A bad week for Bruce Springsteen
Making sense of the Jeep ad and the Sandy Hook brouhaha
Bruce Springsteen has taken a lot of flak over the last week or so, and not just from the usual suspects (i.e. extreme right-wingers or police in 2000 who didn't listen to the lyrics of "American Skin"). This time he's getting it from all sides, and whether you think he deserves it or not, it's happening for the most unlikely of reasons: His seemingly endless desire to please his fans and make his country just a little more like the one we carry in our hearts.
All I'll say about the first episode -- the one that landed him on the cover of the New York Post -- is that he probably should have not taken that shot of tequila when fans offered it to him while he was riding his motorcycle around Sandy Hook park, but it's absolutely no surprise that he did. That one of the world's most famous rock stars would tool around a national park by his lonesome, let alone stop to have a drink with random fans, is a thought that, for most fitting that description, seems patently absurd. But for Bruce, it's not only not absurd, it's just who he is.
That's all I'll say about that -- the truth will out when it goes to court, presumably -- other than to say it's not the least bit surprising and yet at the same time highly discouraging to see the feeding frenzy that it's inspired, and not just among conservative outlets like the Post. (Of all the reports and commentary I tend to fall most in line with Carl Golden at NJ.com -- "Free the Colts Neck 1!")
Not that Bruce hasn't been through scandal before -- remember when he first got together with Patti? (Yes, I'm referring to the balcony underwear incident.) He got through that, and he'll get through this without much of a stain on his reputation. And at the end of the day, I think I'd rather have the Bruce who shares an ill-advised shot with one of the fans who made him what he is today, than one who's holed up on his yacht sipping cognac and counting his residuals. (This means you, Rod Stewart! Just spitballing here.)
Wherefore art thou, Jeep ad?
And speaking of counting residuals, that brings me to the other -- and now seemingly much less juicy -- source of controversy: Springsteen's Jeep ad. It’s been said that if you manage to tick off everybody, you must be doing something right. And it seems like Springsteen may have done just that with his ad “The Middle,” which Jeep unceremoniously pulled from circulation after the Sandy Hook brouhaha.
Not so much a car commercial as it is a PSA sponsored by Jeep, the ad features Springsteen, in cowboy garb reminiscent of “Western Stars,” preaching unity from the literal middle of the country. “All are welcome to come meet here — in the middle,” he narrates from a tiny Kansas chapel. “It’s no secret: the middle has been a hard place to get to lately, between red and blue, between servant and citizen, between our freedom and our fear.”
Seems anodyne enough, but actually it’s a message — written by an ad firm but heavily revised by Springsteen, according to Jon Landau in Billboard — that drew no shortage of brickbats from throughout the internet, and in the Blogness reader poll.
On the left, for instance, many pointed out that so soon after a violent insurrection, there’s very little middle ground to be found: "Don’t tell us 'meet in the middle ' about oppression and racism," said Susan from Worcester, Mass."I found it to be insulting, in particular the end," said Mary of Albany, NY. And Jim from Boston said the ad was "Totally irresponsible and inexcusable! Reconciliation with no consequences is dangerous and counter-productive! An absolute disgrace!"
And on the right, the choice of the vocally liberal Springsteen to deliver a message of unity was, well, rich. "Hypocrite, anti-Trump phony liberal who ignores censorship of conservatives, Russia conspiracy theories, voter fraud, fake news and degradation of American culture and Constitution and now wants us to come together for a great socialist 'leap forward,'" said a clearly worked-up Max from Santa Fe, NM. "Shame on U Bruce."
And another reader who declined to give their name said that "Nobody wants to hear from this Liberal partisan big mouth, PLEASE BRUCE, MOVE TO AUSTRALIA LIKE YOU THREATENED." I have a feeling neither of those were Blogness regulars.
That’s not to say nobody liked it: Plenty of Blogness readers actually had good reviews for the spot. "Thoughtful meditation on where we are today. Springsteen is never afraid to put his cards on the table, especially on a platform that will reach millions. And obviously, neither is Jeep," said Lynn from Atlanta. And Rachel in New Jersey called it a "very powerful and timely message. It needs to be said and it's a large audience. I hope it has some impact."
And as Kelly of Sanford, Maine ("a dead mill town w/no identity except it's near 'stuff,'") put it: "We need a united America. Maybe he's the dude to do it? Put aside our differences for once and think about the greater good. He is The BOSS, after all."
In that vein, message aside, most of the almost 1,200 readers who responded to our poll about the ad didn’t begrudge Bruce his decision to do it: 40% agreed that “he should do whatever he wants, the man’s a legend,” while another 37% thought, “Generally I think he should avoid commercial endorsements, but this was well done and had a good message, so I’m cool with it.” Only 16% said “No way, it’s selling out.”
The rest said "Other," offering such alternatives as:
"All of the above"
"Barf -- on all politically correct indoctrination"
"Endorsing the USA coming together is not selling out."
"Decent message, [but] he has been in the political activist arena for many years. Not the right spokesperson."
Personally I tend to come down closest to that last suggestion -- I liked what the ad had to say, but I'm not sure Bruce was the right one to say it, with his political views so clearly known. (Where was Bob Seger when you needed him? Nobody knows what that guy's thinking.)
But on the other hand, I'm happy that when he could be coasting, Bruce is still willing to take a risk for something he thinks is the right thing to do, be it preach unity, or misbehave, for just a minute, in order to make a fan's day.
What's your take? Let us know in the comments.