Noted as a musician, Springsteen reveals himself the author of texts of various inspiration and sensitivity: now visionary, now lyrical, now narrative. In fact one care recognize a kind of journey in his production, that moves from dense verses of abstract images to texts that recount stories with a precision of language, woven with metaphor, alliteration, allegory, that make stories in the form of poetry. A characteristic trait of his album is a realism innervated by dreams and desires in which everyone can find himself or herself. His art is not detached from common life: he wants to acknowledge the dignity or, better, the «nobility» of daily life. To draw inspiration the Boss therefore doesn’t go far: he looks precisely at his personal life—interwoven of high and lows, affective crises and desires of a serene life—and to that of people around him, squeezed between an unrealizable American Dream and the crude daily life of the periphery.
This cord makes it vibrate in unison with writers like John Steinbeck and Flannery O’Connor. But, among his sources of inspiration is even the Bible. Springsteen comes from a family of Italian-Irish roots. However his relationship with his religion was never idyllic. He traced back his refusal of the faith to a negative experience he had as a child: «God was used purely as an instrument of control. When I turned thirteen I had enough and said: “Enough!”». The God imagined and refused is therefore the controller God. Recently some simple gestures by the Boss have given pause to his perception of the sacred.
Any consideration linked to the personal conscience of the musician would therefore be undeserved. What interests us is not to say if Springsteen is a believer or not, nor if his music expresses the faith genuinely or if it betrays it, even why his production in this sense is not even unique. We intend therefore to note how, consciously or not, his inspiration is rich in figures, terms and symbols of religious meaning. If, in fact, some of his youthful songs appear blasphemous and banal and are fruit more of an acid vent than of true inspiration, what appears obvious from a complete reading of his tests is the fact that, from the evident rebellion of his adolescent years, it is matched by a sensitivity for the language and symbols of the Christian faith. Moreover, various theologians—both Catholic and Protestants (Andrew Greely, Jerry H. Gill, Kate McCarthy, William D. Romanowski…)—have noted how the work of Springsteen has a «redemptive» quality: it plays his symbols and his principal themes (street, car, darkness, love…) in a dialectic of damnation and hope, adopting frequent images and terms of the biblical tradition.
From visionary «flash» to dark stories
Springsteen, born in 1949 in a New Jersey small town, by 1965 played in the circuits of Greenwich Village of New York. In 1972 an audition with the producer John Hammond opens the doors of dreams and so in 1973 he brings out his first album: Greetings From Asbury Park, N. J. He who was launched as a kind of new Bob Dylan already presented an acerbic but personal style, that will allow him to move with a certain freedom between folk, rhythm n’blues and rock. The scenarios of this album are composed of robbery, the underworld, drunk women, rhythmical drama on the road of escape. In the piece Growing Up he seems to find the key of the universe in the rumble of an old car. The restlessness of the twenty-three year old musician to his debut are distilled in a dizzying succession of flash and visions: these songs, Springsteen will say after years, «were flashes of lightning, authentic energy. I wrote like in the grip of a fever. I had no money, no place to go, nothing to do. It was winter, it was cold and I wrote».
His second disc, a collage of frames and extensive sequences held together by the piano, The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle (1974), marks the beginning of his collaboration with the «E Street Band». Springsteen sings of the survival of the desperate searching for a landing, of a «redemption». In that masterpiece that is New York City Serenade he sings: So shake it away, so shake away your street life/ shake away the city life and grab the first train. The rapid visions of the first disc here already seem to begin to stretch out in the form of stories and descriptions.
Born To Run (1975) it the disc that make the Boss become one of the more acclaimed stars of world rock. From now on, the Springsteen «myth» is consolidated. In this disc, he is framing the symbols of the world from which he comes in a cinema-photographic way: cage, rebellion, escape. The direction is Northeast, that is Manhattan through the Holland Tunnel (Meeting Across The River and Jungleland), that becomes the cradle of misfits and outcasts. The tensions he expresses in the power of the automobile, in the magic of the night and of the infinite direction of the street moves towards a longed for liberation in terms of the religious flavor. Springsteen in fact uses words like faith, redemption, promised land, as far as invoking a savior: that from these streets a savior rises up. If the night is dark, the sidewalk is lighted / and covered by light and in the night it is possible to find a passage / for the soul. We must believe, clenching the faith between our teeth. The direction remains towards that place / where we really want to go / And finally we will walk in the sun / But until then vagabonds like us / We were born to run.
In 1978 Darkness On The Edge Of Town comes out. Springsteen relishes the realization of his dream of success, but he is aware that it is only «an illusion of salvation». And then the question: «Where is the man OK with his guitar? What is my place in the world?» The question opens gloomy scenarios and night time sequences in the white and black of strong contrasts. The objective is not focused on the escape, but on the difficulties of the journey. Yet again, the religious language becomes a way to tell the purely human experience. In Adam Raised A Cain—inspired by the novel East of Eden by Steinbeck—Springsteen sings of the his relationship with his father telling of an inherited sin and of coming into the work paying / for the sins of the past of somebody else. Clearly, even if the words used are those of the faith, the vision is gloomy and, in desperate strokes, unacceptable for an illuminated prospective of Christian hope.
