A few weeks ago Neil McCormick wrote an article about Bruce Springsteen in The Telegraph. This is my commentary on that article, bringing out Springsteen's Catholicism and social justice agenda. It anticipates the release next week of Springsteen's new record Wrecking Ball.
I’ve always declared Bruce Springsteen my Catholic Bishop to Bono my Protestant revivalist Preacher. While publicizing my second book The Rock Cries Out I found myself in a classroom of Messiah College in Pennsylvania. I was sharing one of my theories about Bruce Springsteen from my chapter on him in the book and I said how there had been an obvious change in Springsteen’s attitude towards Christianity in the early nineties and I genuinely wondered if that was to do with his interactions with Bono and U2; they were the topic for my first book Walk On. Someone in the class then shared how his aunt had once been in a relationship with Bruce Springsteen, they were still in touch, he called for dinner the previous summer and basically shared how what I was surmising was true!
That would short circuit my theory and I hope that it is indeed a true story. I have no reason to doubt the young man. Let me take a longer way round though. In an article in last week’s London Telegraph, Neil McCormick a very balanced commentator of U2’s dynamic of faith quotes Springsteen about faith on his new record Wrecking Ball, “The album shifts towards the spiritual uplift of gospel music in its rousing finale, evoking Jesus and the risen dead. “I got brainwashed as a child with Catholicism,” joked Springsteen, who says biblical imagery increasingly creeps into his songs almost unbidden. “It’s like Al Pacino in The Godfather: I try to get out but they pull you back in! Once a Catholic, always a Catholic.” He told the Irish Times something similar, Springsteen told the Irish Times, “I got completely brainwashed with Catholicism as a child. Once you’re a Catholic, you’re always a Catholic . . . It’s given me a very active sense of spiritual life and made it difficult sexually, but that’s all right”[i]
This half joking confession of Catholicism’s continued influence on Springsteen’s life is not new. It first raised its head during the tour after Devils In Dust during his introduction of Jesus Was An Only Son. You can hear that text on the Storytellers DVD. Indeed that line by line commentary suggests an influence of Martin Scorsese, another artist whose work is deeply minted by Catholicism. There seems a few of the lines from Jesus Was An Only Son could be taken as straight commentary from Scorsese’s controversial The Last Temptation of Christ. Of course Scorsese wasn’t the only Catholic artist that Springsteen was listening to. He had been a fan of novelists Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy for some time. Walker Percy actually wrote to Springsteen to tell him how he admired his spiritual journey and Percy’s son Will interviewed Springsteen for Double Take magazine.
Like Bono, Springsteen’s Catholic spirituality is not individualistic. The transformation that Bono and Springsteen are aiming for is both individual and social. In that same interview with Neil McCormick Springsteen says, “I enjoy artists who like to take on the world as well as entertain their audience. I write to process my own experiences and if I can do that for me, I hope I can do that for you.” For Springsteen he is a rich mollycoddled rock star who struggles with his privilege in an American nation struggling with recession. He believes that, “An outrageous theft occurred that struck to the heart of the American idea,” and wants to highlight the consequences of the crime to power and pauper in his new album Wrecking Ball.