Ryan L. Cole reflects on the persona that led Bruce Springsteen to fame and fortune:
His 1973 debut album, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., and its follow-ups, The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle (also 1973), and Born to Run (1975), featured songs about Jersey boardwalks, open roads, slamming screen doors, and other assorted bits of romanticized American life, written with a verbosity that would make Bob Dylan tip a leopard-skin pillbox hat … . But around the time of his fourth LP, Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978) … the songs increasingly turned to blue-collar angst, and the singer was progressively positioned as the culmination of rock ’n’ roll: Elvis Presley with a social conscience.
Springsteen embraced the imagery, iconography, and gestures of the genre. He threw on a leather jacket, sculpted his sideburns, and posed broodingly in Corvettes and Cadillacs. Then he name-checked John Steinbeck and Flannery O’Connor, sang of American decay and inequality, and rebuffed Ronald Reagan, whose reelection campaign had the nerve to assume that “Born in the USA”—a gloomy song about a homeless Vietnam veteran dolled up with a misleadingly anthemic chorus and sold with imagery of Springsteen draped in Old Glory—was actually a statement of patriotism. Which is not to say that Springsteen isn’t a patriot. It’s just that he articulates progressivism’s brand of national pride: America is noble in theory, nightmarish in reality; cool around the edges, but rotten to the core.
Previous Dish on Springsteen here.