Bruce Springsteen, and Those Who Don’t Understand His Message

It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no fortunate son.”

Much has been made in the past week of Bruce Springsteen, Dave Grohl and Zac Brown covering CCR’s “Fortunate Son” at the Concert for Valor last Tuesday. Many voices out there have painted Springsteen as disgraceful and unappreciative of the sacrifices those in our armed forces make. Full-time pompous-idiot blowhard Eric Bolling even suggested Springsteen degrades the veterans’ cause.

It’s not the first time those on the internet have had gripes against the Boss. They say, “how can Springsteen sing about the poor when he makes tens of millions of dollars a year?” It’s called never forgetting where you came from, you should try it sometime.

However, they also ask how a musician of his stature could play a song that, as they say, is so inappropriate?

Beyond any personal affections I have for the man I’ve seen in concert a handful of times, the people who have said these things could not be more off base with their reasons for the song being inappropriate to play. Beyond the reasons listed above, they deem Springsteen was unpatriotic from the start, and used the stage to push a political agenda rather than sing something unbelievably lame like “Shock n’ y’all.” It’s pretty funny the critics weren’t upset at all about his playing “Born in the USA,” which if you actually pay attention to the lyrics is about as anti-war as it gets; but that’s beside the point.

There could not be a musician more accomplished than Springsteen who is more willing to stand up for the rights of troops. He was honoring the veterans by playing this song. I’d wager that no current celebrity is more empathetic and understanding of the hardships they face. He was drafted for the Vietnam War, but failed his physical because of a knee injury he sustained in a motorcycle accident. Furthermore, many of his friends were drafted as well; and a lot of them didn’t come back. One need only listen to his introduction of his song, “The River” from the Live 1975-85 album:

One does not need to read his biography or even browse his Wikipedia page to come by this information; the writing, as they say, is on the wall. The man was there, he experienced all the angst and anguish over friends and family being sent to die in a war in which no one really understood why it was we were there. It was during this time that John Fogerty wrote “Fortunate Son.” And it seems that, even after 45 years of airplay, many still do not understand its message.

Fogerty (who for his effort, penned a statement defending the use of his song at the show) had a lot to say about the Vietnam War. He also understood the power of subtlety and metaphor. For instance, “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” is about the napalm bombings that wiped out so much of the Vietnamese battlegrounds. “Fortunate Son” is about those low and middle class citizens being sent to the front line, while the upper class – namely politicians – got to sit back and “wave the red, white and blue.” The lyric “some folks are born, silver spoon in hand” directly references the rich folk who didn’t have to worry about being drafted. “And when you ask em, ‘how much should we give?’ they only answer more, more…” is about those soldiers who had to serve multiple tours despite injuries and trauma sustained. Its message is certainly anti-war, but it is also pro-military. It asked why we were sending young men to die in a war with no clear enemy.

It is here I would argue the song may hold some cathartic release for soldiers who have served in the Middle East. A lot of them probably had times when they didn’t quite understand why they were there. But while that may just be speculation, there is no arguing this: war is evil. It cuts lives short way too young, costs billions of dollars, and causes untold misery and sadness. So why wouldn’t Springsteen and crew play an anti-war song? Why wouldn’t they play a song that, at its core, says, “stop this violence, and bring our troops home now?” Why wouldn’t he play a song for so many of our veterans who would like to spend this Christmas at home, rather than in Afghanistan having to worry about a car bombing?

There is a difference between anti-war and anti-military. “Fortunate Son” is without a doubt the former, but I do not see how that is a bad thing. I may sound like a naive quaker when I say this, but a world with no war, and peace between all those with differing religions, cultures, races and salaries, can be achieved. But if the loudest voices out there continue to utter phrases like “war on christmas,” promote the idea that evolution is a myth, say that vaccines cause autism and that gay people will destroy our values, then we will eventually devolve into a fear based society that hates everyone.

It’s people that say things like this to which we should give no voice. They should be noticed, but ignored as long as they continue to perpetuate hate.

And that is the means to Springsteen’s end. There are problems with how we treat our veterans; have been since the Civil War. There are problems with politicians, police officers, and others who use fear to drive the decisions we make. Bruce and many other artists like him, with their songs, say that we have the power to fight those things. We have the ability to be better people, to accept those who are different, and stop war.

At the end of the day, all he was saying is give peace a chance.

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