Music and the Power of Community

By Dieser, Rodney B. | Parks & Recreation, August 2015 | Go to article overview

Music and the Power of Community


Dieser, Rodney B., Parks & Recreation


Celebrating the 40th anniversary of Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run," Gordon "Tex" and Marion Vinyard, and Vinyard Park

This August marks the 40th anniversary of Bruce Springsteen's record "Born to Run," which propelled the gregarious New Jersey native to celebrity status and is still considered one of the greatest rock 'n' roll records ever produced. Throughout his career, Springsteen has recorded "concept albums" in which all musical or lyrical ideas and songs contribute to a single overall theme or unified story. The theme of "Born to Run" is about the simultaneous excitement of freedom and fear in young adulthood, along with the human developmental importance of belonging and community. For example, the last song on the album - "Jungleland" - is a 10-minute meditation on the real-life and tragic consequences when a person has no sense of community, belonging or place. "Born to Run" launched Springsteen on a 40-year music career that consistently reflects on the meaning of community.

A Brief History of The Boss

Springsteen is arguably one of America's greatest singer-songwriters. He is tied for third place with Elvis Presley as having the most Billboard No. 1 hits, and just a small sampling of Springsteen achievements includes an Academy Award, 20 Grammy Awards and two Golden Globes, along with more than 120 million albums sold. In 1999, Springsteen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in January 2009, he performed at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C, at the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States. In 2014, a scholarly peer-reviewed journal specifically focused on Springsteen was launched, titled the Biannual Online-Journal of Springsteen Studies.

A core theme that runs through many of Springsteen's 18 studio albums (1972-2014) is the message of community. This is one reason professors of philosophy have argued that Springsteen's songs are real-life meditations on philosophical topics and questions, thus making him a modern- day philosopher who uses music as a reflective state. Specific Springsteen stories and songs outline the societal and individual consequences of loss of community. For example, and similar to St. Augustine's treatise on evil, Springsteen's 1982 folk album "Nebraska" is a philosophical and penetrating meditation on the connection of crime and evil when people live with no sense of community or belonging (the titular first song is a historical overview of the life of mass murderer Charlie Starkweather). Other Springsteen songs give voice to the healing outcomes of community and belonging, such as during the rebuild- ing efforts after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 ("My City of Ruin"), and more recently, how deep community ties can ameliorate the consequences of the Great Recession of 2007-2012 ("Land of Hope and Dreams").

Springsteen's advocacy for community, in both song and philanthropic giving, seems to originate from his painful, lonely and poverty- driven childhood years. As a child, Springsteen had few friends, spent much time alone, was often bullied and was emotionally and physical abused by the nuns at St. Rose of Lima Catholic School in Freehold Borough, New Jersey. His father suffered from bipolar disorder, depression and alcoholism, and was often unemployed and emotionally abusive toward his son. His mother, however, was a strong, hard-working woman who, as a secretary, was the breadwinner of the family. As a youth, Springsteen was a deeply reflective person who spent a great amount of time alone thinking about life, and who used music as a meditation related to questions of existence and social welfare. …

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