Opinion

Bruce Springsteen’s run for home

Bruce Springsteen performs at the 12th annual Stand Up For Heroes benefit concert at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 5, 2018, in New York. (Photo by Brad Barket/Invision/AP)

(RNS) — Bruce Springsteen’s one-man show on Broadway, which recently ended its run at the Walter Kerr Theatre and is now available on Netflix, doesn’t depend much on suspense. Devoted fans know his story from reading his autobiography, “Born to Run,” on which the show is based; the rest have glimpsed it in his songs of redemption, of pulling up roots, of breaking free, of a young man’s desire for something more than what the streets of central New Jersey had to offer him.

No Springsteen fan would be surprised that he ended the show with a rousing acoustic rendition of the iconic song “Born to Run.” He has been playing this anthem virtually every night for 40 years. It’s the prelude to his rock ’n’ roll legend, before he was “sprung from cages on Highway 9.”

What will catch even many Springsteen fans off guard, including me as I sat in the balcony at the Walter Kerr Theatre last year, is the setup to this finale. Before he launches into his signature song, the Boss leads his Broadway congregation in the Lord’s Prayer — a reminder that he continues to be formed by his Catholic upbringing in the working-class precincts of Freehold, N.J.

“Springsteen on Broadway” banner from the Walter Kerr Theatre in New York. Courtesy image

Springsteen’s show is saturated with references to the Catholic God. He describes his childhood home as “spitting distance” from St. Rose of Lima Church, the parish that shaped the daily rhythms of his boyhood. He “literally grew up surrounded by God,” he said, but he was also one of St. Rose’s “unwilling disciples.”

His real salvation, at least as he tells the story, came from watching Elvis Presley perform on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1956. His “staff of righteousness” was his guitar.

Yet, as Springsteen knows all too well, escaping a Catholic past in the Irish and Italian enclaves of working-class New Jersey is not easy. “You know what they say about Catholics … there’s no getting out … (the priests and nuns) did their work hard and they did it well.”

Springsteen understands that the past often has its way with us — shaping us, haunting us, defining us, motivating us and empowering us. Like a priest conducting Mass, he asks the audience to receive the Lord’s Prayer as a “benediction” — perhaps a final blessing from a music legend who was never quite able to outrun the sound of the church bells.

Maybe this is what it means, as he wrote famously in “Born to Run,” to “get to that place where we really want to go” where we can “walk in the sun.” Maybe Bruce Springsteen was born to run home.

Over the years, Springsteen has become the darling of progressive politicians. He campaigned for John Kerry in 2004, Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, and (briefly) for Hillary Clinton in 2016. But when he tells his story on Broadway, he transports us back to a day when progressive ideals and the relentless quest for the American dream were not separated from tradition, roots, place, a longing for home, and Christian faith.

Bruce Springsteen performs his “Springsteen on Broadway” show at the Walter Kerr Theatre in New York. Photo courtesy of Netflix

After the success of his 1975 breakout album — also “Born to Run” — Springsteen had it all. His music was on the radio, he and the E Street Band were touring nationally, and he was on the cover of Time and Newsweek in the same week. But it wasn’t enough. He eventually began to ask himself some new questions, and those questions revolved around home. “I felt accountable to the people I’d grown up alongside,” he wrote in his memoir, “and I needed to address that feeling.”

Springsteen knew that the key to his longevity as an artist was to stay grounded and to chart a different path than the one traveled by other musicians who had “lost their way” by producing music that was “anemic,” “rootless” and “displaced,” he wrote.

In a recent interview with The Times of London, Springsteen mentioned that he visits St. Rose of Lima often. “You get more spiritual as you grow older,” he said. “You’re closer to the other world, so maybe that has something to do with it.”

It is unclear whether the regular visits to his childhood congregation are inspired by mere nostalgia or an honest desire to reconnect with the spirituality of the church of his youth, but one thing is clear: Springsteen continues to yearn for something deeper, something real and something transcendent. And we yearn with him.

