Bruce Springsteen's new single is out and can be heard here. It is entitled "We Take Care of Our Own," and after a few listens I don't think I hear any irony in it at all.
It picks right up on Springsteen's trope from the run-up to the U.S.A.'s last presidential election. Below is an example from October 4, 2008 in Philadelphia. It's a long quote, but beautiful and worth reading if you are interested in a quintessential American artist who has not given up on taking -- as my friend David Bilotti has said --"the American moment and set[ting] it to an epic song." Springsteen says:
I've spent 35 years writing about America, its people, and the meaning of the American Promise. That’s the Promise that was handed down to us, right here in this city from our founding fathers, with one instruction: Do your best to make these things real. Opportunity, equality, social and economic justice, a fair shake for all of our citizens, the American idea, as a positive influence, around the world for a more just and peaceful existence. These are the things that give our lives hope, shape, and meaning. They are the ties that bind us together and give us faith in our contract with one another.
I've spent most of my creative life measuring the distance between that American promise and American reality. For many Americans, who are today losing their jobs, their homes, seeing their retirement funds disappear, who have no healthcare, or who have been abandoned in our inner cities the distance between that promise and that reality has never been greater or more painful.
[. . .]
Our sacred house of dreams has been abused, it’s been looted, and it’s been left in a terrible state of disrepair. It needs care, it needs saving, and it needs defending against those who would sell it down the river for power or a quick buck. It needs a citizenry with strong arms, hearts, and minds. . . . But most importantly, it needs you. And me. It needs us to rebuild our house with the generosity that is at the heart of the American spirit. A house that is truer and big enough to contain the hopes and dreams of all of our fellow citizens. Because that is where our future lies. We will rise or we will fall as a people by our ability to accomplish this task. Now I don't know about you, but I know that I want that dream my house back, I want my America back, and I want my country back.
Ronald Reagan's people overlooked all irony during the election year of "Born in the U.S.A.," calling upon Springsteen as an example of how
America’s future rests in a thousand dreams inside our hearts. It rests in the message of hope in the songs of a man so many young Americans admire: New Jersey’s own Bruce Springsteen.
Springsteen was not prone to public positions on policy and politics back in 1984 like he is today, but he shared his distaste for Reagan's use of his song in various ways on stage and off, including shredding "Born in the U.S.A." as an unmistakeable counter to Reagan's interpretation every night.
One line repeated at the end of "We Take Care of Our Own is "Where's the promise from sea to shining sea?" In fact, the entire song comes forth as an excellent question.
While we are sure that this election season will be as twisted and nasty -- more twisted, more nasty -- than any other, Springsteen will be on tour at the same time. This gives us something to look forward to and also provides some help in framing what the national dialogue might be about in the months ahead.
As he is wont to do, Springsteen has thrown down the gauntlet for anyone running for the highest office in the land. An artist who has thrived for four decades on interpreting American archetypes -- flags, cars, promises and promised lands, and a sea-to-shining-sea are just a few -- is peeling back the layers obscuring these archetypes just as Reagan tried to smooth his voice over Springsteen's.
Simple as a kid on a playground sticking a finger in your chest and in a way that you never forget, Springsteen isn't interested in the commentary. He just wants the facts. "Hey," he says, "what are you really made of?"
As the song spirals to its end, the answer to this question is "We Take Care of Our Own." That's the place where the commentary begins.