In Bruce’s brave old world, is there room for a Boss woman?

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

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 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?

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