a few weeks ago, i was talking to someone about my love of bruce springsteen songs, which started when i was about 18 years old. of course it was him looking & sounding totally hot in the song dancing in the dark which first caught my eye, but from there i went on to discover his earlier music, which meant that i became and have stayed a fan ever since.
the thing with mr springsteen is his ability to tell working class stories, in a way that's accessible. i'd be hard-pressed to pick a favourite song cos i haven't anything from him i didn't like, but my favourites tend to be the slower songs like atlantic city, racing in the streets, the river, independence day. my favourite album of his would be the river. i'd have to credit mr springsteen with raising my consciousness for working class issues, because i have never actually been a working class person nor have i had to face the struggles around poverty and unemployment that he sings about. i am one of the privileged, and he brought that home to me in his lyrics about broken dreams and empty futures.
another thing about mr springsteen is that he has never sold out. throughout this decade, i've watched him campaign for mr kerry and mr obama, and he continues to highlight issues of social justice and poverty, and the struggle of those at the bottom end of society. i don't think you could beat this man for sheer decency & integrity. i remember seeing an old interview from back in the late 70s i think, and a reporter was almost outraged at him singing about the broken american dream, when he happened to be the living embodiment of said dream. she demanded an explanation of what she seemed to think of as hypocrisy, without seeming to realise that while that dream had come true for mr springsteen, there were millions of others for whom it hadn't.
so anyway, i was talking to someone about some of this, and he lent me a copy of the album we shall overcome: the seeger sessions. it's an album full of american folk music, including "freedom songs" sung as part of the civil rights movement, anti-war songs and union songs. i've had it playing in the car over the last few weeks, and just love it.
tonight i thought i'd find out more about the history of the songs, and have spent the evening reading up about them. and it seemed to me, as i read, that in this day and age we don't seem to have that sense of a "movement" - a collective struggle for social justice. when i look at the movements that some of these songs represent, i think that somehow we've lost the plot or maybe lost the will to fight? have we lost the passion and the commitment that earlier generations, particularly in the twentieth century, were able to bring to their struggles?
i guess we saw a glimmer of it recently in the march against mining on conservation land. but in the minds of many people, past battles are over and we have apparently reached equality now. even though there is plenty of evidence to show otherwise. we know that many battles won in previous decades have since been lost (remember the 40 hour working week, overtime, compulsory breaks?), others have never been won (pay equity, discrimination) although some things have improved considerably.
maybe it's a sense of powerlessness that stops us, the fear that our efforts will be fruitless or that those ideals can never be achieved. who knows. but i have to say that i was inspired by the commitment of pete seeger and his band, who travelled around his country raising consciousness through music. and i love that mr springsteen puts these memories and issues back in front of us in a way that continues to inspire.
so here's my favourite song from the album, with bruce springsteen and the seeger band playing live with conan o'brien on his late night show: