I would like to hear these anti-war Bruce Springsteen songs.
Springsteen takes on war, Bush in 'Magic'
The shadow of the Iraq occupation and George W. Bush loom over Bruce Springsteen's new Magic album. But listeners will have to pay close attention to catch all the lyrics that address those topics.
Springsteen's latest, which hits stores Tuesday, is not a full-on protest album. Instead, it's the work of an artist speaking with subtle prose and imagery rather than blunt diatribes.
Magic is the latest foray into social and political commentary for Springsteen, whose subject matter has evolved since the '70s from rebellious teens to blue-collar struggles to Vietnam veterans to Sept. 11. advertisement
In the process, Springsteen, 58, has become a source of national consciousness for many members of the boomer generation, his core audience.
"He has been the voice of the working man and Everyman," said Gabi Knight, music editor for Amazon.com. "Given the climate (of war) we're living in, it doesn't seem unusual that he would be a spokesman for issues that are hitting . . . the general American."
Magic reunites the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer on record with his E Street Band for the first time since 2002. Six of the 12 tracks on the CD touch upon soldiers facing battle, Bush's re-election and America's image abroad.
"I would say it's a natural progression for Bruce to write about that stuff," said Bob Conrad, who worked with Springsteen and his management from 1977 to 1991 as Southwest regional promotion manager for Columbia Records, the singer's longtime label.
"Rarely have I encountered a guy over the years who is as passionate about what he is writing, and who also believes it," said Conrad, now co-owner of Radicole Creative Media Partners in Phoenix.
Each time Springsteen would release an album or launch a concert tour, Conrad says, label representatives would be made aware of causes that Springsteen might be championing. They would help the singer and his label get the word out, he says, and Magic appears to be the latest example of that social consciousness.
Only one of Springsteen's latest songs, Last to Die - which asks, "Who'll be the last to die for a mistake?" - is an in-your-face anti-war song.
Others use short passages or single images to convey that Springsteen feels all is not right in the U.S.A.
It's not the first time that Springsteen has taken on the Iraq war and Bush. The title track of Devils & Dust (2005) told a quiet tale of doubt and fear through the eyes of a soldier fighting in the desert.
In 2006, Springsteen recorded a folk album, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, inspired by iconic rabble-rouser Pete Seeger. On tour that same year to support the Seeger CD, Springsteen introduced a pair of anti-war ballads in Glendale by saying, "Here are a few songs that, sadly, need to be written."
"(He's) someone who, even if they weren't a musician, would probably be saying these types of things to a much smaller audience, such as friends and family," said Springsteen fan Bill West, 39, of Gilbert. West has followed Springsteen's career for decades and has seen him perform on four tours since the mid-'90s.
But before releasing Magic and its darker material, Springsteen threw a bit of a curveball, with the CD's debut single, Radio Nowhere. The radio-ready song celebrates Springsteen's reunion with the E Street Band with raging guitar, a saxophone solo and no political commentary.
"It strikes me as a return to his roots," said Doc Ellis, who has played the song on KDKB-FM (93.3). "It's a total E Street Band song. He's got Clarence (Clemons) wailing on the saxophone."
There are a few other blasts from the past on the CD, but most of the songs have lyrics anchored in current events.
Livin' in the Future is a frisky shout-out to 1975's Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, but it also lambastes the Bush administration.
The haunting modern folk of Devil's Arcade includes images of dust-covered soldiers and the line, "Heroes are needed so heroes get made / Somebody made a bet, somebody paid."
That comes off as a comment on the parade of young "heroes" who have emerged during the war, as well as the terrible price some soldiers and their families have paid.
The most macabre commentary comes in the album's title cut.
Springsteen seems to be singing about both a carnival magician as well as a time when some Americans fear their rights are being lost: "I'll cut you in half while you're smiling ear to ear / And the freedom that you sought's driftin' like a ghost amongst the trees."
Fan West isn't surprised that Springsteen is still raising eyebrows with his commentary and keeping his music fresh:
"As long as you've got something to say and the well of music hasn't run dry, there's no reason to go into nostalgia mode."
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