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The Pied Piper of Asbury Park and Other Jaundiced Artistes

533px-Pied_Piperby Donald Joy
Clash Daily Guest Contributor

Many people find that as they grow older and become more informed about various cultural phenomena, they become more conservative (that is, prudent) in their views, and that many of the iconic pop idols they followed unquestioningly in their earlier years turn out to have been, if not downright bad influences, rather dubious in their overall messages even if sometimes still supremely great in the artistic sense.  

I’ve stumbled into some skillful help in dispelling part of that lingering mystique, especially when it comes to certain bona-fide legends of the rock and roll stage and studio.  

Five years ago, writer and political humorist Evan Sayet delivered an earth-shaking speech at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., which the late Andrew Breitbart called “one of the five most important conservative speeches ever given.”  

As I watched Sayet’s speech on YouTube shortly after he gave it, I was floored.  I had never heard anyone so brilliantly, cleverly, and warmly articulate the topic, “How Modern Liberals Think.”  The YouTube version of the speech has been viewed over 650,000 times, and Ann Coulter has gone on record saying “Who makes me laugh? Easy. Evan Sayet.”

(Lest you begin to think, dear reader, that the title of this column refers at all to Mr. Sayet himself, I’ll just nip that notion in the bud and ask you to bear with me for a bit while I build up to disclosing to whom it actually does refer, in case you haven’t gleaned it.)

There’s a point in his 2007 speech where Evan turns to popular music, specifically a lyric plucked from the rock band Supertramp’s song “Goodbye, Stranger,” to highlight an example of the liberal mindset.  The first-person character in the song rejects reality, and perpetually insists on pursuing a childlike fantasy life of indulgence and evasion – “I believe in what you say as the undisputed truth, but I have to have things my own way just to keep me in my youth.”  As we know, that recalcitrant Peter Pan mindset is part and parcel of much liberal orthodoxy, but in his speech then, Sayet only hinted at just how much of the ideology shows up on our favorite classic rock radio.    

Just this past October, Sayet published his long-awaited book, The Kindergarden of Eden, subtitled: How the Modern Liberal Thinks, and Why He’s Convinced That Ignorance is Bliss.  This is where we get to the part about the ‘Pied Piper’ and his ilk, me droogies.  About halfway through the book, Sayet again picks up the sub-theme of rock music, and how deeply liberal fantasies of utopia, along with frequent tales of faux economic victim-grievance, permeate some of the best and most exalted works of baby-boomer era musicians.

Of course, I was already painfully aware of the saturation with which John Lennon’s “Imagine” oozes and drips lefty fairyland wistfulness (along with its genuine aural appeal), and Sayet goes on at length about the sheer, catastrophic significance that such psychedelic, socio-political folly and escapism has enchanted millions and millions of a generation which now accounts for the bulk of the American electorate.  

But it is when Sayet turns his laser-light intellect toward “The Boss” that I became even more leery and alarmed about the left-leanings of Mr. Bruce Springsteen than I ever had before.

I knew Springsteen had become, even more so than John Mellencamp or Steve Earle or James McMurtry (all great troubadours in their own rights) virtually synonymous with democrat party presidential campaigns–*(insert violent barfing noises)*–and why, but I really had no idea that his quasi-Marxism extended all the way back to his 1978 Darkness on the Edge of Town album, as Sayet so adeptly points out by discussing certain lyrics and their meanings.

Prior to reading The Kindergarden of Eden, I had thought Springsteen didn’t really become a commie until he became richer than some entire third-world countries.  I was wrong.  

Sayet masterfully, and at length, describes Springsteen’s career-long near-obsession with denigrating the idea of ordinary work at a steady job, and his apparent belief in the more utopian idea of play as a way of life … well, it’s worked out well for him, hasn’t it?  Not to say that the artistic/creative process isn’t without its arduousness and hazards, but not everyone can be a Bruce Springsteen, nor a boss of whatever sort.  The world needs innumerous productive workers who find satisfaction in their labors, but Springsteen would have us believe that working at a regular job is mostly a nightmare of drudgery and wrongness.  Sayet takes several pages to explain, sardonically, how it all fits in to the liberal’s warped, anti-capitalist worldview.    

For example: In the 1978 song “Adam Raised a Cain,” Springsteen makes an honest day’s work sound as if it’s nothing but sheer oppression:  “Daddy worked his whole life/for nothing but the pain.”  Well, it’s true that in The Bible (Springsteen was raised in the Catholic church), in Genesis, we read of part of Adam’s punishment for eating the forbidden fruit as taking the form of painful toil being necessary for his sustenance, where previously it wasn’t.  However, it is understood by most of us that such toil nonetheless does result in sustenance, and often even in prosperity and abundance – it’s just a condition of life.

