BORN IN THE U.S.A. by Jim Cullen


Bruce Springsteen and the American Tradition
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 Cullen's study of Bruce Springsteen is a full-fledged cultural critique, examining how ``the Boss's'' music has been influenced by the society around him. The author covers a lot of ground but rarely spreads himself thin. Harvard historian Cullen's perspective is initially historic, using Reagan's evocation of the song of the title during his 1984 reelection bid. While Springsteen is no Republican, Cullen maintains that he is a ``republican'' in the Jeffersonian and Lincolnian sense of believing in the ideals of representative democracy. Widening his focus, Cullen follows the well-traveled link between American government and the works of Emerson, Twain, and Steinbeck to suggest Springsteen as the heir to this tradition. A close reading of the lyrics of ``Thunder Road'' serves as an example. Cullen treats Springsteen's relationship with the Vietnam War and its veterans (having lost a friend in the war, Springsteen deprived himself of sleep to earn a 4-F classification but has since worked extensively with veterans). More sociological sections of the book look at Springsteen's preoccupation with working-class values and his own strong work ethic, demonstrated by his legendary four- to five-hour live shows. The book's final sections look at Springsteen's development from a ``boy culture'' singer of male bonding to a mature husband and father--these latter roles brilliantly mined on his album Tunnel of Love--and the lapsed Catholicism of this self-described ``failed altar boy.'' Cullen quotes Jesuit novelist and sociologist Rev. Andrew Greeley, who claims that Tunnel of Love may be more significant from a Catholic perspective than a papal visit to the US. Cullen is perhaps overly idealistic in his historical depictions (Lincoln was certainly less of an egalitarian than Cullen would seem to believe), but his parting words, ``When I listen to Bruce Springsteen, I remember how to be an American,'' finally ring true. (8 pages b&w photo, not seen)

Pub Date: June 18th, 1997
ISBN: 0-06-018780-8
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1997


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