As St. Augustine taught us in his “Confessions,” “our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

Bruce Springsteen, front, with Max Weinberg in background on drums, in concert on Aug. 15, 2008. Photo by Craig O’Neal/Creative Commons

(John Fea teaches American history at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pa. He is the author of “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.” The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.)

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  • “Springsteen’s show is saturated with references to the Catholic God.” “Catholic” means worldwide. Were you referring to Roman Catholic?

    What do you call a wandering bishop? A roaming catholic. 🙂

  • JOHN FEA: “[Bruce] Springsteen continues to yearn for something deeper, something real and something transcendent. And we yearn with him.”

    HpO: No. We. Do. Not. (We born-from-above, fired-up and die-hard followers of THE Christ Jesus of the gospels, epistles and revelation, that is. All whose cups “runneth over”!)

  • It’s RNS’ The New Normal catered to, and marketing for, Christians “escaping a Catholic past”, “escaping a [Russian Orthodox] past”, “escaping a [Southern Baptist] past”, or “escaping a [Republican Party] past”.

    But never to and for Christians “escaping a [Liberal, Progressive, Agnostic, Atheist, LGBT, or Democratic Party] past”!

  • Yup. 2 more years to go and what have they been doing other than trolling, bullying, scandalizing, Disqus-sing (read = dissing & cussing)? Even ped… I mean Joe Biden recognizes how hopeless & helpless the electoral situation is for his species & their ilk out there for these next 2 years.

  • Tough for you guys to stomach all of this. This is the hope for the future of our country. Progressive, LBGTQ, agnostic… oh the horror. I’ll stop cursing now!

  • But, but, BUT if “the hope for the future of our country [is] Progressive, LBGTQ, agnostic”, why, then, “there was [this] one early folk song that left the most indelible mark in [your] mind – The Kingston Trio’s ‘Tom Dooley'”? Which goes like this, in the name of said “hope” – or is it for its “oh the horror”?!

    “A cond*mned man named Tom Dooley … when the sun rises tomorrow … must h*ng. H*ng down your head, Tom Dooley … and cry. … Poor boy, you’re bound to d*e. [You] met her on the mountain … took her life … st*bbed her with my kn*fe … This time tomorrow reckon where [you]’ll be. Hadn’t-a been for Grayson, I’d-a been in Tennessee … This time tomorrow reckon where [you]’ll be. Down in some lonesome valley h*ngin’ from a white oak tree”!

    Source: “Crash on the Levee with Jerry Treacy … on WFDU(FM) … owned and operated by Fairleigh Dickinson University.”

  • Good example of the effectiveness of religious brainwashing. Even Bruce hasn’t been able to escape.

  • Because it shows you how restrictive, backward looking, and pessimistic those backgrounds they escape are. Also they tend to look the other way at (or make excuses for) child abuse in a way not seen by liberals, progressives, agnostics….

    I have never seen the liberal version of “How to Train Up Your Child”. 🙂

  • 11 convictions and counting from the president’s staff and associates from an official investigation does not seem to be just trolling, bullying or scandalizing.

  • What’s ironic about his support for Progressive candidates is that he wrote the anthems of the Midwest voters that put Trump over the top.

  • I would not call most of those songs anthems. Most of them are songs about people put under the thumb of those like Trump or in desperate situations caused by the kind of things Conservative politicians stump for.

  • I’ll never “get over [this, though, your ‘assertion’]!”

    “skepticelt … 7 years ago … [asserted] Assertions do NOT equal facts, nor truth. [For instance] I am trained as an anthropologist. … Dumb, de-dumb dumb. … [Such] grunts & gestures … were understood by earlier hominid species.”

  • CRUDDIE, dude! Are you & your species all blind?! These dudes’ “way not seen by liberals, progressives, agnostics”?!

    Neil deGrasse Tyson
    David Silverman
    Lawrence Krauss
    Al Franken

  • LISTEN UP ALL YE ASHIESTS TO YOUR OWN! They’re all talking about CRUDDIE here!

