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May 01, 2005


Previous episodes in the continuing "NL:A!" series can be found here and here.

Bruce Springsteen has achieved more artistically, and done more good for humankind, than I could if I lived to be 10,000 years old. However, I still feel free to criticize him. Specifically, I've always been irked and amused by his song "My Hometown":

In '65 tension was running high at my high school
There was a lot of fights between the black and white
There was nothing you could do
Two cars at a light on a saturday night in the back seat there was a gun
Words were passed in a shotgun blast
Troubled times had come to my hometown

In fairness, the problem here could be attributed to the narrator of the song rather than Springsteen himself. In any case, one fact remains:

For black people, the "troubled times" in America probably began at some point before 1965.

I imagine black people in his hometown in 1965 weren't sitting around saying, "You know, the past four hundred years of being kidnapped, enslaved, raped and murdered by the millions wasn't so bad. The REAL trouble only started recently, when one person of indeterminate race got shot."

As you can see, nice (white) liberals—particularly at moments when they're at their most soulfully sensitive—have the ability to not see what's sitting right in front of their face and painted fluorescent purple.

P.S. Here's an interesting interview with Springsteen about his new album.

Posted at May 1, 2005 11:55 AM | TrackBack

Jonathan: Springsteen is the meeting point of compassion and narcissism. (Which distinguishes him from other rockers, who wallow at the intersection of narcissism and narcissism.) "My hometown" is a compassionate song about... "me and myself."
Which, you have to admit, is a step up from Keith Toby's ugly, hateful songs about "him and himself."
Not to mention America's favorite narrative about Iraq, which is the ultimate "me and myself" song.

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at May 1, 2005 01:02 PM

Well, there's a case to be made that a combination of compassion and narcissism is the best humanity is capable of.

I have a whole rant about the moral imagination and how it functions. I plan to impose it on the world as soon as I can figure out how to make it funny.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at May 1, 2005 07:08 PM

Yeah, it may be that Springsteen was blind to something obvious there.

But, as you point out, it *is* consistent with who the narrator almost certainly is. Would a black man have had a father who drove a Buick? Nope. Hell, I can't think of any Springsteen narrator before "The Ghost of Tom Joad" who isn't a blue collar white guy. So at least the line makes sense.

Posted by: Scott E. at May 1, 2005 09:13 PM

Shorter Jonathan Schwarz:

A self-centered epiphany is better than willful solipsism.

Which is actually true! Compassionate narcissists get ego strokes when the people they help stop suffering. They're also less likely to hang the sufferers upside down and beat them in order to make them good.

Posted by: Harry at May 2, 2005 11:37 AM

Scott E.,

You're right that it's consistent with the character... but while I wanted to acknowledge the possibility that's all that was going on, I think it's unlikely. I suspect it was some blindness on the part of Springsteen himself.


I do sincerely believe this is the best we can hope for. For instance, examine the words of these well-known narcissists:

Clarence Darrow:

"Not only could I put myself in the other person's place, but I could not avoid doing so. My sympathies always went to the weak, the suffering, and the poor. Realizing their sorrows, I tried to relieve them in order that I might be relieved."

Eugene Debs:

"While there is a lower class, I am in it. While there is a criminal element, I am of it. While there is a soul in prison, I am not free."


"Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do to me."

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at May 2, 2005 12:45 PM

I also have to say, in defence of The Boss: you are plucking a song from "Born in the U.S.A." Everyone knows that the glorious run of true Jersey Bossdom ended right before "Darkness on the Edge of Town," though Darkness is still gold. Yes, yes, hipsters, "Nebraska" is great, but if you really want the genius of Bruce you have to go back to the time before he was a soulful rock-balladeer of the working man's lost dreams, and was just singing about blue-collar Jersey folks at carnivals (which illuminated more about all that stuff than a hundred-thousand 'My Hometowns').

Posted by: The Velvet Fog at May 2, 2005 08:37 PM

Velvet Frog--

That was incredible. I think you sprained my irony.

Posted by: Matthew Sullivan at May 2, 2005 11:19 PM

Is it Velvet Fog or Velvet Frog? Although both are admittedly appealling.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at May 3, 2005 04:14 AM


To save a little face, though...


Posted by: Matthew Sullivan at May 3, 2005 09:22 AM


First the Asimov thing, then this whole insinuation that I should know how to spell. You're on thin ice with me, buddy.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at May 3, 2005 10:32 AM
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