Though Bruce Springsteen undoubtedly has written many more overtly political songs, his most widely known one must be “Born in the U.S.A,” a rock and roll anthem that a large number of people have misunderstood in different ways over the years. Some have criticized it for being a mindless “rah-rah-rah / USA! USA! USA!” rallying cry that Ronald Reagan infamously and mistakenly labeled it as during his 1984 presidential re-election campaign. Those who understand the many criticisms of post-Vietnam America contained in the song – which really only requires reading the lyrics – have labeled it as unpatriotic. Interestingly, in a classic Springsteen-ian interrelated dichotomy, both of these seemingly oppositional camps provide worthwhile perspectives…but not for the reasons they think.
I rarely find myself writing or saying these words, but Ronald Reagan was actually correct: “Born in the U.S.A” IS a patriotic rallying cry, but not because it mindlessly supports the state of the nation. As Bruce has said in countless interviews, patriotism does not entail agreeing with every single decision that your country makes. Instead, true patriots are those that courageously speak out against the problems that every society will inevitably face in hopes that their critical voices – the ones that would offend the second camp above – may make a difference. If you truly love and care about something, you shouldn’t just sit back, shut off your brain, and accept every aspect of that something. True love means you will do everything that you can to improve what you love, while still trying to understand any opposition to your noble intentions. That’s the best way to take care of our own…
Bruce clearly loves and cares about America, otherwise he wouldn’t have spent so much time and energy throughout his career writing about it. With his many socially-conscious songs such as “Born in the U.S.A” – not to mention his infamous mid-concert political speeches – Bruce has always tirelessly devoted himself to pointing out when the country has strayed from its idealistic foundations, using the vocal platform that his fame provides to speak up for those whose voices may not be heard otherwise. His decision to cancel the E Street Band’s concert in Greensboro, North Carolina due to the state recently passing the discriminatory HB2 bill is yet another example of Bruce positively exploiting his superstar status in the name of national activism. Though I completely agree with Bruce’s decision, I don’t think he completely made that decision in the best way.
Throughout this blog, I’ve made it crystal clear that I love and care about Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Nation community in much the same way he loves and cares about America. But just as he feels the desire to publicly critique the country when it strays, I feel obligated to raise my literary voice when I feel he and his community of fans have erred in a meaningful way.
And right now, I think Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band have made a mistake, which has only been compounded by the reaction from their fans.
Well, let me rephrase that: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band have unequivocally made the right decision, but they’ve done so at the wrong time. Yet because of the unfortunate timing, their fans have responded by attacking Bruce and the Band’s correct decision for many incorrect reasons.
Instead of just deleting my initial wording of the above sentiment, I decided to leave it in to convey the importance of nuance and specificity when discussing these types of situations. In the same way that “Born in the U.S.A.” requires more than just one perfunctory listen before being able to be judged, Bruce’s decision to cancel his concert in Greensboro, North Carolina a mere two days before it was set to occur deserves – perhaps even demands – careful deliberation and consideration, not just knee-jerk hot takes based on one’s own personal circumstances. As such, I spent the weekend thinking about his decision, reading other people’s opinions (some very good…some not so much), conversing with my Bruce buds, and just generally taking the necessary time to analyze the entire situation from as many different perspectives as possible. Though I’m sure we haven’t heard the final word on the subject, I now think I’m ready to comment on this rather fascinating yet also fairly tragic dilemma, which involves both Bruce’s decision and the subsequent reaction from his fans.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard that Bruce cancelled the concert as a form of protest against North Carolina recently passing the HB2 bill. I’m not going to get into the details of the bill because even though I don’t consider Bruce’s decision a political one but rather a moral decision with political implications given the fact that it’s based on political legislation, I’m not interested in debating the politics of all of it. If you’re unfamiliar with the bill, our trusty pal Google can help inform you. In my opinion, HB2 is absolutely appalling and should be opposed, ESPECIALLY by Bruce fans. The Boss has ALWAYS supported total tolerance and ALWAYS lambasted discrimination of any kind – some often forget how progressive it was for a white man and the BIGGEST black man to happily share an album cover way back in 1975 when Born to Run was released. As such, it’s no surprise that Bruce ardently disagrees with the HB2 bill. If you’d like to read his statement as to why he does and why HB2 forced him to cancel the concert, you can find it here.
