Early 90’s Springsteen and the Duality of Human Nature

The cold wet air could best be described as a “shitmist”.  On the way from Oklahoma City to Dallas.   In the back of the van trying to unlock why, even in the midst of his supposed slump, the early 90’s,  Bruce Springsteen was still able to create works that have staying power.  Strip him of his band, bring in a bunch of session players that lack any discernable personality, record things in a way that is somewhat stiff, and there is still something there if you pay attention. 

With every wish there comes a curse

Listen to the song With Every Wish from his Human Touch album.  It has a dark seductive power to it as it examines someone whose dreams fall short.  In fact I think it is because Springsteen never shies away from the hard truths of reality that his songs are more than one dimensional.  

Any life when viewed from the inside, is simply a series of defeats.
     –  George Orwell

In the midst of life we are in death, etc.
     – Morrissey

This is not to say Springsteen’s music lacks hope or love or joy.  In fact his music is often quite life affirming despite how often darkly realistic his lyrics can be.  They often deal with a loss of innocence as someone grows older and comes to terms with the harsh realities of the world.  But even in spite of this, his characters often carry on.  Although there are characters of his that are on the long slide to oblivion, many also often find love or are determined to bear hardship. 

Springsteen is too smart to ignore complexity.  There are no easy fixes.  Love in and of itself will not solve all problems.  Things can be made better, but there is hard work to do if it is to be so.  Dreams can just as easily circle back to haunt you.  He never forgets the passion of the teenager, but he also never ignores the struggle of adulthood.  It is this duality that gives his work power. 

This duality, this complexity in outlook, means that even his lesser albums have moments that are worth recommending.   I think his most misunderstood album, Human Touch,  has many such moments.  Although it does suffer somewhat from the production and choice of musicians, and it is not a front to back masterpiece, there are a lot of songs where the writing is really sharp.  He also writes a lot of great melodies that bring the lyrics to life, whereas the slightly more critically accepted Lucky Town is slightly too sepia-toned for me, despite a couple great songs. 

I think if you are a fan of his, like I am, and you have ignored this period, it is worth revisiting.  There are also some stellar out takes from this period on the Tracks box set, especially Gave it a Name.  It is clear that Springsteen had read Flannery O’Connor by this point, as he adopts some of her haunted Biblical language to deal with these adulthood struggles. 

As one of our country’s greatest artists, Springsteen is often reduced to a caricature, like many larger than life figures.  (He did himself no favors in the propaganda films serving as music videos that accompanied Born in the U.S.A.)  But he has remained someone that constantly searches for meaning in a fallen world, always aware of the light and dark in our national character.  

The Meaningless Struggle of Greg Abbott

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Greg Abbott made a commercial with him wheeling himself up to the top of a parking garage.  The way it was filmed was to make him look courageous as someone that has struggled and never given up.  He is trying to pull on heart strings, while hiding the fact that his politics are lights years from being empathetic to people that struggle.  This is a time when the image that people see is as far from the truth as possible.  He has made his disability part of his campaign so I feel that it is fair game.  When I saw this picture of him on the cover of Texas Monthly I asked myself this question:  Is there any picture that quite captures the modern GOP better than an impotent old white man clinging to a rifle as a symbol of power?  Sadly, they may win on Tuesday, but if the GOP doesn’t learn to be more empathetic to groups other than rich white people, their days of power are numbered.

If there is any point to struggling in this world it is so that we may learn to be empathetic to the struggles of others.  Abbott is using his struggle to ascend to power, while ignoring the struggles of the less fortunate.  I find this cynical and vile.  Whether knowingly or not, Abbott is negating the meaning of his own struggle.  There is nothing worse in this world than suffering without meaning.  

Touring and Struggle

A great deal of the time I spend on the road I am miserable.  I am an introvert by nature, and being around people, on other people’s schedule all day, wears me out.  However, I view happiness as being overrated.  I’m not complaining despite what it may sound like in the first few sentences.  I have gone on every tour I have been asked to and will continue to do so.  Whenever I look back on a tour I am glad that I went.  I feel that I have expanded my horizons and accomplished something.  I have met new people, and seen new places, and at the very least provided people with a few hours of escape from the daily grind.

Life is often suffering and struggle.  Despite the pretty pictures that lie, has climbing a mountain ever been easy? Yet, except for maybe the few and the dead, I bet anyone that has climbed one is glad that they did.

We are surrounded by images in modern society that tell us how happy we’re going to be if we only do a certain thing.  Buy this deodorant, get laid, finally be happy.  Go get a McDowell burger, be satiated, finally be happy.  Buy a fancy car, impress your friends, finally be happy.  Although many of these things may bring about happiness, it is only in a transient sense.  Pretty soon you are stuck with yourself and right back to the problems you faced.

Love and friendship and being kind to people and doing good deeds and creating things that last and taking chances and experiencing life:  These are the only kinds of things that will bring fulfillment.  Anyone that tells you different is selling you snake oil.

I know like I sound like I am giving advice.  Christ, for some reason that bothers me.  Go out and find out for yourself.  Don’t take my word for it.  Some things you can only figure out for yourself.

Thoughts on Travel and Memory

When you travel you live in dog years.  Packing my suitcase yesterday seems an ancient ocean ago.  Traveling can be hard and lonely.  It is not always the sunny vision of a travel brochure.   Joni Micthell’s Hejira album captures this.  However, when it is over with, especially once a little time has elapsed, the days of new experiences are the days you remember.  Meanwhile , days spent in relaxed enjoyment fade away like half remembered dreams.  The past is tricky.  Days of struggle can seem like victories and days of pleasure can be lost forever.  Maybe  happiness is treasured too much in our culture.  Just a passing thought…