Bruce Springsteen's Theology
"Well I think Springsteen is interesting because he actually uses a lot of Biblical and theological imagery in a very explicit way. When he opens the song Adam Raises the Cain with the lines: ‘in the summer that I was baptized, my father held me to his side’, that’s just not something you come across very often in rock ‘n roll. There are a number of artists like Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, who have this image of the poet writer, or the troubadour to some extent - Springsteen is a big stadium rock n’ roll singer. To find those kinds of lyrics in his work is surprising and intriguing.
Sometimes students or people who hear me lecture will say I heard that Springsteen doesn’t go to church or I heard he didn’t and now he does – none of that is really relevant. I don’t know the man; I’m not trying to say anything about his religious beliefs. It’s really about his work as an artist rather than him as an individual."
"There are different songs for different periods of his writing. Early on, songs from first album such as Lost in the Flood, and later in Born to Run, the main song that I discuss is Thunder Road…and basically all of Darkness on the Edge of Town. I mean that album is really full of theological motifs…[songs like] The Promise Land , and even Racing in the Street.
I’d say that one of the most interesting things that have emerged from this class is that there is a very clear arc in Springsteen’s writings that deal with theological and biblical issues. We can see, in the class as we read the songs, that as a very young man he was writing some angry and starkly anti-religious, and particularly anti-Catholic songs. In Born to Run, he develops a new paradigm where there’s redemption, but it’s redemption that’s in this world, it’s a ‘here and now’ redemption. And then, maybe the most astounding moment is that right after the success of Born to Run, he releases Darkness on the Edge of Town, which systematically dismantles the positions that he adopted early on, so it’s interesting to see the development of an artist in this way.
Since teaching this class I’ve really gained appreciation for his work, and for the extent to which his lyrics repay very close reading, very patient reading. I’ve gone from being just a fan who enjoyed Springsteen’s music, to having a deeper appreciation for what he’s done as a writer.