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Bruce Springsteen Changes His Mind—Will Play for Obama This Week | The Nation

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Greg Mitchell

Greg Mitchell

Media, politics and culture.

Bruce Springsteen Changes His Mind—Will Play for Obama This Week

If it makes you feel better, as President Obama’s poll numbers in key states continue to slip, ponder this image: David Brooks and Governor Chris Christie spitting out their morning coffee as they read that their cultural hero, Bruce Springsteen, has changed his mind, and will perform for Obama this coming week in Ohio and Iowa. Expressing some disappointment in the man he campaigned for in 2008, Bruce had earlier suggested he would sit this one out.

So I guess his view now is: Yeah, I believe in the promise, man.

When Bruce Springsteen became a political “boss” about thirty years ago he could not have imagined becoming a key player in three races for the White House (his first move in the electoral arena was backing Kerry in 2004).

And, when I first met him forty years ago, I could not have imagined that he would ever turn “very political” at all.

I have to say: I couldn’t be more proud of Bruce. When I met him in 1972, and helped create the first magazine piece ever written about him at my old magazine Crawdaddy—there’s a new video about the episode here—he seemed completely apolitical. Hanging out with him for years after, I was always waiting for the moment he would utter something fairly conservative that would make me turn away. It never happened, but I also never heard a leftist sentiment, either.

He would later tell Rolling Stone, “I didn’t grow up in a very political household. The only politics I heard was from my mother. I came home from grade school, where someone asked me if I was Republican or Democrat, and I asked my mom, ‘Well, what are we?’ She said, ‘We’re Democrats, ‘cause Democrats are for the working people.’ ”

He kept this out of his words and deeds in the early years, but Springsteen started his political transformation in the “anti-nuke” days of the late-1970s. He performed at the “No-Nukes” concert in New York, which was co-organized by Orleans leader John Hall (now a Congressman from New York). Then, when “Born in the USA” hit, he donated a fortune to Vietnam veterans groups, and many other causes, while refusing to endorse candidates. But his “political”—in the broadest sense—focus continued with public statements and many more donations as he recorded his Tom Joad and Seeger Sessions CDs. When he finally performed for a candidate—John Kerry—he denounced tax cuts for “well-to-do guitar players.” Later, he came out against the Iraq war, hit the media coverage of it, and ripped Ann Coulter. He even wrote the preface for my book about the media and Iraq, So Wrong for So Long.

But backing Barack Obama in 2008 took him to the next level—picking a candidate way back in a primary race. Springsteen, of course, is a very rich man now, but he retains credibility with the “working-class” kids and adults that Obama was trying so hard to reach.

Obama, he asserted, “has the depth, the reflectiveness and the resilience to be our next President. He speaks to the America I’ve envisioned in my music for the past 35 years, a generous nation with a citizenry willing to tackle nuanced and complex problems, a country that’s interested in its collective destiny and in the potential of its gathered spirit. After the terrible damage done over the past eight years, a great American reclamation project needs to be undertaken. I believe that Senator Obama is the best candidate to lead that project and to lead us into the 21st Century with a renewed sense of moral purpose and of ourselves as Americans.”

Springsteen sang for Obama in the final key days of the fall campaign, drawing massive crowds (aimed at voter registration). He declared in conclusion in Philadelphia: “So now is the time to stand with Barack Obama and Joe Biden, roll up our sleeves, and come on up for the rising.” Even Fox broke away from its Bill Ayers obsession to cover him.

And two months later: there was Bruce at the Inaugural concert, hugging Pete Seeger—a torch passed, and quite enough to make the David Brooks and Chris Christies of the world slap their foreheads, now and probably forever. Blinded by the light.

[Note: You might also enjoy this item on Bruce turning 63, a greeting from Joe Strummer, and a special song.  Or my tale about meeting Bruce back in 1972—in Sing Sing Prison.]

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