There's a Bullshitter on the Edge of Town


Demonstrating once again that if there's anything more brutal than damning with faint praise, it's praising with clear-headed self-loathing, Slate's Stephen Metcalf takes a scalpel through The Boss' bullshit, in a piece subtitled "Why I Still Love Bruce Springstreen." A sampling:

Thirty years later, and largely thanks to [Jon] Landau, Springsteen is no longer a musician. He's a belief system. And, like any belief system worth its salt, he brooks no in-between. You're either in or you're out. This has solidified Bruce's standing with his base, for whom he remains a god of total rock authenticity. But it's killed him with everyone else. To a legion of devout nonbelievers–they're not saying Bruuuce, they're booing–Bruce is more a phenomenon akin to Dianetics or Tinkerbell than "the new Dylan," as the Columbia Records promotions machine once hyped him. And so we've reached a strange juncture. About America's last rock star, it's either Pentecostal enthusiasm or total disdain.

To walk back from this impasse, we need to see Springsteen's persona for what it really is: Jon Landau's middle-class fantasy of white, working-class authenticity. Does it derogate Springsteen to claim that he is, in essence, a white minstrel act? Not at all. […]

Next to, say, Iron and Wine, Devils & Dust too often sounds like a chain store selling faux Americana bric-a-brac. One always suspects with Springsteen that, in addition to a blonde Telecaster and "the Big Man," a focus group lies close at hand.

Whole ambush here. As someone who has liked Bruuuce enough to make a mixed tape for his bewildered non-Jersey wife during the courtship phase, I'm grateful Metcalf put into words how it all went so horribly wrong (even if the blame-Landau theory gets Springsteen off the hook too easily, and a second culprit goes unnamed—his 18-year drought of distinctive melodies). It must be damned hard to avoid drinking your own Kool-aid when your good work is over-analyzed by a legion of hyperventiliating, half-intellectual non-musicians (this is the great unresolved trauma in Bob Dylan's Chronicles), but that doesn't mean we all shouldn't share a belly laugh when the likes of Springsteen and Steve Earle seem to lose their bearings entirely, becoming the type of insufferable artiste that the increasingly unrealistic-sounding blue-collar heroes in their songs would surely pelt with a 40-ouncer.

I had a last-minute opportunity to see Bruce play a live acoustic show for free just last night, something that would have caused me to wet myself two decades ago, but after reading Springsteen hagiographer Robert Hilburn of the L.A. Times report that the Boss begins each show on this tour by instructing the audience to shush up, turn off their cell phones and refrain from singing along, it didn't seem worth breaking my plans for.

For some reason-related Springsteenia, here's Jersey brat Nick Gillespie's 2003 mockerry of the Boss' free-speech whining and 1996 fact-check of The Ghost of Tom Joad; plus Brian Doherty's 1997 review of The Mansion on a Hill, 2002 pan of The Rising, and excellent 2000 essay, The Strange Politics of Millionaire Rock Stars. (Link via Sploid.)