In the song “Factory” from the same album, Springsteen moans “Through the mansions of glory, through the mansions of pain/I see my daddy walking through those factory gates in the rain,” and “End of the day, factory whistle cries/Men walk through those gates with death in their eyes.”  Notice how the inanimate facility is personified, made alive, by the whistle “crying,” while the actual men are depicted as deadened?  Although that song’s lyrics do incongruously cede the gainful activity of having a job – “Factory takes his hearing, factory gives him life” — Sayet so convincingly goes on in his pages to draw out the false metaphors and inconsistencies in Springsteen’s philosophy that I would be depriving you of an even better read if I spent too much time telling you what’s in his book.  Get your hands on it and read it yourself.  

More analysis is given to Springsteen classics such as “Promised Land” and “Working on the Highway” in the context of the covert political messages they contain, and to more recent songs such as “Jack of All Trades,” even in relation to things like the Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, Nancy Pelosi and Obamacare, and so forth.  There’s just no way I can capture the subtleties and nuances of Sayet’s vision here, and he’s too good with it all for me not to insist that you not miss it.

There’s much more to Evan Sayet’s comprehensive lectures and chapters on destructive liberal philosophy than just analyzing the works of rock musicians, but for our purposes here, such parts help to open our eyes to places over the decades where we might have been led astray by our heroes of the rock arenas and club circuit.

Culture is art, and art is culture.  Many of us believe that as a country, we’ve gotten ourselves into a huge mess, and we should dig down and examine the underpinnings, or lack thereof, which have allowed it to happen.  

The proletarian, socialist messages found in the works of many of my favorite strummers who went on to win fame and fortune, based strictly on the fact that they enjoy the royalties and receipts guaranteed by copyright laws found only in capitalism, should give us and them pause.  When brilliant songwriters bash corporations and profits, they are bashing that which allows many of them to eventually prosper and have families and leave the hand-to-mouth existence of their first gigs, to pay for the best drug and alcohol rehabs, and so on.  One shakes one’s head…

I’ve read interviews with some of the most successful rock artists (including one with Bruce Springsteen in Rolling Stone in the late 1980s) and the disappointment many of them experience once they’ve achieved stardom comes up as often as not.  We’ve all read and heard about their contract disputes, band member fallings-out, alienation from their audiences, broken marriages, addictions, exhaustion, and so forth.

In folklore, we find the tale of the Pied Piper of Hamelin.  There are different variations on the story, but generally it goes like this:  In 1284, in Germany, the town of Hamelin was suffering from a rat infestation.  A magical piper appeared, and the townspeople hired him to play his musical pipe and lure all the rats away and into the river, where they drowned.  Problem is, the town reneges on full payment to the piper, and he leaves angrily, vowing to return and seek revenge.  The piper eventually returns, and while the town’s inhabitants are at church, he plays his magic pipe again, this time using it to lure away most of the town’s children.  The few remaining children inform the villagers about what happened when they came out of church.  In some versions of the story, the children are returned when the town comes up with full payment or extra payment to the piper.

I stopped buying Bruce Springsteen’s music a long time ago, but I will probably never, ever be able to resist the sheer, majestic, enthralling rapture of great masterpieces like “Jungleland” and “Thunder Road,” nor the jubilation of jags like “Rosalita” and “Ramrod.”    

I must confess, I find that the best rock and roll anthems are sometimes what I need to help drive out my demons.  I know it’s the same for millions of our generation. 

Maybe, just maybe, if I coughed up some cash for one of Springsteen’s more recent releases, and if we all maybe spent a little more money on Earle’s and McMurtry’s latest stuff, and kicked in a few bucks for whatever Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong is making these days (if any, who knows anymore) they’d all just shut up for awhile about how awful they think America is – what with our air conditioning, flat-screen TVs, supermarkets overflowing with food, and all, eh?  If we all just buy more concert tickets and CDs from whatever act is cool now (I admit, I don’t know what’s cool anymore) perhaps they’ll all stop leading our kids astray with socialist lyrics demeaning the value and joy of simply earning a living.  Would they sing the praises of free-market plenty and capitalism, instead of penning delusional paeans to some Marxist worker’s paradise?  Would they, at least just for two minutes, stop shilling for the likes of Obama??     

You can say I’m a dreamer.        

Image: Illustration from The Pied Piper of Hamelin; source: Browning, Robert; The Pied Piper of Hamelin, London: Frederick Warne and Company; artist: Kate Greenaway; engraver:Edmund Evans; public domain/copyright expired

get-attachment (1)Following his service in the United State Air Force, Donald Joy earned a bachelor of science in business administration from SUNY while serving in the army national guard. As a special deputy U.S. marshal, Don was on the protection detail for Attorney General John Ashcroft following the attacks of 9/11. He lives in the D.C. suburbs of Northern Virginia with his wife and son.

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