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SPRINGSTEEN/ The Boss’ speech: what has happened to our hearts?

PAOLO VITES reviews Bruce Springsteen’s speech at a music festival, tracing the history of rock music and its influences on him, discussing the hole in the heart that can never be filled.

Springsteen giving his speech Springsteen giving his speech

A few days ago, in Austin, Texas, Bruce Springsteen was the protagonist of one of the best performances of his life, and for someone who for years has been considered the best performer of rock music of all time, that is really saying something. However, that day in Austin, Springsteen did not sing. He did do a few songs, or rather hints of songs, but it was a fifty minute long speech. He had been invited to open the South by Southwest festival, the most important world event of the independent music scene. Independent to a certain extent, of course, like everything else these days, seeing as Springsteen himself was there to advertise his brand new album released just days before.

But there it is: we live in a post-authentic world, as he said himself in his speech, where everything no longer reflects the real reason why it was born. With his capacity for self-deprecation that only an Italian-American could have, at times making him look like Al Pacino at his best ("Why are we up so f***ing early?" he said at the beginning. "How important can this speech be for us to get here at noon? Every important musician in this town is asleep — or they will be by the time I finish this thing"), the extraordinary thing about what Springsteen said was his ability to raise up all of the mystery inherent in rock music, in the heart of it. 

A heart that is directly linked to the heart of every man: "Bob Dylan gave us the words to understand our hearts," he said at one point. What does it mean to understand our heart? It means understanding that the heart reflects all the anxiety, all the desire, all the need for happiness that is contained in every serious human experience. In his speech, Springsteen made it clear once and for all that no other artistic experience of the second half of the twentieth century has been able to express this need of the heart like rock music.

"Pop rock, indie pop, country rock, blues rock, hip hop, alternative rock, hard rock, jazz rock", he spoke with the extreme musicality inherent in his voice, ironically listing the dozens of names of the music that, like never before, has been shattered into a thousand different streams, until he threw in "Nintendo rock". “What the hell is the Nintendo rock?” he paused to say, “I’d like to know myself”. Everyone laughed, but he faced the problem citing an extraordinary article by the greatest rock writer of all time Lester Bangs, written on the occasion of the death of Elvis Presley: "Elvis was probably the last thing we were all going to agree on, public enemy not counting. From here on in, you would have your heroes and I would have mine.” The article ends: “So I won't bother saying good-bye to his corpse. I will say good-bye to you”.