Monday, April 23, 2012

Jack of All Trade by Bruce Springsteen

Optimism is difficult.

 In a world that so often shows us that people are selfish and mean, being pessimistic and cynical is the logical result. Unless you are ignorant of the darkness in the world, it takes work and effort to be optimistic and hopeful. One way to do this is to simply ignore the fact that innocent people are dying and unimaginable acts of evil are occurring right now in this world.  Or we take the more difficult road and try to reconcile all of the pain and suffering with the blessings in our own lives.

“Jack Of All Trades,” one of the new songs from Bruce Springsteen’s latest album, Wrecking Ball is about the struggle to maintain optimism and hope.


It is one of Springsteen’s most beautiful songs and is also one of his most disturbing works. After four and half minutes of reassurance and hope, Bruce’s final lyrics are of violence and hate: “If I had me a gun, I’d fine the bastards and shoot them on sight.”

Springsteen paints the portrait of a man who is reassuring someone he loves that things will be all right. He’s a jack-of-all-trades. He knows how to do a lot of different things and he’s willing to do them all.

He looks on the bright side of life. As the hurricane blows he thinks of the blue sky breaking and how “we’ll star caring for each other like Jesus said that we might.” He contemplates the economic inequality of bankers growing fat while the workingman grows thin.

There is no anger in these words just a quiet acceptance of how this is part of life. Some people see this line as a attack on Wall Street, I simply see it as a reality of our history and a necessary evil to the growth of our country and the economic cycles that shape our lives. Even though he knows that this will happen again, he says, “we'll be all right.”

They’ve stood the drought, so they can stand the flood, they can handle anything. Along with his partner he will just make do, because they have in the past. But this man is just a man. He’s angry, he’s sad and he’s frustrated.  In the end of the song, he simply has to let it out.

There’s no anger in these words. Just a quiet surrender because there’s no one person to blame for the economic hardships of our times. This impulse is one that he is powerless to make a reality but it haunts him and it’s undeniably part of his life.

I have impulses to lash out to go on rants against people that frustrate me.  We all do.  I have been tempted over and over to use to blog as a forum to vent and rail against people. Part of me knows that if I go in that direction I will probably get more readers, but I can’t. I’m made my choice for this blog and my life.

Every time, I make an optimistic statement I have to brace myself against others who would be cynical, who would rather have their fears confirmed than their hopes proved wrong. I also have to prepare myself against my own doubts and fears that tell me that things can’t happen, that people aren’t good and that the world isn't a good place. But you can’t give up and Bruce doesn’t let us. He shows this not through the words but rather through the instruments.

In the middle of the song there’s a hopeful horn interlude. These notes comfort like a lullaby and give a feeling of security. As we are left shocked by Springsteen words of violence, the horns come back with a beautiful arching melody.  This juxtaposition raises questions and Springsteen has a full minute of music to help us understand what is happening in this song.

Tom Morello provides a guitar solo that starts fiercely and slowly rises up like frustrated cries of anguish and despair. The horns, the hope returns and doesn’t let the pain take over. As the guitar reaches it’s peak, supported by the horns, it releases all of the anger and let’s us forgive the singer for his anger.

Like optimism and hope itself, “Jack Of All Trades” is a difficult song to understand. It takes us to places that are uncomfortable and challenges our assumptions about ourselves, the feelings we hold dear and the feelings we try to ignore.

Optimism is not about denying the bad things in life.  It's making sure we don't miss the great things that happen every day.  If you don't fight for this perspective, when the blue sky breaks you will not be able to feel the warmth of the sun.

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