But does his opposition to North Carolina passing HB2 necessarily mean he should’ve cancelled his concert in Greensboro?
Yes. Yes it does.
But does that mean every aspect of his correct decision was handled in the best fashion?
No. No it doesn’t.
And in the same way he criticized the aspects of America that he didn’t like in “Born in the U.S.A,” I’m going to criticize the aspects of his decision and the subsequent fan response that I just can’t support.
First, I want to make it clear that I’m not armchair analyzing this situation from afar. Though I don’t live in North Carolina nor am I transgender, I was indeed planning to go to the Greensboro concert. Besides giving myself ample time to try to fully understand the nuances of Bruce’s decision, I also couldn’t sit down to write this piece immediately after hearing the news because I had to spend a lot of time calling hotels and airlines to try to get as much of my money refunded as possible. Though I was somewhat successful in that regard, I of course was not entirely successful – Bruce’s decision will cost me some money, not to mention all of the time that I lost trying to refund my bookings. As they say, time is money…
But you know what? That’s totally okay. In fact, it may even be a good thing. Further, I think it’s exactly what Bruce wanted.
Since announcing his decision, many of his disappointed fans have made the argument that instead of cancelling the concert, Bruce should have gone ahead with it and simply made a statement during his performance about the immorality of North Carolina’s recent legislation and the politicians that passed the bill. As they also say, the show must go on, and Bruce has long upheld the belief that often the best course of action in the face of adversity is to show your opposition through the persistent power of rock and roll. But in this instance, the most powerful statement Bruce could make is through the cold silence of his drums and his guitars.
Those who believe the show should have gone on are missing two key points. First, Bruce clearly wanted to generate as much press as possible with his decision in hopes of raising the national consciousness regarding the unfortunate situation in North Carolina. If you search ‘Bruce Springsteen’ right now using our aforementioned trusty pal Google, you’ll see that he was wholly successful in this regard – almost every major outlet picked up the story, from CNN to The New York Times to many evening news broadcasts. Simply making a statement during the show – or even holding a pre-show protest rally like others have suggested – would not have resulted in anywhere near the same level of press coverage.
But even though raising awareness is undoubtedly a noble endeavor, it’s simply not enough, especially when you’re in Bruce’s unique position of actually being able to make a profound impact. Press stories can help enlighten their audiences on right and wrong, but they rarely inspire them to go out and try to facilitate real change, which is simultaneously much harder and much more important. Anyone who has ever taken an American history class can tell you that there’s one thing that best fosters true progress: money, and it’s this talking commodity that I believe was the second and bigger reason Bruce cancelled the concert.
But, some have argued, why couldn’t Bruce have gone ahead with the concert and just donated all of the profits towards organizations fighting HB2, thus allowing his money to really talk? If he had played the show as scheduled, even if he had spent half the show waxing poetic about HB2, AND even if he had donated the proceeds to the relevant organizations, all of this would not have had nearly the same impact. Those in attendance would’ve listened to his political words, applauded his morality, and then left the concert having the same conversations as every other audience on this tour. Greensboro is in the middle of a state struggling through an exceedingly important, timely, and unique problem that has not beset any other place Bruce and the Band have played in 2016, and as such this concert should not have been treated in even remotely the same way as the others.
Besides the fact that Bruce is wealthy enough to donate his own money –and I’m sure he will – without needing to rely on one show’s profits to do so, the human rights fighters on the ground in North Carolina, even more than monetary contributions, need additional supporters – not just financial but also political – fighting for their cause. One millionaire’s voice can make a difference, but not nearly as much as a chorus of voices. And the best way to rally a chorus has always been not through giving people what they think they need but taking away what they expect to have.