Springsteen’s poetry rings in consonance with that of the writer Flannery O’Connor who John Landau, reviewer for the magazine Rolling Stone and then his manager, advised him to read. Although he is not able to fully grasp the theological depth of Catholic writers, the reading of these writers was for him a «great, great revelation». This reading, matured to the threshold of 30 years, produced a notable effect. Springsteen became passionate about the story A Good Man Is Hard To Find, so much so that he wrote a song with the same title, and for the novel Wise Blood, as well as then to the movie by John Huston in 1979. Hazel Motes precisely, the protagonist of this novel, affirms that «nobody needs justification if he goes around in a good car». This phrase could be put in the mouth of the characters of Springsteen’s songs: in fact, all are, really or metaphorically, embarked on a street, in a car, that is the place of justification, of absolution, of redemption. The world of the Boss’s characters is gloomy. For the poetry of O’Connor grace acts «in a territory held in great part by the devil». Springsteen seems however too blinded by darkness and by badlands, to use two of the many possible metaphors, to see the action of a form of «grace». In any case, if there can be light, here it shines only if there is darkness. Darkness On The Edge Of Town leaves man nailed to his own radical condition: sin. You can make out the temptation that leads to a despairing attitude all too insisted. Nevertheless he resists a form of redemptive tension, even if in a horizontal direction and therefore insufficient to reach the borders of a real salvation. Maybe it appears from far away: we’ll run / up to the sea / And we’ll wash these sins from our hands (Racing in the street). I am a man—he affirms again in The Promised Land—and I believe in a promised land.
In the double album The River (1980) the songs tell of sharp contrasts of states of soul between the lack of a center and the desire for escape between streets and rivers. The dreams assume the form of an inexhaustible restlessness like in Hungry Heart, that the Swedish theologian Ola Sigurdson reads comparing it to the Confessions of Augustine, where it reads: «Our heart is restless until it rest in You». The reading can appear too generic, because, basically, the heart of every man and woman is always restless. However, in effect, in the song we notice the contrast between the affirmation that Everyone needs a place to rest / everyone wants to have a home and, on the other hand, the fact that the protagonist, while having a wife and kids, goes out for a spin and then doesn’t return home anymore and goes like a river that doesn’t know where it flows. At the end, Springsteen rips out of himself a desire: And I wish that God would send me a word / Something to be afraid of losing (Drive all night).
In 1982, when music video and postmodern and jazzy elaborations dominate the market, Springsteen comes out with the album Nebraska, that was defined as «resolutely and provocatively out of date» for the «monotone and simple singing, essential music, slow and unadorned». The songs are presented in the temporary, acoustic form without electric arrangement. In faded scenarios, they are focused on human failures. Beginning from this experience, Springsteen develops in symbolic terms and implicit poetry of sin, so to speak. The song My Father’s House tells of the return of a son to his father’s house and the model is that of the «prodigal son», but reversed in its meaning. The conclusion, is in fact bitter and disappointing: the father has moved or is no longer there and the house is cold and isolated / Shining beyond this dark highway where our sins / lie unatoned. The Boss seems therefore to exclude an intervention that comes for on «high» and that is from above the ribbon of asphalt on which the car is launched. After the tragedies of madness, images of emptiness, desolation, jail and execution, a last prayer is launched, a dry, sharp scream: free me from nothing (State Trooper). Despite the gloomy tones, Nebraska however manages to distill even some words of compassion (cfr Highway Patrolman) and hope, like those that harbor in the long stanzas of Reason To Believe. At the end, despite the daily tragedies, there is always that blind, incomprehensible hope that leads the characters to believe that at the end / people find something / reasons to believe.
In 1984 Born In The U.S.A. comes out, Springsteen’s true, great, world success. The song that has given the album its name seemed to many a patriotic and triumphal hymn. Reagan sought to use it in his election campaign. It was a blunder: the strong and hard rhythms conceal a text that speaks of rage, disillusionment, frustration: I’m ten years burning down the road / Nowhere to run ain’t got nowhere to go. Yet again, Springsteen tells stories of hard times where the images of an angry vent, of a rainy fog, of a train that drags you down appear. Sometimes—Springsteen writes—it’s like someone took a knife baby / edgy and dull and cut a six inch valley / through the middle of my soul (I’m On Fire).olland
A turning point in search of «human contact»
At the release of the next disc, Tunnel Of Love (1987), the magazine Rolling Stone comments that here «the Catholic education received by Springsteen can be clearly perceived; the protagonists pray repeatedly to be delivered from evil, stories of love are represented as a manifestation of divine grace», beside those doubts and that perception of evil that we already recognize. It’s no coincidence, therefore, that after the release of this disc, America¸ the U.S. Catholic weekly, dedicated a cover to the Boss. The words are more interior. Now on stage is the Leggi tutto “«The Resurrection» of Bruce Springsteen”