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The Faith-Based Politics of Bruce Springsteen

by June Skinner Sawyers


Workingman

WORKINGMAN

He is a patriot but hardly a simple-minded jingoist, as some of his critics have portrayed him. He is a more complicated patriot who sees his country through grey-colored lenses. More precisely, he is an anachronism, an old-fashioned FDR liberal stuck in twenty-first-century, conservative America. He believes Americans should take care of their own at a time when distrust of government is at an all-time high.

Bruce Springsteen is often called the rock-and-roll laureate of the United States, the Everyman prophet of the working class. His work indeed unites poetry and politics and religion. This most Catholic of artists writes lyrics infused with a strong Catholic streak, punctuated by biblical metaphors and messianic warnings. Catholicism is to Springsteen what Judaism is to Bob Dylan: an inseparable part of his self.

For decades now Springsteen has written extensively about people down on their luck, with trenchant commentary on various disasters—both manmade and natural—from the 9/11 attacks to the war-from-the-hip administration of George W. Bush to the Great Recession. Although social justice issues have always been an undercurrent in his work, his recent efforts indicate a near obsession with them. The characters he sings about in “We Take Care of Our Own,” “Jack of All Trades,” “Easy Money,” “Shackled and Drawn,” and “Death to My Hometown”—all from his 2012 release Wrecking Ball—condemn government policies that he considers woefully inadequate in caring for the lives of those in need. In “Shackled and Drawn,” for example, Springsteen’s narrator could not be more direct: the fat-cat bankers—Romney’s 1 percent—live it up while the “workingman pays the bill.”

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