BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN . . . MORE THAN JUST WORDS? : And here’s how the fans see him . . .
Bruce Springsteen closes his 15-month world tour tonight and Wednesday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum as more than just the biggest star in rock. He’s shown that he has the potential to return rock to its role as social catalyst and to mobilize a new activist audience. On Friday, in the first of his four Coliseum shows, Springsteen showed where the emphasis should be, praising those who are working to improve conditions for the unemployed. “Without them,” he told 83,000 fans, “what I do up here doesn’t amount to more than words.”
It’s not surprising that Springsteen has been trivialized and misinterpreted--by everyone from the pro wrestlers who use “Born in the U.S.A.” as a jingoistic jingle, to President Reagan, who attempted to suggest that they share values by citing what he called Springsteen’s “message of hope.”
On the contrary, Springsteen sees America through the eyes of the disillusioned and disenfranchised whose families, communities, livelihoods and very lives are falling apart. At the Coliseum, Springsteen made his usual eloquent plea for support of organizations aiding the unemployed, but he further radicalized his message with an implied endorsement of draft resistance, cautioning the “young people” in the audience that “blind faith in your leaders will get you killed” and specifically mentioning Central America before playing an explosive version of Edwin Starr’s anti-war soul smash “War.”
In the face of Springsteen’s unprecedented success, the media have tried to find a sociological basis for his popularity. Newsweek speaks of the rock star as an “international symbol of America.” Other commentators call him America’s new “populist conscience” and “spirit.”
But how does Springsteen’s audience see him? Is he simply the latest pop sensation or is he touching a deeper nerve? Is he gaining his following through his integrity and social vision, or by wiggling his rear end and making his music increasingly catchy?
As the range of his constituency spreads, the responses to Springsteen become more varied--perhaps more shallow on the fringes, while deepening in intensity among the longtime faithful and committed newcomers. In an effort to explore the nature of the bond between Springsteen and his fans, Calendar’s John Horn and John Voland spoke to a variety of fans at the Coliseum on Friday.
And here’s how the fans see him. . .
Bruce Mocklin, 23, graduate student, Los Angeles:
“I think he’s become part of the American Dream. I mean, he’s been inducted--even if he hasn’t really applied. There’s all kinds of dark and light in what he’s doing, but it’s not a (phony) patriotic thing. It’s real . And I think that’s what people are responding to. It’s not some critical concept Bruce is trying out.”
Denise Yemawine, 19, waitress and student, Cypress:
“He represents a healthy reaction to all the flash and glitter that rock seems to be all about these days. He’s not just a pop phenomenon--a temporary thing. He really delivers . . . straight-ahead, no nonsense rock ‘n’ roll. . . . The life he sings about isn’t always pretty, and he’s not really (blindly) patriotic ‘cause he sees what kind of promises America’s made and hasn’t kept. He’s exactly what rock needs: a conscience.
Jim Dobbs, 42, art history teacher, Cal Poly Pomona, Laguna Beach:
“His energy is wonderful and positive. Someone is finally speaking to 40-year-olds and Vietnam veterans. I think his message is totally accurate: that things aren’t always as perfect as we would want them to be. A lot of people misperceive him. He’s positive, but he’s not celebrating the wonders of America. He’s not jingoistic. It might be a flag that he’s waving, but it’s a tattered one.”
Ric Middleton, 27, Palmdale:
“To me, he’s a mom’s apple pie sort of musician. He talks about middle-class America. He’s from New Jersey, but I grew up in Ohio and I experienced the same things he sings about. They closed factories in our town, too. “
Kim Kleiber, 29, personnel director, Playa del Rey:
“It’s terrific that he donates money to the food banks and the steelworkers and all that, but he’s no patriotic hero or anything. He’s a rocker, and this is a great rock ‘n’ roll show. That’s why I’m here. This isn’t a pep rally; it’s a concert.”
Diane Roland, 27, controller, Studio City:
“He delivers what he promises. There’s no flash, but the songs talk about values . . . they’re simple and direct.”
Marlo Williams, 44, Captain, Ontario Fire Dept., Alta Loma:
“He’s real. He stands for what America should be. He loves his country. We’ve got kids, and he’s a good influence. He’s a strong combination of both good music and a good personality. He does push-ups instead of drugs. I respect that.”