    (1) “As an atheist myself, I’ve found ‘new atheist’ writers to be an embarrassment. … Like the late Madalyn Murray O’Hair, they come across as narrow-minded and ill-informed bigots whose only purpose is to antagonize religious people.”
    – Noam Chomsky, Attack the System, March 11, 2012.

    (2) “People in this movement … adopt a New Atheist kind of position on religion because they don’t have other critical frameworks for understanding it or for articulating their intuitions, so they wind up just saying that religion is stupid and religious people are ignorant”.
    – Stephen LeDrew, Positivism, December 10, 2015.

    (3) Some atheists are “just looking for flaws in theism or religious people’s behavior out of some animus … prejudice or malice. … Some atheists really do seem to have gotten into this movement to indulge in their feelings of superiority to those they pitilessly disparage as ‘stupid’ or wicked. … They are just in this to throw rocks at the ‘retards’. I have no sympathies with such people and am ashamed that they’re associated with me.”
    – Daniel Fincke, Camels with Hammers, June 17, 2013.

  • 1. Never liked Chomsky either. The guy is an apologist for genocidal autocrats, a historical revisionist and has no intellectual authority outside of his field of linguistics.

    2. I am not a “New Atheist” I am an old one. I do not oppose religion at all. I oppose people who use religion as excuses to act like d-bags.

    3. You are deflecting and not refuting my statement at all. 🙂

  • Your point is unfocused and silly. People don’t talk about escaping from liberal and progressive backgrounds usually. Usually for good reason.

    Your examples are way off your point. Unlike conservatives, liberals don’t make excuses for their miscreants. They throw them under the bus when they get caught.

    Vote (R) for Rapist!

  • Springsteen celebrated Hurricane Katrina in lyric by singing “the Calvary stayed at home”.
    Missing the point that over 33 thousand people where plucked off rooftops by our military. The largest airborne rescue in the history of the WORLD. Worse yet, Bruce acts like he cares for our troops when it suits him.

  • Bruce: How in the world could a Catholic support some of the biggest “baby killers” (Clinton & Obama) in the world. Who needs Hitler – we had them! Wake up to your faith! I’ll say a Hail Mary (And I’ll ask Saint Rose to join me) for you and life (uncontracepted people-babies)!

  • Perhaps he wants it both ways. Typical Limousine Liberal. The response to Hurricane Katrina was a failure at many levels. Funny that New Orleans Mayor Ray “School Bus” Nagins never gets a mention by Mr. Springsteen. US. Military pilots worked for over 72 hours straight in dangerous conditions and Bruce makes a broad statement about them staying home.The Prince of Rumson beyond reproach.

  • Because the official handling of Katrina was done in an orderly and sane manner?
    Have you told the residents of New Orleans at the time?

  • “Were you referring to Roman Catholic?”

    probably not . roman catholic refers to a particular part of the catholic church . there are several other parts, all in union with the pope in rome, but not roman catholic .

  • as some have noted the second largest religious identity in this country, after catholic and before southern baptist, is formerly catholic .

    “escaping a Catholic past” is a descriptive term . it is not meant to be anything other . any offensive taken is your problem .

  • The song speaks to the selfishness that has taken over our country and is not a personal attack on the soldiers. Bruce tends to use large metaphors.

  • Katrina was an unprecedented weather event that was not planned for or expected. After the winds died down and the storm moved on many people worked beyond there physical capability to render aid. The Calvary came to the rescue. First responders embarked on a mission of historic scale to address the human condition left behind by Katrina. Why criticize the true heroes and there mission? I lived thru many Hurricanes and the best plan is to get out of the path of there destruction, something too many people failed to do. For Katrina.local,state and federal leaders failed to evacuate those in harms way. As far as the residents of New Orleans they should keep in mind that there city lies below sea level and they should take all storms seriously. Can’t let Bruce off the hook that easily and the people that came to the rescue deserve better.

