As both a fellow conservative and a fellow fan of Bruce Springsteen, I read with interest Scott P. Richert’s June column, “The Ties That Bind” (The Rockford Files), which is at once a loving tribute and a sad goodbye to “The Boss”—the latter because of Springsteen’s recent decision to cancel a concert in North Carolina because of the state’s new law that prevents local jurisdictions from passing ordinances protecting so-called LGBT rights. I am frequently compelled to defend my admiration for Mr. Springsteen’s music against the jibes of conservative friends, so I was glad to read your statement that you “could not care less about Bruce Springsteen’s politics; what drew me to his music is what it shares with all real art—the glimpse it gives us into the truth of human life.” This is spot on, and I have said very much the same thing. After all, should Johann Goethe’s views on the Holy Roman Emperor make a difference to us when reading his poetry? Are we supposed to care, when admiring his art, whether Vincent Van Gogh supported a united Netherlands? Well, as you nicely put it, we should care about an artist’s political views only when “art becomes slave to ideology,” since then “it is no longer art.”
Agreeing with you on these points and on sharing your sympathy for those ticket holders who were disappointed by Mr. Springsteen’s silly decision to cancel his North Carolina concert, I am nevertheless puzzled by the implication of your decision—which you mention at the outset—never to attend another Springsteen concert. Are you swearing off The Boss entirely? It seems to me that your problem still lies with the man, not with his music, by your own standards outlined above. Despite his political grandstanding, Mr. Springsteen, in my estimation, has still not let his ideology seep into his songs.
—Stephen M. Klugewicz
Editor, The Imaginative Conservative
Like Scott P. Richert, I have always considered Bruce Springsteen’s The River to be the soundtrack of my life. As a janitor’s son, born in Detroit and raised nearby in a dead-end, working-class neighborhood, I graduated high school in 1980 just as the album debuted and immediately felt an affinity for the characters populating The Boss’s songs that no other record ever matched.
However, his threat to Michigan over the legislature’s putative defense of bathroom sanity trumps all that. I put my ten-CD Springsteen collection on eBay and will donate the $10.00 cash I raised to the one member of our state board of education who stood up to the p.c. crowd when they proposed “voluntary” guidance to schools on gender-bender bathroom rules: Dr. Richard Zeile. The defense of basic morality trumps considerations of taste, and boycotts can work both ways. Instead of waiting for the next Memories Pizza to get squashed by the evildoers, why not speak a language they understand and simply unplug ourselves from their revenue stream? The net proceeds from cleansing their wares from our personal lives can aid the happy few who choose to stand in the public square and oppose moral insanity dressed up as public policy.
—Lloyd A. Conway
Mr. Richert Replies:
I thank both Dr. Klugewicz and Mr. Conway for their thoughtful responses. And while I sympathize greatly with the reasoning behind Mr. Conway’s decision to sell his Springsteen CD collection and to donate the proceeds to a courageous public servant, I agree with Dr. Klugewicz that The Boss “has still not let his ideology seep into his songs.” I will continue to listen to the music he has produced in the past, and to consider any future albums on their artistic merits rather than through the lens of our political differences.
That said, the fact that my decision never to attend another Springsteen concert left Dr. Klugewicz puzzled is a clear indication of a deficiency in my column (which Dr. Klugewicz was so kind as to republish at The Imaginative Conservative). So I am grateful for the opportunity to write a few more sentences of explanation.
What may have been lost in the ending to my column is the very thought that moved me to write it in the first place—that no one, no matter what he thinks of Springsteen’s politics, can any longer count on a Springsteen concert actually coming off. Real people bought those tickets, and probably not a single one of them was a North Carolina state legislator. Real people—not the politicians Bruce Springsteen was supposedly targeting—had their lives disrupted by his ideological grandstanding. His cancellation of the concert goes against the very kinds of things he said at the concert in Milwaukee (which I discussed in the column) about his reasons for writing The River.
That is what I mean when I say that Springsteen subordinated his art to his ideology. He faced a decision about what was more important to him: to perform his music for people to whom that music meant something because it reflects the reality of their lives, or to conform himself publicly to an abstract ideology that is attempting to remake reality. He chose the latter, even though the triumph of such an ideology would mean the end of any art that reflects the deepest truths of human nature.
A man who would cancel one concert for such reasons can never be trusted not to do so again. And an artist who cares less for his art than he does for politics is unlikely to continue to deserve the title. That is (to quote The Boss) “the price you pay” for becoming enthralled to ideology.