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They’re not “beauties” and they’re not “heroes,” they’re regular people who are going to take on what comes and, hopefully, make it to where they want to go. At this point, Springsteen has done what he can do, he’s made his case to her, he’s opened the door but says, “The door’s open, but the ride it ain’t free.” What it will cost “Mary” is commitment. Nothing more and nothing less.
Mary remains reluctant throughout and at one point Springsteen lays out her choices for her: “You can hide ‘neath you covers and study your pain; make crosses from your lovers, throw roses in the rain. Waste your summer (youth) praying in vein for a savior to rise from these streets.”
But gods and angels don’t do those things on this earth and, unless she trades in those “wings for some wheels” she’s going to grow old having gotten nowhere and having never tried. “Wings” may fly you over all the troubles and travails of life, and “wheels” may hit every pothole along the way, but only one of them is real and only one of them offers any hope or solace.
Springsteen repeatedly talks about “the promised land” – intentionally never exactly defined, left up to each and all to decide what that land is like for themselves – but the “promise” is not an entitlement, it’s part of a deal. The riders have responsibilities to be there on time and to help pay the costs.
But Springsteen’s greater greatness derives from his knowledge that the end is somewhere “down the road” and there are things we can do in the here and now to make our lives better. Thus, Springsteen gives us a scene reminiscent of the end of the movie The Graduate, when, after all the tumult, Benjamin finally gets the girl to go along with him (it’s a bus not a car but it’s the same moment.) Alone, now – pulling out of their own “town full of losers” and going down their own “thunder road” Benjamin catches his breath and asks (with a look), “okay, what now?”
So, after winning the girl and committing to the ride, Springsteen asks “What else can we do now?” And then he gives the most wonderful answer imaginable, they can “Roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair.”
Springsteen’s promise is in the macro and the micro and it’s that if you do the things that you can do – if you make the wise choices, if you’re there on time and you pay the cost – there’s no guarantee of “the promised land,” but it’s your only hope and there are joys to be had along the way.
None of this is evident in Springsteen’s most recent works (or public statements.) There is no longer a blueprint to be found, only a collection of characters “hiding ‘neith their covers studying their pain.” To put it bluntly, they’re a collection self-pitying and whiny babies” upset because, for the first time in their lives, they’ve hit a patch of “rocky ground.”
And rather than using his own success to testify to the promise – if you make wise choices, commit to your friends and lovers, show up on time and pay the cost – you can go from bus driver’s son to a president’s pal, he’s testifying to the exact opposite of not only his own truth, but the truth.
Springsteen has gone from the voice of real hope which requires wise change, to the voice of entitlement and being forever stuck there. It’s not surprising that one should find him an honored guest in the Obama White House and a staunch voice for today’s Democrat Party.
It’s not America that has broken its promise to Springsteen, it’s Springsteen who has broken his promise to us all. And, early on, Springsteen had it right: “When the promise is broken, you go on living, but it steals something from down in your soul.”
Bruce, after three decades of taking your advice and being better for it, may I offer mine to you and those who stand by your side on the Left. You’re not “shackled and drawn” – it’s a clever line and you sing it beautifully – but you’re free to make your choices. I suggest you use your free hands to roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair.
Evan Sayet’s book, The Unified Field Theory of Liberalism, will be out soon.
Freedom Center pamphlets now available on Kindle: Click here.
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