  • can’t of course speak for jerry treacy of wfdu.fm, but my guess would be the irreducible tragedy of “tom dooley,” a song from the late 1860’s wilkes county in north carolina, speaks for itself .

    such early country music often presented the problems of a rural and fairly isolated society still reeling from the trauma of the civil war, all seen through the spectrum of a love triangle . even in those days the story was spread widely across the pages of national papers .

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Dooley_(song)

  • no matter how much one tries to re-write the dictionary–and the right has been trying hard for decades–“baby killers” still refers to the killing of born living breathing humans .

    your dislike for clinton and obama stands on your misunderstanding of words, meaning and morality which does not change just to fit your interpretation .

  • it is a conclusion that the catholic church came to at the time of vatican ii . it is a conclusion that this pope is expressing in a very concrete way by making the governing cardinals of the church less and less white and european, and more and more from the far reaches of the world .

    less roman, more world wide, more catholic .

  • Police walked off the job, people left nursing home patients to drown, the federal response was slow and they were quick to shift blame. It was a mess.

    Your need to engage in revisionism and white washing is curious but obvious.

    You labor under the misapprehension they your take on events is the only one possible. Your position is irrational and rather silly.

  • This is very encouraging, intercession for prayer is inviting and warranted so God will lead him fully to Himself.

  • I lived it, how about you? FEMA is not a first responder. Local, County and State resources where unprepared, unorganized, and quickly overwhelmed. The scale of the storm is to blame not the people on the ground and in the air trying to save lives.

  • It certainly can be interpreted that way, and, arguably, is not so Christian a comment, but, there may be many issues condensed within it. I do not testify that I escaped Baptist religion, but do share that God delivered me from it into His highest Truth, which is pure Christ-centered Christianity not religion

  • Or maybe Jerry Treacy’s idea of “the hope for the future of our country” got its nasty inspiration from what happened “in 2001, [when] led by a movement of its citizens, Wilkes County [North Carolina] acquitted Tom Dula of all charges.”

    Source: Leigh Lundin, “Who killed Laura Foster?”, Criminal Brief, February 21, 2010.

  • or maybe jerry treacy didn’t get inspiration from something that happened years later . you are struggling too hard to prove nonsense .

  • It’s NEVER “too hard to prove nonsense”, actually. WATCH ME:

    (1) “NONSENSE” !!! is “moresteps … 4 months ago … [complaining that] you focus on me which makes no sense.”

    (2) “NONSENSE” !!! is “moresteps … 6 months ago … [second-guessing God his judge that] there is not sense in … the teaching of paul … giving instructions … that they are strict rules for all time and all places.”

    (3) “NONSENSE” !!! is “moresteps … 9 months ago … 3 months ago … [second-guessing God his judge that] contraception, gay marriage women priests were not spoken of by jesus or even implied … and are subject to reinterpretation … [for like jesus said] ‘what things you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ … the christ advised … that we use common sense and logic to understand the ‘signs’ one sees and hears of in the world around us.”

    (4) “NONSENSE” !!! is “moresteps … 8 days ago … 3 months ago … [drooling all over that] now catholics and protestants and orthodox have the most educated laity in history … the result will be a theology that … will be the sensus fidelium : the faith of the people … [to whom w]hat doesn’t even make sense … [is, for instance] be[ing] quite confused about ‘liberation theology’. hint : it is a theology, and it is profoundly christian.”

  • and we watch you giving nonsense in your attempted use of quite truncated quotes from me . you are not making sense and trying to make that my problem .

  • “moresteps … 3 hours ago … my problem [always is with] the teaching of paul … [with the] ‘things [Jesus’ 1st apostles and disciples] loose on earth … be[ing] loosed in heaven’ … [and with] the sensus fidelium”!

    TOO BAD !

  • the only TOO BAD! here is that i am trying to discuss ideas with someone who is only able to take my words out of context and twist them .

    your last is a magnificent example of what you can do .

  • Springsteen has never gotten far from his Catholic roots. I was just reminded of that when the song he wrote in honor of the first responders that died in the Twin Towers on 9-11, “The Rising,” came up in my personal song rotation: https://youtu.be/6i-fiRgbpr4

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