Greensboro was undoubtedly expecting an influx of commerce thanks to Bruce’s presence since those traveling to the city – be it from a few minutes away to hundreds of miles away – for the concert would have unavoidably ended up spending money in North Carolina hotels, restaurants, bars, gas stations, and other such local businesses. By allowing the show to go on in any capacity, Bruce would have been implicitly asking his fans to pump their hard-earned cash into North Carolina’s economy. Vocal objections may sound good, but nothing facilitates change in America more than monetary boycotts. Sadly, societies often only progress morally when they’re given an economic incentive to do so.
Even though no one has disputed the claim that North Carolina’s economy will undoubtedly feel a disruption caused by the lack of commerce that was expected to be generated by Bruce’s concert, some have argued that the wrong people will end up suffering. Instead of the wealthy politicians who allowed the bill to pass exclusively feeling the negative financial impact, many completely innocent mom and pop businesses will be the ones who really take a big monetary hit, in addition to the low-income workers who may have been banking on the influx of cash they would have received from their multi-hour shifts created at every arena by a show as big as a Bruce Springsteen concert. And how about the local food banks that Bruce generously raises thousands of dollars for at every stop of the tour that will now not receive nearly as many charitable donations from E Street Nation to feed the homeless? All of these people may not only disagree with HB2 but they could even be trying to do their part in getting it repealed – why should they suffer for the legislative decisions made by their state’s politicians, who actually might not have even received their individual vote in the first place?
This question also applies to non-North Carolina citizens who were planning to travel to Greensboro from out of state for the concert and have directly lost money on their non-refundable plans. How it is fair to penalize people who have nothing to do with the Tar Heel State nor support HB2 except for the sole fact that they live in the same state or country?
Well that’s a pretty damn important exception. This country was founded upon the notion – heck, the founding fathers literally declared it – that the United States would be a home where its citizens would have the UNALIENABLE right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Though that final phrase is a bit tricky because it’s vague enough to be interpreted in an untold number of contradictory ways – such as: what if one person’s pursuit of happiness prevents another person from achieving their own form of happiness – it seems obvious to me that the country should strive to allow every citizen from any walk of life to pursue their own subjective conception of happiness as long as it doesn’t directly encroach on another person’s pursuit. As a nation comprised of individual states working towards the same goals – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all – the community of the United States of America must look out for and try to help each other achieve these goals. As Abraham Lincoln – an ardent defender of the aforementioned goals set forth in the Declaration of Independence – said in his Gettysburg Address, America’s political government is founded upon the notion that this is a nation of the people, by the people, for the people.
Or, in the words of another American hero – Bruce Springsteen – “nobody wins unless everybody wins.”
Though that may sound like socialist propaganda to some, it really is just a simple rephrasing of the Declaration of Independence through the lens of the political philosophy expounded by Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address. Even if we think our lives are personally winning in the present, nobody in this country who agrees with our founding fathers can truly win unless everyone has a chance of winning. I italicized ‘chance’ in that sentence to emphasize the importance of the word to this idea: there’s no way to freely ensure that everyone will win and be happy, but we as a nation of people must do whatever we can to ensure every single citizen around us has the opportunity to freely pursue their conception of what it means to win. That’s what Bruce meant when he wrote, “Wherever this flag’s flown / We take care of our own.”
So it doesn’t matter if you’re North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory – who signed the HB2 bill – or a random girl from New Jersey who who had to cancel her weekend trip to Greensboro, we all have a moral and national responsibility to do what we can to help our discriminated LGBT brothers and sisters in North Carolina. If one of us loses their right to pursue what they want, we all lose. Since many Americans forget this country was founded upon that idea, it sometimes takes a patriot to forcefully remind us of that shared responsibility. Bruce cancelling this concert was just such a reminder.
Bruce understands that the best way to inspire people to act on this responsibility is by taking money out of their pockets, so that’s what he did, both to local businesses in North Carolina and to his fans traveling from out of state that may not have previously cared about HB2. Can Bruce afford to reimburse all of these fans for their lost funds? Of course – it would just require Bruce Inc. to hire a few extra employees tasked with the monumental job of weeding through all of the reimbursement claims to prove their legitimacy, which is feasible if not practical. But doing so would soften Bruce’s intended blow.
