Sunday, August 31, 2014

Musical Americana

Released in 1975, Bruce Springsteen’s album Born to Run constituted a final attempt to realize his dream of fame and fortune as a musician. The single of the same name anchored the album and described Springsteen’s desire to flee the Freehold Borough of New Jersey where he composed the song. The narrative consists of a dramatized depiction of the American experience and then a plea to elope directed towards his love interest Wendy. As a white American youth of the 1970s, it appears inevitable that Springsteen projected his bias in some form onto his work. The lyrics do, however, challenge some American stereotypes as Springsteen reflects on his mundane, verging on repugnant, surroundings and peers. These stereotypes and ideologies pervade American culture through works of popular music by artists from Frank Sinatra to Jay-Z. Born to Run reflects a belief in the ideal of separatism while challenging traditional gender expectations and proving eventually truthful in intent and impact.

The lyrics of Born to Run betray Springsteen’s fundamental belief in separatism. Separatism is closely related to the ‘American dream’ ideology. This ideology includes the conviction that the United States’ free market, capitalist system allows for any hard-working individual to advance in society. Juxtaposed to the monarchy of Great Britain or the caste system of India, American capitalism greatly reduces social stratification. It is evident, however, that the upper class of modern America maintains a firm grasp on the majority of the wealth by means of education, legal and political manipulation, and the amassing of corporate power in order to create monopolies. Springsteen notes that the working class has minimal chances of striking rich: “In the day we sweat it out on the streets of a runaway American dream.” The protagonist works hard for little return. The solution, as Springsteen sees it, is to separate from the society which stifles the individual’s success.

Springsteen decides, like the Revolutionaries of the British colonies, that the society is “a death trap, it’s a suicide rap, we got to get out while we’re young.” The idea that escaping a geographic region will brighten one’s future reflects a separatist impulse present throughout American culture. In a capitalist society, each individual fends for him or herself. Rather than identify the underlying problems causing a town or region to suffer, escape from that town. This impulsive and optimistic attitude causes American youths to constantly envision a better future somewhere else. It defines the American character, as by escaping the escapee apparently believes that the American dream is in fact attainable in a different location. Bruce Springsteen enforces that characteristic strongly in his song, and therefore the narrator lacks nuance and becomes less realistic and truthful.

Born to Run also questions gender stereotypes of American culture. These gender stereotypes and expectations are instilled in children through media of all kinds at a young age. Bruce Springsteen portrays a nuanced view of these stereotypes. The narrator speaks of himself as an isolated man, which can be construed as a stereotype. Men are seen as being independent whereas women are portrayed as dependent and vitally social beings. The narrator adds, however, “I’m just a scared and lonely rider.” The depiction of an independent man being afraid breaks the stereotype of the lone wolf. The protagonist requires a woman’s companionship both to quell his loneliness and to ease his fear. 

The lyrics go on to depict American youth attempting to live up to their gender expectations: “Girls comb their hair in rearview mirrors and the boys try to look so hard.” The idealized woman with perfect hair, and the ideal man whose greatest attribute is strength are both American stereotypes. The ability of Springsteen to recognize that these ideals are in fact superficial stereotypes demonstrates that the song is written from a truthful and critical viewpoint. In this way, Born to Run adopts a more realistic tone.

Bruce Springsteen composed Born to Run with a belief in the American dream that his audience shares. In 1975 Bruce Springsteen truly wished to leave New Jersey and search for a better life for himself. The song, therefore, contains actual emotions regarding the nature of the American dream and separatism. The triple-platinum certification of the song furthers the notion that Americans connect to the lyrics on a meaningful level. The song has taken a place in American culture of its own. Those who appreciate the song likely believe in the American dream just as Springsteen did when he wrote it, and the song’s impact is genuine. In an interesting way, this cycle of authentic belief in the American dream caused Bruce Springsteen to achieve his. The song served as a breaking point in his career, and people across America are familiar with his music. For Springsteen, in fact, the American dream is not a fallacy.

Springsteen’s Born to Run presents a valid picture of American life as he sees it. The American dream, to him, is in fact attainable as his song literally proves. Instantaneously, however, Springsteen critically reflects on his peers’ actions and the generalized traits they assume. Springsteen truthfully represents American culture as he knows it. Whether or not his version of America is equally accessible for all citizens might prove questionable. Perhaps the relatability and believability, whether it be out of hope or experience, cause the immense success of this single and Bruce Springsteen in general.

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating article, enjoyed the connection to other societies not just America's.