Time to retire “The Boss”

Posted By on November 6, 2007

I saw Bruce Springsteen Sunday night, for the first time since his strikingly naked “Tom Joad” tour in early 1996. No, that’s not true; I saw him perform, solo, in Cleveland the night before the 2004 elections, when he delivered for the Democratic candidate, John Kerry. Too bad Kerry didn’t communicate Springsteen’s fervor.

On Nov. 4, Springsteen and the E Street Band played for more than two hours for 20,000 of the faithful at the Q in Cleveland. The band was on; so was Springsteen. He and the E Street Band, which I hadn’t seen since 1974, are touring behind “Magic,” his latest album and the second, following “The Rising,” to mix Middle Eastern strains into his otherwise hard-rocking, white sound. He was great; not only did Springsteen perform nearly non-stop and balls out for more than two hours, he also featured his wife, Patti Scialfa,” on “Town Called Heartbreak,” a particularly soulful track from her recent, very solid and funky album, “Play It As It Lays.” The set list was heavy on “Magic,” which it should be, though it also featured a wildly adventurous version of “Tunnel of Love” and a killer sequence of “Reason To Believe” (done John Lee Hooker style), “Saint” (done Latinate and florid) and “She’s the One” (Bo Diddley and Buddy Holly never sounded so good).

Tunes from “Magic” like “Radio Nowhere,” the downer anthem that launched the gig, “The Last To Die” and the austere title track, which Springsteen said was about tricks (the implication was of the dirty kind), are political commentary about the Bush era that is as astute as any you’re likely to read in those controversial liberal newspapers. Before I forget, the first encore was “Girls in Their Summer Clothes,” Springsteen’s channeling of the Beach Boys and a gorgeous, instant pop classic.

The Q was packed with Springsteen’s faithful, who are particularly idolatrous in Cleveland, where he broke out in the mid-’70s. Lots of singalongs, fists pumping, cheers of “Brooce,” homages to The Boss. Springsteen deserves a better title. Better yet, he doesn’t need one. He’s always been political, always been the voice of the working man, and he’s particularly so on “Magic,” a curiously strong and satisfying album that speaks truth to power without succumbing to hatred or the black-and-white viewpoint the Bush administration promotes over and over as it pursues its narrow agenda of fear and divisiveness.

Springsteen’s no boss; he is, rather, a spiritual leader dedicated to helping people better themselves. It’s why he performed on the 2004 Vote for Change tour; it’s why he touts institutions like the Cleveland Food Bank, which donates food to poor families. His style of leadership isn’t top-down. It’s inclusive, embracing, empowering. What he’s saying ever more clearly in his albums and on-stage pronouncements is that the people have the power and the people have to look behind the façade of authority that the Bush administration—the right wing in general—have so effectively constructed. That’s all theater, he says; it’s all deceit and manipulation, delivered in the name of defense against terrorism. He’s saying there’s a difference between protectiveness and defensiveness, and between an America that used to welcome immigrants and the current one, which fences people in and keeps people out.

I bet if you asked him whether he likes that “Boss” tag, Springsteen would say no. He’s grown out of it. It’s time his fans do, too.


3 Responses to “Time to retire “The Boss””

  1. Foot in Mouth says:

    Bruce is all but bankrupt when it comes to vigor. He’s not the same “Boss” who did the Coffee Break concerts back when he was just starting to make a name for himself and WMMS was still playing ground breaking music. I too saw the show this past weekend and wasn’t all that thrilled.

    Also since when did the cell phone replace the lighter?

  2. Wendy says:

    Nice review, Carlo. Couldn’t agree more. Springsteen is of the people.

    Glad to have discovered your blog through Cool Cleveland link.

  3. Keith says:

    Great review – I sell your book at my bookstore in Chardon, BTW – really enjoyed it while I was away from Cleveland for 11 years.

    Saw Springsteen at the Q on Sunday as well and wrote about it on my blog. Its taking a few days for my voice to recover.

    As for “The Boss” tag, I guess I agree with you the way you put it. But that came way back in the 70s as I’m sure you know.

    And I think its clear Springsteen never liked it. In many live versions of Rosalita back in the early 80s he would sing “you don’t have to call me lieutenant Rosie BUT JUST DON’T CALL ME BOSS.”

Leave a Reply

About the author

I'm a veteran critic and business writer who reads and listens and writes about music, books, hotels and travel. I've been in the business for many years and still enjoy it. My pride and joy is my book, Cleveland Rock & Roll Memories. Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/CarloWolff