As a student of history, Bruce understands that protests and boycotts have worked best when they’ve most disrupted the economic lives of as many Americans as possible, all of whom have the power to try to enact change in this country. Instead of just being angry at the entities who appear to be doing the disrupting, these Americans will hopefully be smart enough to look past such superficial aggravation and direct their anger at those who committed the original mistake that caused all of these problems. They will then in turn channel that anger into activist energy to right the original wrong, thereby facilitating real national progress.
But some have asked: does Bruce have the right to try to force his fans into taking political action for a cause they may not even support?
Hell yes he does. I would even go so far as to say he has an obligation to do so.
The concept of American citizens’ money being directed towards national causes actually dates back to before America was even a nation with citizens. During the Revolutionary War, one of the rallying cries – there’s that phrase again – of the colonial freedom fighters was famously, “No taxation without representation.” Though it was no doubt recorded in history partially for containing a rhyme that would fit perfectly in a Springsteen song, these four words also introduced one of the foundational ideas of this country: Americans want their money to be used to support their sociopolitical goals. Colonialists opposed the fact that the British were using the American money they collected through the royal tax to fund agendas opposed by a majority of the colonies. If Americans were to forfeit their hard-earned cash to the government, they wanted to have a say in who was deciding what to do with that money. They made sure this would be the case as soon as the country won their independence by introducing representative democracy to the New World.
Though Bruce is not a formal political representative, he – perhaps more than most other artists of his generation – has come to represent in the eyes of his fan base a certain way of life worthy of emulation. When he became aware that he was occupying such an idolized position within E Street Nation, he felt obligated to use his voice to try to steer his fans in his preferred sociopolitical direction. If the moral framework provided by both his music and his dedicated commitment to his career resonates with his fans, then his sociopolitical beliefs should as well because they’re all inextricably intertwined. Though people who disagree with his beliefs have tried to draw a sharp distinction between their love of Bruce’s music and his ‘politics,’ Bruce has never made any attempts to separate the two. By buying his music and tickets to his concerts, you’re implicitly supporting everything that the man makes it very clear he stands for and represents.
In a way, the money that you spend on him is a sort of vote you’re placing for his voice. Once he has your vote, he can direct your money in any way that he sees fit, much like a political representative. If you disagree with his beliefs, you’re free to stop supporting him financially in every way, because again, this is a free country. But as long as you continue to buy his music and purchase tickets to his concerts, you’re putting yourself in Bruce’s hands, and he’s free to decide what to do with our funds.
And in this instance, Bruce decided that our funds simply could not be used to bolster North Carolina’s economy. You may still think it’s unfair for Bruce to force you to lose money, but that’s the price we all sometimes have to pay in the name of freedom for all. Freedom isn’t free, and sometimes those who pay aren’t the ones who necessarily most deserve to. But since we’re a country that takes care of our own, we should all hopefully realize that the marginal amount our livelihoods may have been affected by the cancellation of this concert pales in comparison to the important task of trying to ensure every American has the right to live their life with as much freedom to pursue their happiness as possible. Bruce has done his part to help his discriminated brethren, and now it’s our turn to follow his lead.
If you’re someone who’s currently angry at Bruce for making you lose money or preventing you from seeing the E Street Band in concert on this tour, you should realize that your anger should not be directed at the Boss. He was forced to make a moral sociopolitical decision in response to a recently passed bill that opposes everything he’s ever stood for. Instead of sending Bruce your disappointed critiques, you’d be better off mailing them to the people who are really responsible for the fact that The River Tour 2016 won’t be stopping in North Carolina: the political representatives that had the power to pass HB2 and now have the power to repeal it.
As Bruce Inc. tweeted out shortly after announcing the cancellation, please contact the local representatives in North Carolina that can reverse this decision and save the LGBT members of E Street Nation from facing undue discrimination in their home state. You can find all of these representatives’ contact information on this page.
