The morning after Radiohead kicks off a new tour is always an exciting time. And while I wish I’d been in Miami last night, YouTube and assorted live reports have eased the pain of missing out. The set list was full of surprises: “Meeting in the Aisle” (really!), “Kid A,” not one but two new songs… A fan’s delight.
My favorite part of David Fricke’s review: “Expect more of both – the fresh and the rare – over the next year. The day before the Miami show, backstage before a final production rehearsal, Yorke revealed that Radiohead have worked up more than 75 songs for this tour, including additional new songs and deep-track B-sides.”
What is Bruce Springsteen’s “We Take Care of Our Own” about? Apparently this is a controversial question, though I think the lyrics make his meaning pretty clear. To the close-reading machine we go!
I’ve been knockin’ on the door that holds the throne I’ve been lookin’ for the map that leads me home I’ve been stumblin’ on good hearts turned to stone The road of good intentions has gone dry as a bone
Bruce opens with some slightly mixed metaphors and a statement of purpose: here he stands, “knockin’ on the door that holds the throne.” In other words, he means to deliver some crucial message to the powers that be. What message might that be?
We take care of our own We take care of our own Wherever this flag’s flown We take care of our own
There’s a bit of ambiguity in the chorus. Is he proudly trumpeting his belief that the United States always provides for its own citizens? Or is this more of a challenge – a frustrated demand that the U.S. needs to do a better job of living up to this ideal? Let’s see if the next verse can help us decide.
From Chicago to New Orleans From the muscle to the bone
Less than seven years ago, New Orleans was the site of an egregious example of our society’s failure to “take care of our own.” Interesting choice of cities to mention in a flag-waving anthem. Where’s he going with this?
From the shotgun shack to the Superdome There ain’t no help, the cavalry stayed home There ain’t no one hearing the bugle blowin’
Here’s where he spells it out. The people who took shelter in the Louisiana Superdome after Hurricane Katrina were subject to awful, inhuman conditions, and it took far too long for help to arrive. What happened there was a low point in American history. Bruce is very obviously denouncing this – when the chorus comes back after this verse, its bitterly ironic import couldn’t be clearer.
Where’re the eyes, the eyes with the will to see? Where’re the hearts that run over with mercy? Where’s the love that has not forsaken me? Where’s the work that set my hands, my soul free? Where’s the spirit that’ll reign, reign over me? Where’s the promise, from sea to shining sea? Where’s the promise, from sea to shining sea?
These are angry questions. Can’t anyone see how fucked up things have gotten in this country? Doesn’t anyone care? “America the Beautiful” envisions “brotherhood/From sea to shining sea.” Bruce looks around and can’t find what that song promised. He’s not celebrating the kindness and empathy in American culture – he’s furious that those forces are so absent from our discourse.
Parse these feelings further if you like. Ask why, if Bruce is so disappointed in how the U.S. treats its vulnerable and weak, he’s okay with the incumbent president using this song on his official Spotify playlist. That’s a fair question. But I’m sorry, this just isn’t an accurate term for this song’s tone.
SEPTEMBER 2012 UPDATE: I’ve noticed that this post is far and away the most-read item here. Welcome, Bruce fans! Here, for your enjoyment, are links to a few more things I’ve written about the Boss this year. Anything else you’d like to read my thoughts on? Ask away.
Consulting my spreadsheet of most-frequented live artists (yes, I am deeply nerdy), I find that I have enjoyed eight Jay-Z concerts in the last five years. They’ve all been pretty great; he’s far and away one of our era’s most charismatic performers. But his Carnegie Hall show last night stands out as even more special than the rest. Something about taking the stage at that high-culture landmark – and everything it symbolizes about hip-hop’s story and Jay-Z’s own – brought out the best in him. More here.