In Bruce’s brave old world, is there room for a Boss woman?
WITH BRUCE Springsteen having just cut the ribbon on his World Tour (which comes to Dublin in July), I have uncovered a dastardly feminist conspiracy to do the man down. Over the past few weeks, two women have gone into print stating opinions and asking questions that many would consider to be flagrant acts of lèse-majesté. The fact that both articles were published on the same day suggests this was a co-ordinated attack.
Over at the Telegraph, Lucy Jones asked “Is Bruce Springsteen just for boys?” At the nerve.com website, Rebecca Bohanan bluntly stated: “There are only three women in Bruce Springsteen’s music,” adding that “women are on a par with cars and guitars in the Boss’s worldview”.
Both articles are interesting, nuanced and enlightening, which sadly can’t be said for the readers’ replies below them. The point of both articles is not that women don’t like Springsteen’s music, but this hasn’t stopped people writing, in block capitals, “I’m a woman and I love Bruce – so there!” or sentiments in that vein.
Lucy Jones got a two-footed tackle in early on with “Isn’t Springsteen basically an American Bono?” before admitting that even after poring over the man’s entire musical catalogue, his music still left her “stone cold”. I know what you’re thinking – she just hates men and doesn’t know her Asbury Park from her E-street Band. Remarkably, that isn’t the case here.
The “thanks, but no thanks” argument is parlayed into a discussion about the possibility (usually summarily dismissed) about whether there are, or can be, gender differences in musical appreciation.
Bohanan comes at the argument from a very different perspective: she’s a massive Springsteen fan. “Springsteen’s a man, so he writes about men, from a male perspective. But on album after album, Springsteen’s female characters consistently fall short.”
She identifies the inflexible female archetypes in his music. There’s the “Mary” (from Thunder Road and elsewhere) who is “beautiful and pure . . . and either a goal that the male hero can strive for or a deus ex machina swooping in from the heavens as a saviour”. By contrast, the Wendys and Sandys “exist to save men from grand cosmic themes such as unhappiness or small-town ennui”.
The more independent women – such as the women in Candy’s Room and Backstreets – suffer a value judgment for that very independence, Bohanan writes, because they are portrayed as “damaged”.
There is also woman as “noble burden”, as in The River, in which the male hero feels duty-bound to stick by his pregnant girlfriend, noting ruefully that all he got for his 19th birthday was “a union card and a wedding coat”.
For Bohanan, many of Springsteen’s women remain “voiceless and often actionless . . . they’re accessories to the men’s life journey (you really think Mary’s goal was to get pregnant and get married by 18?). The woman is often the albatross around the man’s neck, [just there to] emphasise the male hero’s perseverance.
“A reliance on gender roles from 40 of 50 years ago dates his songwriting,” she argues. “Maybe his next album will feature a song from the point of view of an accomplished young woman or just a female character who exists to do something beyond pine or be pined for. That’s a vision I’d like to see dance across the front porch.”
This debate is currently attracting a lot of heat, with even the responses to the arguments above (check out the online article The Boss loves women (and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise) attracting their own counterresponses.
Dive in – it’s really kicking off.
The American Bono?