Heck, I’ll make it even easier for you; the best place to start is probably here:
Governor Pat McCrory
116 West Jones Street
Raleigh, N.C. 27601
300 North Salisbury Street Street #500
Raleigh N.C. 27603
Some have questioned how much of a difference all of this hullabaloo is going to make. Will any of these representatives really change their minds simply because Bruce fans write them angry letters? Will people who have lost money because of Bruce cancelling the concert actually take the time to do what they can to try to get HB2 repealed? Will all of this change anything?
Though those questions may sound fair, they’re impossible to answer right now; we simply don’t know what decisions will facilitate change and which will be a waste of time. But Bruce has always advocated that people need to do whatever they can in the moment to try to make a difference for the future, regardless of the potential sacrifices and consequences. As he so eloquently and succinctly once put it: “We’ll keep pushin’ till it’s understood / And these badlands start treating us good.”
Even if you’re not much of a political person or even from North Carolina, you can still make your voice heard in the name of all of the subjugated voices that will be persecuted because of HB2. Think of it this way: the sooner this bill is repealed, the QUICKER Bruce and the Band will return to North Carolina with the greatest rock and roll show on Earth, and you know for damn sure they’ll put on an especially gangbusters show after all of this drama.
Actually, that brings me back to my only criticism of Bruce’s decision to cancel the concert, which I’ll finally reveal now: it needed to be made sooner and quicker. HB2 was passed over two weeks ago – what took Bruce so long? Some have posited that he needed a sufficient amount of time to consider every perspective on this situation. I respect that – especially since it’s basically what I’ve been doing all weekend while working on this post – but that hesitation needed to be weighed against the fact that the LGBT community in North Carolina suffers every day HB2 isn’t repealed.
Others have claimed that Bruce waited to make a decision in hopes that it would be repealed before having to cancel the concert, but I just can’t imagine that Bruce would decide to take a passive approach to this issue. The fact that he decided to cancel the concert at all shows that he’s aware of how powerful his voice can be, and it would have been an immediately powerful statement if he had announced the cancellation right after HB2 was passed. Though making a quick decision would have allowed more of his fans to refund their travel plans – thus lessening their potentially activist anger – it also would have shown the world that Bruce was doing all he could as soon as he could to help.
Lest you think I’m judging Bruce here, I want to make it clear that making a judgment and judging are very different, a difference that I think has been lost on a lot of his fans this weekend. I’ve made a judgment call based on all of the information that I’ve read so far, but as I said way back at the beginning of this piece, we definitely haven’t heard the final word on this situation yet, and as such we can’t judge it completely yet. I sincerely hope that Bruce listens to all of the responses like this one and releases another statement explaining why he made the decision that he did in the way that he did. Doing so would help us all understand even further this complicated dilemma.
I actually think that’s my big takeaway right now from this weekend. Like many others, I found myself rushing to make a judgment on Bruce’s decision as soon as it was announced. But after reading so many other people’s judgments, I found myself slowly starting to understand the complexities of this entire situation. Even if I disagreed with a lot of the judgments, wrestling with them in this piece has helped me to further understand Bruce, E Street Nation, and even my thoughts on what type of country I want America to become and be. The best artists are those who inspire their fans to try to understand the world around them, and Bruce has done just that through his decision. I just wish it had come sooner.
But in the same way that “Born in the U.S.A.” wasn’t a final indictment of America but rather a timely criticism that Bruce hoped would change the state of the nation – thus making the song immediately outdated – I too hope that my critique of Bruce soon becomes irrelevant after he explains why he delayed his decision. Yet it wouldn’t actually become irrelevant, in the same way that all of the arguments posed by his fans so far that I’ve countered in this piece still hold some importance. In our quest to understand each other, every voice – be it supporting or dissenting – matters, as long as we remember that none of our judgments are ever final. Rather, they are merely stepping stones that allow us to continue the national conversation towards understanding the best way for all of us to live that runaway American Dream. We may never get to the promised land, but we need to keep pursuing it every day we can.
