs and the ones who listen to and identify with the songs.

I think Springsteen gets across the difficult choices and limited options people have but he doesn't fall into easy stereotypes - his blue-collar men and women aren't racists afraid of immigrants taking their jobs (it's not just expensively educated hipsters singing along to "41 Shots," it's blue-collar workers) they're not homophobes (Springsteen's contribution to the "Philadelphia" soundtrack was the only song written in the first-person) and they aren't unquestioning blind patriots spouting "my country right or wrong" that the media would have us believe.

Jay Stringer said...

True, all of that.

I think you may have inspired a post from me further down the line.