Tramps like Us: Music & Meaning among Springsteen Fans

By Daniel Cavicchi | Go to book overview

5 listening and learning

In the song "No Surrender" ( 1984), Bruce Springsteen sings that "we learned more from a three-minute record than we ever learned in school." While clearly an indictment of the irrelevance of American education to the lives of many teens growing up in the sixties, the lyric also affirms the power of rock'n'roll music to shape dreams and ideas, to serve as a place where people can find inspiration, knowledge, and guidance. Indeed, Springsteen himself has attested to this power; as he told rock critic Robert Hilburn:

When you listen to those early rock records or any great rock'n'roll, or see a great movie, there are human values that are presented. They're important things. I got inspired mainly, I guess, by the records, a certain purity in them. I just know that when I started to play, it was like a gift. I started to feel alive. It was like some guy stumbling down a street and finding a key. ( Hilburn 1989, p. 79)

Most Springsteen fans are quite aware of Springsteen's belief in power of rock'n'roll to awaken and transform; the lyric from "No Surrender" is frequently quoted, shared by fans at the end of e-mail communications and letters as a kind of reminder of what being a Springsteen fan is all about. In fact, just as Springsteen found meaning and direction in early rock'n'roll records, his fans find the same kind of meaning and direction in his music.

Whenever fans meet, whether in person, through fanzines, or on computer networks, they inevitably become involved in discussions about the meanings of particular songs. The editors of Backstreets and other guest writers regularly write short interpretive essays on Springsteen's music in a column that begins every issue. Fans regularly post inquiries on Luckytown Digest about Springsteen's songs and engage in heated and lengthy debates about how to interpret symbols and images, including everything from the idea of reincarnation in "Atlantic City" ( 1982) to what Springsteen meant by the term "Bar-M choppers" in "This Hard Land" ( 1995).

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Tramps like Us: Music & Meaning among Springsteen Fans
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Acknowledgements xi
  • Contents xv
  • Introduction - Studying Fandom 3
  • 1 - Does Anybody Have Any Faith Out There Tonight? 22
  • 2 - Touched by the Music 38
  • 3 - Ignoring the Music Business 60
  • 4 - Fans in the Audience Performance and the Politics of Participation 86
  • 5 - Listening and Learning 108
  • 6 - Musically Shaping the Self 134
  • 7 - Belonging Together 158
  • Conclusion - Toward an Experience-Near Understanding of Popular Music 184
  • Postscript 190
  • Appendix A Springsteen Fan Questionnaire 195
  • Appendix B - Bruce Springsteen, American Discography (major Works) 199
  • Notes 201
  • References 205
  • Index 217
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