Blogging the Magazine: The Bruce Springsteen Edition

My "Voices" label-mate and fellow hummus-lover Jeff Goldberg has a piece in the current Atlantic in which he tries to comprehend New Jersey governor Chris Christie's unrequited love for New Jersey's own Bruce Springsteen. 

Here's Jeff catches Christie, mid-concert, reacting to a speech by Springsteen:

I'm curious to see how Christie handles the homily. Springsteen has become an angry man over the past 10 years, angry at the sort of people--billionaires, to be precise--who gathered last summer in New York to try to persuade Christie to run for president. 

Christie calls over to his brother, Todd--who made his money as a Wall Street trader--and says, "Attention please, it's a lecture. Lecture time." Springsteen begins to mumble in what the music critic Jody Rosen calls his "flat Dust Bowl Okie accent," and I can't make out a word he's saying. 

I ask Christie if he understands him. "You want to know what he's saying?," Christie asks. "He's telling us that rich people like him are fucking over poor people like us in the audience, except that us in the audience aren't poor, because we can afford to pay 98 bucks to him to see his show. That's what he's saying." 

Wait a second, this is Bruce Springsteen we're talking about, the guy you adore? 

"I compartmentalize," Christie says.

Jeff was nice enough to spare a few moments to give us a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the feature, during which he addressed the topic of editor-killings, attacked Chuck D, and speculated on Chris Christie's feelings toward hummus.

Did you know Remnick was working on a Springsteen piece while you working on yours? Did you see him at all while you were reporting? Did you attempt to "help" him down a long flight of stairs?  


You really want me to answer this?  

OK, yes, I knew Remnick was working on the Springsteen piece while I was working on Christie. We talk, as they say. We were actually at a concert together in Jersey not long ago, though he was backstage, I think, and I was with the governor. 

I didn't "help" him down the stairs, but only because a) he's my friend and I don't kill my friends (though he was also my editor, and editors are a class of people about whom I feel more ambivalently, as a rule); and b) I think the reason Springsteen wouldn't talk to me for this piece didn't have anything to do with the access he was giving David. I might very well be wrong about this, but my impression, from talking to Springsteen's people, is that they're really uncomfortable with Christie. On the one hand, they don't want to be disrespectful to a huge fan (and the governor of his home state), but on the other, they don't like his politics and are weirded out by his fan-love. I suspect they also feel that Christie would manipulate, as politicians will do, any sort of Springsteen move toward detente. 

I'm a black dude from Baltimore. The best I can do is hum the hook to "Born In The USA"--mostly because Barry Windham and Mike Rotunda used it for their intro music. But recently I've been studying the musical culture of white people. Some good stuff there. 

I am intrigued by your love of Springsteen.  You are known to be quite the hip-hop fan. I feel disadvantaged in your presence. How do we right this great historical wrong? Where in the sprawling catalogue might a thirty-something male crippled by a life of black privilege begin? 

I'm happy you are taking up the study of the neglected musical legacy of white Americans. It's about time that African-Americans, who have profited so much from the appropriation of white music, focus on the great contributions to American culture made by this marginalized population. My own feeling is that while Chuck D was a hero to most, he never meant shit to me, he was a straight-up racist, that sucker was simple and plain, mother fuck him and Lil Wayne. But you know me, I'm just Jeff the Angry Caucasian, standing up for Leonard Chess.  

On the matter of Mr. Springsteen, you need to begin at a few places simultaneously: You need to listen to "She's the One," "Jungleland," and "Backstreets" from Born to Run, just to understand how epic the guy is; listen to "Rosalita" from The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle in order to understand that he's tremendous, propulsive fun; and then listen to the entire Nebraska, not only because it's beautiful, but because it marks the decisive moment, for me at least, when Springsteen became the voice of the voiceless. You have to trust me on this--if you do this all on the same day, your life will change.  

Hmm, my mother told me not to trust white people and their music. But I like Seal. I think he qualifies as white-people music. Oh well, moving along...
Even though I don't know anything about Springsteen, I did think your point about hypocrisy was unfair. This put me, cognac-sipping liberal that I am, in the difficult position of agreeing with Chris Christie--somewhat. 

Did you find him persuasive? Do you believe that a true concern about American inequality begins by checking into a homeless shelter? I'd like to someday be rich. But I'd also like to appear as though I still honor my roots. (True or not.) Is this possible? Or are haters goin' hate? 

Your hypocrisy question is an interesting one. 

Quickly: I told Christie I was disquieted by Springsteen's luxe lifestyle (Four Seasons hotels, big farm, etc.). I tend to distrust self-styled Tribunes of the People who lead their lives the way successful hedge-fund managers lead their lives. Christie told me that I was being too judgmental: Springsteen, to him, is a successful New Jersey entrepreneur and employer, and who cares how he lives? His talent and hard-work got him a big house, the argument goes, and that is an aspect of the American Dream a Republican governor like Christie finds compelling. 

The truth is, I don't really know where I come down on this one. I'll tell you this, though: I don't think people worth $100+ million should be lecturing middle-class Americans about the importance of paying higher taxes. That irks me. But to the main point: No, I don't think you have to check into a homeless shelter in order to real-keep. But you should probably give half your money away. That seems like a reasonable thing to do.  

That brings me to another point of some sympathy. I generally don't like mid-performance political speeches from musicians. I come for the art. If the art is rooted in politics, that's fine. But I like the music on top. Were you into Springsteen's speech? Did you agree with Christie? Or did you find the speech fit well? 

On the one hand, Springsteen's art is rooted in politics, in particular on this new, angry, anti-banker album. So that's fine.  But I don't like speeches, either. One of the reasons I don't like them from musicians is that the musicians don't know that much. if I want to hear about the economy, I'll ask someone who knows about the economy. (Bono is an interesting case--I went to a U2 show recently during which Bono must have brought up five different causes. He knows a great deal about debt relief, so I'm happy to listen to him on that, but in the middle of a concert? And after he's talked about Burma and the Dalai Lama and I can't even remember what else?)  

Springsteen is a separate issue; he mumbles in that faux-Okie accent when he's doing his bankerman-is-bad speech, so he's hard to understand. And no, it doesn't fit in well. It's a bathroom break, a beer run, or just a chance to sit down.  

OK, so final question--Does Springsteen like hummus? 

I can't say this for sure, obviously, but I bet Bruce Springsteen grew up without the benefit of hummus, and probably even through his first albums did not know about this miracle health paste. My impression--firsthand, in a couple of cases--of the entire E Street Band is that, until recently, its members ate like blue-collar guys from Jersey, which is to say, cheeseburgers, pizza, steak, and soft-serve ice cream. But especially now that Springsteen is a gentleman farmer, and a member of the liberal elite, I would guess that he knows of hummus and likes hummus. And speaking of men who identify with New Jersey's blue-collar citizens, even if they are by no means members of the working class, I'm quite sure Chris Christie knows about hummus, but I'm not at all sure he likes hummus. He doesn't seem like a hummus-and-pita-and-celery-stick sort of guy.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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