The Great American Novel. (Here we go again.) I’ve written on it here, and I’ll write on it again, but what began as an attempt at cleverness has become a kind of dissertation. There is one Great American Novel we don’t ever consider. The push back is obvious, but in a world where Dylan can win the Nobel Prize in Literature, anything is possible…
The Great American Novel should represent a time and place that is symbolic of the greater American journey. It should be admired and emulated, it should have lasting power.
This is why, for me, the Great American Novel is Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run.
More should be written, and if someone else doesn’t do it, so help me, I might, about the way Born to Run reflects not only its own time, but the greater American experience as well, but today it’s how others have built off Bruce that interests me.
Perhaps it was all in a name – a quick search tells us that Springsteen is a “topographic name from springsteen, a kind of stone used as a stepping stone in unpaved streets or between two houses.”
And oh how the many have stepped…
Snow Patrol – Chocolate
One example of Springsteen’s influence can be heard in Chocolate, a track from Northern Ireland’s Snow Patrol. Chocolate with its building drums, familiar melody, and, of course, a glockenspiel mirroring the guitar is just a “Whoaaaaa” short of being a tribute to Born to Run’s title track. The parallels between the American influences exampled by King of Irish Rock Bono and Snow Patrol’s Northern Irish frontman Gary Lightbody will, with time, merit greater examination. That Gospel-fueled Bono attached himself to the Blues while a man who grew up geographically amongst the Troubles attached himself to America’s working class hero par excellence is, again, both deserving of greater discussion and wholly unsurprising.
Taylor Swift – You Are in Love
Another example of Bruce-spiration can be heard in the introductions to both Springsteen’s Secret Garden and Taylor Swift’s You Are in Love. For Swift, an unabashed fan of both classic rock and classic songwriters, the attraction to Bruce is not even remotely shocking. Frankly, I’d rather hear her spin on Bruce than what even Springsteen’s fellow Jerseyite Bon Jovi might cover in concert (and JBJ is essentially the soundtrack to my teenage years). Swift, a tremendously talented songwriter (because, let’s just get the side-taking out of the way) often references her influences, but this moment of Bruce is one of her less subtle homages.
Bon Jovi – Never Say Goodbye
And what of Bon Jovi? The funny thing about this third reference is that it is the only song I knew before finding the original. For me, Springsteen’s Point Blank sent shivers up my spine for how it seemed to evoke one of the songs of my adolescence, Bon Jovi’s 1986 hit Never Say Goodbye. Unlike the examples listed above, here it’s the lyrics which have been lifted:
Point Blank (1980)
You just stood there and held me and you started dancing slow
And as I pulled you tighter I swore I’d never let you go
Never Say Goodbye (1986)
We danced so close
We danced so slow
And I swore I’d never let you go
For New Jersey’s second finest, the tribute to the King of Freehold is almost to be expected. One could argue that Jon has taken more generously from Bruce than even the Gallaghers took from Lennon and McCartney, but should that surprise us?
The power of songwriting to infiltrate our being trumps even that of literature. Many musicians sound like the Beatles (Oasis), Simon and Garfunkel (Kings of Convenience), U2 (Coldplay) or the Cure (the XX). Rarely does a novelist write like Fitzgerald or Hemingway. (Hell, I don’t even tweet like Hemingway, so taut was his prose.) For a literary comparison, we can go to Shakespeare (the man with all the words, words, words), but for that immediate a-hah, it’s music that far more often carries us home.
Whether or not one was born in the USA is, in the end, immaterial. All we need is an origin, a destination, and a stone on which to step.