By Glenn Jonas
I have been a fan of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band for more than 30 years. When I was in graduate school in Texas an apartment mate of mine asked me if I’d like to see Springsteen in concert at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas in September, 1985. I agreed, paid for the ticket (as I recall, around $15) and from that point on I was hooked. I had never experienced a concert with so much intensity, emotion, and exhilaration. From that night I began paying serious attention to Bruce Springsteen and his lyrics.
Serious fans of Springsteen’s music recognize that while many of his songs address the typical themes found in most rock music, still others have political overtones. Songs like “Lost in the Flood” and “Born in the U.S.A.,” “Devils and Dust,” and “The Wall,” grapple with the struggle of war veterans. “The Ghost of Tom Joad” addresses homelessness in the nation. “The Streets of Philadelphia” captures the loneliness of an AIDS patient at the height of the AIDS crisis in the mid-90s. “American Skin (41 Shots)” was prompted by the 1999 New York City Police shooting of Amadou Diallo. “We Take Care of Our Own” addresses the incompetence of the federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
At a press conference in Paris, France in 2012, following the release of his album “Wrecking Ball,” Springsteen said, “I have spent my life judging the distance between American reality and the American dream.” He continued, “There is a real patriotism underneath the best of my music but it is a critical, questioning, and often angry patriotism.”
As many North Carolinians (especially Springsteen fans) know, two days before he was to play in Greensboro, Springsteen cancelled the concert citing his opposition to House Bill 2 passed by the North Carolina General Assembly on March 23. To my knowledge, this is the first concert that he has ever cancelled to make a human rights point. I had planned to attend the show and like thousands of other fans, I was disappointed that the show was cancelled.
Quickly after news of the cancellation, Springsteen fans began to discuss the decision. Many of his fans supported the decision to cancel. Others were adamant that Springsteen had made a mistake. Many fans traveling from outside the state lost money on hotel reservations or airline tickets. Although some fans were angry, anyone who has followed his music over the years or been to his concerts should not have been surprised at the cancellation. He has always taken a strong stand for human rights. Ultimately, cancellation of the show brought more media attention to H.B. 2 than anything he could have said on the concert stage in Greensboro Sunday evening.
H.B. 2 is a bad bill. It was passed and signed into law so quickly that the public had little opportunity to digest it. Whether intentional or not, the bill creates a dangerous environment in North Carolina that might encourage discrimination against some of our citizens who would then have few legal options for recourse. Attention needed to be drawn to the problems with this legislation. Bruce Springsteen got everyone’s attention last Friday. And, I was never prouder to be a fan.
Glenn Jonas is associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Campbell University in Buies Creek, N.C., as well as the Charles Howard Professor of Religion. The views expressed here are his own and may not reflect the views of Campbell University.