Throughout the weekend, people have been using various hashtags to convey how proud they are to be Bruce Springsteen fans, mostly to show their support for his decision to defend the rights of ALL Americans. Adopting Bruce’s “Born in the U.S.A.” template of support through criticism, I’m also proud to be a Bruce Springsteen fan today because he made the right decision, AND because I suspect he would approve of people voicing their concern over the less-than-ideal way he made that decision.
But above all, Bruce’s decision and the subsequent fan response – both positive and negative – make me proud to be born in the U.S.A. Not Ronald Reagan’s or North Carolina’s U.S.A. of closed-minded misunderstanding, but Bruce Springsteen’s U.S.A, a country that was founded upon the principle of not only allowing these endless conversations in pursuit of total understanding but also advocating their necessity for the betterment of the nation.
As such, I want to hear from you. I know I haven’t considered every perspective on this issue; as Bruce proved this weekend, no one’s perfect. Feel free to share your perspective in the comments below. Though we may not change anything significant on this fledgling blog, in the words of the Boss, we have to start somewhere. And if one person changes their mind from reading this post and our subsequent conversation, then we all win…
 I will make one political observation, but I’ll relegate it to this here footnote to emphasize how little it has to do with the rest of this post: if you’re someone who’s asking, “What’s the big deal about transgender folks being able to use the bathroom of their choice…” then I have two responses for you: 1) transgender people think it’s a big deal, and 2) who are you to tell others what they should and shouldn’t care about? If they say it’s important to them, then we must believe it’s important. Americans don’t have the right to decide for each other what really matters; sometimes you just have to trust what others tell you about their experience because you literally can’t live through it yourself. And if you’re worried about those DANGEROUS transgenders HARMING your PRECIOUS children in these more open bathrooms (caps to signify sarcasm), then please stop reading this post now and go try to find any facts to justify that fear. Once you realize it’s a futile endeavor since those facts don’t exist, you may come back. And while you’re researching, hopefully you’ll discover that the HB2 bill involves much more discrimination than just the “bathroom” issue.
 Which, by the way, would have felt very out of place in the middle of The River Tour 2016. These shows – more so than on other recent tours – are about a specific and focused theme, and that theme has very little to do with politics (my concise description of this theme: the emotionality of finite time). The Greensboro crowd would have been much more inclined to ignore the content of Bruce’s speechifying because it would’ve felt like an aside from the predominant messages of the evening, all of which are rooted in the unavoidable (since it’s printed on the ticket) nightly performance of The River.
 Since it’s somewhat of an archaic word, here’s the definition of unalienable: unable to be taken away from or given away by the possessor. In this case, the possessor would be the citizens themselves.
 Another political footnote: even though HB2 is about so much more than giving transgender people the freedom to use the bathroom for the gender with which they identity regardless of which gender’s reproductive parts they were born with, I’ve read many folks claim that they would not be allowed to pursue their happy place of being able to walk into a bathroom without wondering what other sexual organs may be present in the room if HB2 passes. Simply put: the government should not restrict anyone’s freedom unless doing so will prevent provable, tangible, bodily harm. America cannot be a country that conforms to the individual, subjective standards of all of its citizens, and as such it should be a place that allows as many different standards as possible to thrive, in hopes that contradictory standards will result in an improved synthesis of the two through a Hegelian dialectic. Such freedom may allow others to engage in behavior that you find uncomfortable or perhaps even wrong; luckily, you’re free to avoid this behavior! God damnit, I was doing so well at avoiding hot-button political issues up to this point…
 Even though Ticketmaster claimed to give full refunds to all ticket-holders for the show, they refused to reimburse the shipping fees since all of the tickets were already mailed to the customers. I’m sorry, but that’s fucking bullshit. Yet another reason I think Bruce needs to take the plentiful business his tours generate for Ticketbastard away from them. Though he’s basically forced to use Ticketmaster for E Street Band tours since the company operates almost all of the biggest venues in the country, the Boss can definitely choose to play many of the plentiful non-Ticketmaster theatres for his rumored upcoming solo tour. Again, the only way to facilitate change is to hit them where it hurts, AKA their overflowing coffers.
 If only he was…