18 January 2009

Springsteen's Politics of "the past"

Barack Obama introduces daughter Sasha to Springsteen. Photo: AP

As I have said here before, I am deeply skeptical of celebrity politics. In part, that is because I find that celebrity is inextricably wrapped up with narcissism. This interview from The Guardian today, I think, proves my point by establishing an exception.

Fame and talent - the former integral to celebrity, the latter too rarely associated with it - often crowd out basic decency. Bruce Springsteen seems like a very decent fellow. Last November Springsteen said this in public:
"I spent most of my life as a musician measuring the distance between the American dream and American reality. For many... the distance between that dream and their reality has never been greater or more painful. I believe Senator Obama has taken the measure of that distance in his own life and work. I believe he understands in his heart the cost of that distance in blood and suffering in the lives of everyday Americans. I believe as president he would work to bring that dream back to life."
Now there is a new record, with a song - one that the interviewer calls a "fable" - and Springsteen is clear about the lesson it carries:
"The past is never the past. It is always present. And you better reckon with it in your life and in your daily experience, or it will get you. It will get you really bad. It will come and it will devour you, it will remove you from the present. It will steal your future and this happens every day.

We've lived through a nightmare like that in the past eight years here. We had a historically blind administration who didn't take consideration of the past; thousands and thousands of people died, lives were ruined and terrible, terrible things occurred because, there was no sense of history, no sense that the past is living and real.

So the song is about this happening to this character. He moves ahead. He tries to make the right moves. He awakes from a vision of his death, and realises: life is finite. Time is with me always. And I'm frightened. And he rides west where he settles down. But the past comes back in the form of this bounty hunter, whose mind is also quickened and burdened by the need to get his man. And these possessed creatures meet along the shores of this river where the bounty hunter of course is killed, and his last words are: 'We can't undo the things we've done.'

In other words, your past is your past. You carry it with you always. These are your sins. You carry them with you always. You better learn how to live with them, learn the story that they're telling you. Because they're whispering your future in your ear, and if you don't listen, it will be contaminated by the toxicity of your past."

The interview goes on to talk about Obama, the theme of hope and facing the future in politics. Although I doubt he will do so, I hope the president-elect will read the interview, or listen to the song and absorb the lesson.

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