20 June 2013

Hope, Disruption and Bruce Springsteen

by Dr Mark McConnell

Hope is a dangerous thing. So says Red, the character played by Morgan Freeman in the movie Shawshank Redemption, to his friend Andy Dufresne who is serving a life-sentence. But Andy is determined to his life propelled by hope. Hope is a subversive power that even the prison authorities cannot control.One of my favourite gifts that I received this last Christmas was Wrecking Ball – Bruce Springteen’s 2012 release. Rolling Stone magazine, which named it album of the year, describes it as “the most despairing, confrontational and musically turbulent album Bruce Springsteen has ever made.” It is an angry, challenging, accusatory collection of songs which rages against corporate greed, economic injustice, long term unemployment and broken promises – all against the backdrop of the global financial crisis.

When listening, it feels like an onslaught. What has happened to all the promises? Springsteen rails. The road of good intentions has gone dry as bone… We needed help but the cavalry stayed home (track #1 – We Take Care of Our Own). In modern America the gambling man rolls the dice, but working man pays the bill. The result is that we’re trudging through the dark in a world gone wrong (track #3 – Shackled and Drawn). It has all happened before and it will happen again… We stood the drought now we’ll stand the flood… Up on banker’s hill, the party’s going strong (track #4 – Jack of All Trades). Instead of prosperity there is death. They destroyed our families, factories and they took our homes. They left our bodies on the plains. The vultures picked our bones (track #5 – Death to My Hometown). At times it does feel all too depressing. Baby, I’ve been down but never this down. I’ve been lost but never this lost (track #6 – This Depression).

But in amongst all this there is, as is to be expected with Springsteen, a strong resounding note of defiance. The call is to Listen up Sonny Boy, be ready when they come (track #5 – Death to My Hometown). Lines such as, If I had a gun, I’d find the bastards and shoot ‘em on sight (track #4 – Jack of All Trades), caused someone to ask Springsteen at a Paris press conference whether he was advocating an armed uprising. This defiance is most clear in the title track (track #7 – Wrecking Ball) which can be seen as the turning point in the album. So if you got the guts mister, yeah if you’ve got the balls. If you think it’s your time, then step to the line, and bring on your wrecking ball.

But what surprises me most about this album, especially given the bombardment of wrathful indignation, is the pervasiveness of hope – a hope which seems to be built on some kind of faith in a future redemption of the world (and most likely shaped by what has been called Springsteen’s “catholic imagination”). It’s as if Springsteen has a sense that this future will one day invade the present. There will be a reckoning. And it’s this future hope that gives a basis for present defiance.

So, even though we now stand in the flood, there’s a new world coming, I can see the light (track #4 – Jack of All Trades). And even though we’ve been travelling over rocky ground, there’s a new day coming (track #9 – Rocky Ground). This hope is most clearly expressed in Land of Hope and Dreams (track #10) built around lines from the classic Curtis Mayfield song “People Get Ready, There’s a train a-comin’”. And this train carries saints sinners… losers and winners… whores and gamblers… dreams will not be thwarted… faith will be rewarded.

Morgan Freeman was right – hope is a dangerous thing. In the hands of Bruce Springsteen it is disruptive, leading to a radical dissatisfaction with the status quo and a bold call to action.

And this is the shape of Christian eschatology. It is neither a hope that one day this world will get better, or one day we will be able to escape this world. Rather, it is a hope that the kingdom has broken in to this world in death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. A new day is coming, but this new day has already started in the here and now.

Here is Track #9 – “Rocky Ground”…

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