Dianna Ogden, 30, housewife/student, Lawndale:
“He’s totally motivating. He gives me a natural high. It’s his music, his body. . . . And in his music, you can understand every word. It’s simple and straightforward. He’s a regular guy, not a superstar.”
Michael Ogden, 30, sheet-metal mechanic, Lawndale:
“I’m at the concert because I like to party and I like his music. I bought one of his albums, ‘Born in the U.S.A.,’ and didn’t play it all. But then two wrestlers, Barry Wyndham and Mike Rotondo, started to use ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ as their theme song and I liked it.”
Gary Shaw, 26, bartender, Thousand Oaks:
“The Boss means America. He represents not the rich or the beautiful, not Los Angeles or New York, but the other people, the common people, the people in between. When the Boss sings, he sings about love, America and working. When he’s on stage, he’s there for everybody, even the people in the back row. He doesn’t condescend. I’m a bartender, and he’s the kind of guy that you can sit down and have a beer with.”
Victor Frisbie Jr., 27, farmer, Bakersfield:
“Hey, I’m in for the party. Who’s playing here, anyway?”
Gary Vaughan, 37, truck driver, El Monte:
“I haven’t been to a concert in 15 years, since Black Oak Arkansas played. But Bruce sings about things that I can relate to. He talks about everyday people. He lives a modest life, and I can appreciate that.”
Mike Mullen, 24, used-car salesman, National City:
“I’m here because it’s a concert and there are a lot of girls here. Springsteen’s music is good, but he’s kind of a hypocritical. He’s up there singing about how he’s an American and how it’s great to be born in the U.S.A., and the guy (never served in Vietnam). It’s great that he’s making a lot of money. I like that. But I wish he wouldn’t play it down so much. He’s not as poor as he makes you think.”
Jenny Dobbs, 7, student, Laguna Beach:
“He’s a good singer and I like the words of his songs. I think he’ll last until he’s 42.”
Kenneth Austad, 24, loan accountant, La Mesa:
“I got the day off and he’s in town. His music, at least some of it, isn’t that bad. I have two of his albums, but he’s no big deal.”
Anett Surdyk, 20, student, Phoenix:
“Hey, I got two speeding tickets coming out here to see him. He doesn’t need flares and fireworks and glitter to give a good concert. He’s a regular guy. He gets up there with his $5 guitar and sings. And there’s a message in every song . . . without anything about drugs. He’s not conceited. He’s all-American. And he’s got a cute behind.
Jim Robbins, 44, electronics distributor, Los Angeles:
“We should toss out all that stuff about patriotic rock, because country music performers have that stuff down cold. What Springsteen’s got is a kind of driving, forceful music that everybody--and I mean everybody--can relate to. Besides, if he can face 80,000 people (who are going) absolutely nuts over him and not have that kind of adoration turn him into some ego cheesecake . . . he must have something--a real direct line of communication with his fans.”
Sylvia Newton, 32, electronics distributor, Los Angeles:
“He’s like a musical common denominator. I mean, look around: Is this really a rock ‘n’ roll crowd? The guy’s so direct; he’s got this grass-roots energy working for him. I just think it’s a shame he’s gotten so big he’s got to play football stadiums . . .
Dave Ryba, 38, musician, Philadelphia:
“I wanna tell you right off, if I hear any more (nonsense) about Springsteen being the embodiment of the American Dream, I’m gonna throw up. It’s the music that matters, and the music is damn good.”
Ken Russo, 37, musician, Trenton, N.J.:
“I don’t pay much attention to the import of the lyrics either . . . the music’s so much there , so present--even after all these years. I’ve been a fan of his since “Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.” (his 1973 debut album), and there’s still that communication. It’s great. But you can keep all the critical commentary.”
Jodi Tose, 26, Los Angeles:
“He’s true to his people and gives them exactly what they want. He’s no hero or anything . . . just a great performer . . . maybe the greatest.”
Tony Skvarla, 44, production supervisor, Los Angeles:
“Bruce seems a lot more American, more clean-cut and sincere than anybody else in music. He seems to give so much of himself to his audience; I don’t see how that can be an act for all these years. He’d go crazy if it were.”
Marcia Moore, 14, student, Woodland Hills:
“I don’t know about the hero bit, and I don’t care. He’s just real cute and his music’s so bitchin’. It doesn’t matter what all those old guys (journalists) are writing about him. He’s just Bruce, and that’s enough.”