An open letter.
Dear Mr. Springsteen,
I don’t have to tell you that you made a real mess of it, friendo. I’ve made my fair share of them, too. The occasional gigantic screw-up is just one of the myriad things you and I have in common. (I’ve always maintained that the two of us could be real good-time buddies.)
Some folks might find it hard to believe that you just forgot to say “no” to Walmart when they faxed over that very lucrative contract to exclusively carry your new greatest hits CD. Some would laugh at the idea that the request kind of slipped off the Boss’s desk. I’m not one of those people. I believe you. You were probably just busy listening to Skip James and re-reading “Grapes of Wrath” for the hundredth time. Or maybe you were hunkered down in a dark basement studio, quietly, earnestly urging Clarence Clemons to rock that sax-a-ma-phone solo one more time with a little more attitude. I believe you because I have to.
To do otherwise would be to willfully execute another icon, and frankly, I don’t have the strength. The deck is littered with dead Albatross, and your presence among them would just be too much.
The emotional gauntlet I’ve had to run because of this kind of shit has left me as breathless as the husky kid at a track meet.
I had to twist my intellect into a bowline knot like a damn stevedore to convince myself that Dylan’s Cadillac commercial was a conceptually perfect piece of nose-thumbing performance art by a cracked, elderly genius. The images of his pasty little cowboy body speeding through the desert in a fucking Escalade on cruise control while listening to a Smog song sent me into paroxysms of dissociation. I walked around mumbling to myself in nothing but a bobby sock for an afternoon before I was settled again.
I heard that when Frito-Lay called Tom Waits with an endorsement proposal, he gently placed the phone in an empty dumpster that he then proceeded to beat violently with a ball-peen hammer, spelling out “F-I-L-T-H-Y- R-A-T-S” in Morse code. And the notion that someone would even want Nick Cave to endorse anything outside of a straight razor is just beyond the pale, so I’m safe there.
My copy of Nebraska has holes in it, Boss. I think that “Highway Patrolman” should be included in the Norton Anthology of American Literature as an example of nearly perfect short fiction. You have, from time to time, been the poet-laureate of Middle America, and your work changed forever my ideas of storytelling and songwriting.
If I ever learned anything from you it’s where to look for people. You’ll usually find them making do, and even doing right, somewhere between tough choices and the bottom, which is rushing up at breakneck speed to meet them.
Cast in a certain light, the situation is a perfect example of the painfully humane rock-and-a-hard-place irony that you built a career on. Here you’ve mistakenly given one of the most egregious labor violators in the global corporate machine the exclusive right to sell your greatest hits record (which includes such gutwrenchers of working class longing as “Darkness on the Edge of Town” and “Born to Run”) to precisely the audience for whom they were written and who need their genius the most.
Here’s a true story: A railroad engineer friend of mine walked into a local Walmart with a gang of his buddies to talk union and pass out literature to the employees there. They were run off in less than 10 minutes.
Here’s a story that I hope is true: Some pimply faced cholo from Vera Cruz who gets hernias lifting Sony flat screens and Chinese futons for $5.85 an hour reads aforementioned socialist propaganda and gets good and angry with his lot. Said underpaid laborer then steals a copy of your landmark record Darkness on the Edge of Town from the discount bin as an act of silent protest, goes home and listens to “Working Life” about 30 times, picks up a guitar and composes a perfectly sublime song detailing his pursuit of greater dignity in the face of house odds and human error, and in this creative act discovers that he is very much alive.
It wouldn’t be the first time your songs crystallized something and changed a person, Boss. Music can do that.
Thanks and adios,