Friday, October 19, 2012

Forward, and Away We Go -- Parma, October 18, 2012

Forward, and Away We Go!!!
In an interview for the UK paper The Guardian in February 2012, Bruce Springsteen said, "I campaigned for Kerry and Obama, and I am glad I did. But normally I would prefer to stay on the sidelines. The artist is supposed to be the canary in the cage."  When he reviewed Obama's performance at that time, his response was measured:  "He kept General Motors alive, he got through healthcare – though not the public system I would have wanted – he killed Osama Bin Laden, and he brought sanity to the top level of government. But big business still has too much say in government and there has not been as many middle- or working-class voices in the administration as I expected. I thought Guantanamo would have been closed but now, but he got us out of Iraq and I guess we will soon be out of Afghanistan."

That was then.  That was before Obama had an opponent in the general election, one who opposed the very things that Springsteen praised.  That was before Obama performed so poorly in a presidential debate that his re-election this November suddenly seemed to be legitimately in question.  So, with just 3 weeks to go until Election Day, Bruce appeared at Obama rallies today in Parma, Ohio, and later on in Ames, Iowa.  I went to the appearance in Parma, in which Bill Clinton spoke prior to Bruce's performance.

In Ohio, the event was held at Cuyahoga Community College.  The arrangements were made hastily; tickets were distributed in the 48 hours before the event; promotional materials on campus showed a concert picture of Bruce from 1992.  Originally intended to be held at the college's outdoor soccer stadium, the threat of a severe storm forced the event to be moved indoors to a much smaller gymnasium inside the college's main building.  As a result, many attendees were diverted to a separate theater to watch the event; meanwhile, the line to get in to the gym -- this was supposed to be super-secure -- snaked past the Tri-C Bookstore, Java City, the Westwood Cafe, students going to classes, a hot dog vendor, and a bake sale fundraiser for the Tri-C women's cross country and track team.  The chocolate chip cookies were soft and chewy.  Security?  Well, let's just say it was earnest, but anyone could have entered that room with pretty much anything... except an umbrella.

The rally undercard was a fairly typical array of local organizers and regional candidates.  The audience in the gym was very noticeably younger and shorter than Bruce's typical crowd; shorter because many of them were coming over high schools.  A particularly large contingent was there from East Cleveland's Shaw High School, all wearing school jackets.  There were also more black people in the crowd than one might see in several month's worth of Springsteen tour dates.

President Clinton in Parma, Ohio, October 18, 2012
Bill Clinton was in the unfamiliar role of being a warm-up act, but it soon became clear just how much he relished his role.  He seemed to thoroughly enjoy issuing verbal barb after verbal barb at Mitt Romney, while occasionally tossing in some high praise for President Obama... and, sometimes, for himself.  His performance was so dynamic, one could almost hear people thinking, "why can't he run one more time?"

After Clinton finished, he introduced Bruce.  Bruce's first remark, as he somewhat nervously strummed his guitar: "I get to speak after President Clinton.  That's like going on after Elvis here."  As with his 2008 appearances on behalf of Obama, the format was an acoustic mini-set, with some commentary.  Following along from Bruce's official statement on behalf of Obama earlier this week, gone was any sense of ambivalence:
I came here today because I'm thankful for universal health care, the lack of which was for so long an embarrassment to our country. I'm thankful for a more regulated Wall Street. I'm thankful GM is still making cars. What else would I write about?! I'd have no job without that!

I'm here today because I'm concerned about women's rights. I don't have to tell you about the dangers to Roe v. Wade under our opponent's policies.

I'm also here today because of the continuing disparity in wealth between our best-off citizens and our everday citizens. That's a disparity that I believe our honorable opponent's policies will only increase and that threatens to divide us into two distinct and foreign nations, until many of us are going to end up like a song I wrote in 1980, Jackson Cage: "just the scenery in another man's play." 
Leaving aside my astonishment that Bruce apparently believes we have "universal health care," there was a performance to witness.  The core of the setlist resembled that of 2008.  Bruce opened with "No Surrender," and proceeded to "The Promised Land."  By this point, many of the people who had been there for Clinton were starting to leave.

Bruce introduced a new campaign song, of sorts (in 2008, Bruce introduced Working On a Dream at a an Obama campaign rally two days before the election).  But this was more in the vein of toss-offs such as 1996's In Michigan, only not nearly as funny, nor as complete.  It was a 90-second audience participation number called Forward, with such stellar lines as "Tuesday Romney was schooled by Obama."  It got some laughs, and Bruce had fun with it.

With "Youngstown," sung several steps below the official release, Bruce added Iraq and Afghanistan to Korea and Vietnam in the list of places to which the citizens had sent their children.  We Take Care of Our Own fired up the crowd.  Several months ago I suggested that that song slammed Obama every bit as much as his opponents; while I still hold to that opinion, one would never have gotten that impression from Bruce's performance today.  Bruce closed with an upbeat -- and complete -- version of This Land is Your Land, followed by a singalong to Thunder Road. 

Springsteen motioning for the crowd to shout out "Forward!" during his performance in Parma.
The event was live streamed by a Cleveland television station, and perhaps the exposure to the audience beyond the Tri-C campus was the real intent.  My 15-year old son even reported that he happened to see some of it at his school here in Michigan.

Bruce's North American tour resumes in Canada tomorrow, and there are no breaks of more than 2 days between now and Election Day.  Bruce's past campaigning has never coincided with a pre-existing E Street Band tour; we'll see if Bruce uses the E Street Band stage for "Public Service Announcements," or combines upcoming concert appearances in swing states with more campaign appearances.


SMB said...

Matt, you write: "We Take Care of Our Own fired up the crowd. Several months ago I suggested that that song slammed Obama every bit as much as his opponents; while I still hold to that opinion, one would never have gotten that impression from Bruce's performance today. "
I remember you expressing that opinion when the song originally leaked.

If your interpretation is correct, it would mean that "We Take Care of Our Own" has been as misunderstood by the Obama Campaign and many on the left as it was back in 1984 by the Reagan Campaign and many on the right. Perhaps even more so.

In light of how the song has been appropriated by the Obama Campaign with no objection by Springsteen, I wonder if Springsteen would ever admit that the song was meant to include a subtle (or perhaps not-so-subtle) "slam" at Obama.

By re-entering the political arena as he has, is Springsteen sacrificing some of his hard-earned artistic integrity by engaging in a retro-active re-writing of the song? The proverb "if you lie down with dogs, you will get up with fleas." comes to mind.

Matt Orel said...

Steve, I think it's an interesting choice. In my opinion, it's a bit of a catch-22 for Bruce; there's no clear "right" approach. My own belief is that, the Republican platform positions on health care, women's rights, social issues, the role of government, and taxation, were so offensive to him that he found the prospect of a Romney victory to be unacceptable. In that context, I suppose he can rationalize WTCOOO as a place we need to get to.

On the bright side, he wore his concert uniform. No plaid.