The Aughts Silver Linings: Why Bruce Matters

On The Brian Lehrer Show we've been looking back at the 2000s, which some are calling one of the worst decades ever. But there's also plenty of silver linings, and BL Show producer Jody Avirgan makes his case for why Bruce Springsteen is the most encouraging story of the decade.

from alex hempton-smith on flickr

from alex hempton-smith on flickr

The apocryphal story is that, soon after September 11th, 2001, a young man approached Bruce Springsteen outside of a grocery store and told him, simply, “we need you.” Whether this really happened or if it was some sort of parking-lot vision doesn’t really matter – Bruce probably knew that we needed him from the moment he saw the two towers fall.

The album that rose from that plea was “The Rising,” the culmination of Bruce Springsteen’s transformation from heartland hero to our country's most important poet-bard. And it’s that transformation that has marked much of what has been great about the “aughts”, rising from the ashes that fell at the dawn of the decade. Starting with those songs and throughout the last ten years, Bruce picked up and embraced the power of song to inspire collective emotion and action. His songs stopped being about individuals (pimps, hot rod racers, and circus freaks) and became about us, his brothers and sisters.

Now the sweet veils of mercy
drift through the evening trees
Young men on the corner
like scattered leaves
The boarded up windows
The empty streets
While my brother's down on his knees


This decade saw Springsteen openly embrace the politics and patriotism of song in the finest folk tradition; but this political engagement has little to do with his campaigning for President Obama last fall – just ask conservative columnist David Brooks and Republican Governor-Elect Chris Christie what they think of Bruce. Instead, Springsteen’s most meaningful stand is the one he takes for hope, dignity, brotherhood and “small-d” democracy. And in the 2000s, that stand qualified as a monumental political statement.

He’s inserted himself into a tradition of American folk-prophets – you can draw a line from Joe Hill to Woody Guthrie, through Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan, right to Bruce. (Though, I like the formulation by Jon Stewart best when he introduced Springsteen at the Kennedy Center honors: "I believe Bob Dylan and James Brown had a baby…and they deposited that child somewhere between exit 9 and 9A off the Jersey Turnpike.") When I think of Bruce Springsteen’s flourishing role in our national conversation - and at the age of 60 no less – I think of what Woody Guthrie said:

I hate a song that makes you think that you are not any good. I hate a song that makes you think that you are just born to lose. Bound to lose. No good to nobody. No good for nothing. Because you are too old or too young or too fat or too slim too ugly or too this or too that. Songs that run you down or poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or hard traveling. I am out to fight those songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood…. I decided a long time ago that I'd starve to death before I'd sing any such songs as that. The radio waves and your movies and your jukeboxes and your songbooks are already loaded down and running over with such no good songs as that anyhow.

I know Bruce has memorized those words, and I’m glad he’s decided to live them out and bring us along with him.