Monday, January 23, 2012

We Take Care Of Our Own by Bruce Springsteen

Starting with a snarl of angry guitars and unforgiving drums, Springsteen starts "We Take Care Of Our Own" with an spite and frustration. When we feel this way, we have a choice: either dwell in the darkness of our feelings or work towards something better. What is Springsteen's answer to these emotions? In the shining guitar chords, singing violin and sparking bells that enter next, we hear hope.

The opening guitar riff doesn't disappear with the other instruments but remains as a reminder of the darkness that leads to hope. These layers, the chords, the melody and the colors are a sonic landscape that is uniquely Springsteen and uniquely American which fits these simple but profound lyrics of Springsteen's newest anthem.

"We Take Care Of Our Own" is Springsteen's first single from his upcoming album Wrecking Ball, which comes out in early March. On its surface this song appears to be an almost Toby Kieth-esque patriotic rock anthem. With a chorus "wherever this flag is flown, we take care of our own," there's an illusion that Springsteen is simply trying to milk patriotic emotions out of his audience. However like many of Springsteen's greatest songs, this song is so much more than it appears. "Born In The U.S.A." was about the burdens, not the pride of being born in America, "Dancing In The Dark" is an examination of the loss of ones identity, not a frivolous 1980s dance song, and "We Take Care Of Our Own," is not a simple patriotic anthem, but rather a critical examinations of the values that we hold dear and the promises of our country that for many are simply illusions.

The first verse is a journey, searching for something that is missing, something that has been lost. Good intentions now seem meaningless. The second verse explores the corners of America, some full of glory but others full of shame. He brings up the Superdome alluding the the catastrophe of the Hurricane Katrina and the horribly inadequate response to the disaster using the Superdome as an evacuation center. Then in the third verse Bruce starts asking questions. These are questions we've all asked ourselves more and more as our country has suffered through some of the it's most challenging times in the last four years.

These questions lead up to one final passionate call to us all, "where's the promise from sea to shining sea." The repetition of this line drives this questions home as one of the central lines in this song. More importantly it invites us all to sing along when he eventually performs this song live.  Imagine 20 thousand people singing this line in unison. Think about all the frustration, the struggles, the loss our country has gone through in the past four year and imagine the being able to yell out this question as a united people.

We need this in America right now, but what we don't need is for these emotions to turn into anger, and Bruce immediately reminds us that regardless of what our government does, no matter how bad times get, we take care of our own. Or do we? But that is not the question that this song is really asking us. It's forces us to focus on the central questions the nature of our country, our community and our citizenship: what does it mean to take care of our own?

Who is our "own"? Are people who are on death row our "own"? How about unborn fetuses, illegal immigrants or the homeless guy I drive by every day on the way to work? Does taking care of someone means saving their soul, if you believe that living a certain lifestyle will get them to heaven even if they don't? Does taking care of someone mean giving a person food or does it mean making them feel the pangs of hunger to motivate them to work?

In one statement Bruce has summarized the entire current political discussion and brings it into focus. Yes there are songs that Springsteen has recorded that have a clear political bias and Bruce himself regularly campaigns for Democrats. However this song is truly apolitical because it doesn't make assertions about taking care of our own.  It simply raises questions about what we value.

This isn't a liberal or conservative thing to do, this is an American thing to do as one of our greatest freedoms. It is the amazing feeling of being in a country that values reflection which is expressed in the shear joy of this song.

Bruce Springsteen doesn't state that he's proud to be an American, instead he reminds us why we should feel proud to be one.

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