Bruce Springsteen, Donald Trump, and 2 Competing Views of the American Dream

Last week, American president Donald Trump and American rock icon Bruce Springsteen engaged in a on-line word exchange. Springsteen, a vocal critic of Trump, said “the stewardship of the nation has been thrown away to somebody who doesn’t have a clue as to what that means. And unfortunately, we have somebody who I feel doesn’t have a clue to what it means to be an American”. Springsteen’s remarks came after Trump tweeted that he “didn’t need little Bruce Springsteen and all these people” to draw crowds. Three years ago, I had a chance to attend a Springsteen concert and a Trump rally in Atlanta within 3 days of each. Here is what I wrote then.

How is a Donald Trump political rally like a Bruce Springsteen concert? Let me count the ways.

Before last week, I had never really considered comparing the two. But on Thursday, I attended a Bruce Springsteen concert at the Phillips Arena here in Atlanta with about 20,000 enthusiastic Springsteen fans. Three days later, I was at a Donald Trump for President rally at the World Convention Center just across the street from the Phillips Arena with more than 5,000 rabid Trump followers.

Here’s what I discovered

1. In a post 9/11 America, you have to go through detection screeners when entering a venue to see either Springsteen or Trump.

I passed through the Springsteen screening with no problem, but I was detained by a Secret Service Agent for additional body screening with Trump. Maybe it was because I looked more like a Springsteen supporter than a Trump fan. Or maybe it was just the metal in the belt I was wearing Sunday.

2. Both Springsteen and Trump use music before their shows to set the stage and pump up the crowd’s anticipation and excitement.

Rock stars almost always employ music they admire as pre-concert background. Candidates do the same. Trump claims he personally selects the music played before he takes the stage.  On Sunday, the pre-show playlist leaned heavily on the Rolling Stones (“You Can’s Always Get What You Want,” “Time Is on My Side” etc). The Daily Beast has labeled Trump’s choice “arguably the best, most fantastic, and most eclectic campaign list of the 2016 election”. But there is a problem. Apparently, Trump has not asked the groups including the Stones for permission to use their songs. Interestingly, Springsteen has also been at the center of a political song choice. Ronald Reagan stopped using Springsteen’s anthem “Born in the USA” when he ran for president in the 80s after Springsteen asked him not to use it.

3. Springsteen and Trump are greeted with standing ovations involving thunderous clapping, shouting, and screaming the minute they are seen on stage.

If you’ve ever been to a big concert or packed rally with a popular politician you know the noise level we’re talking about here.

4. Opening questions are often used to get the crowd focused on what’s coming next.

During his Radio Nowhere tour, Springsteen would shout: “Can anybody out there hear me?” For Trump on Sunday it was “Are we going to win Georgia or what?” In both cases, the answer was a roaring “Yes1”

5. New “bits” and old “hits” are mixed into every performance.

On his current tour, Springsteen and the E Street Band are performing their double album The River in its entirety.  Several of the River’s tracks have rarely been performed. However, the 2nd part of the show is given over to more familiar songs such as “Thunder Road,” “Dancing in the Dark” and “Born to Run”.  For Trump on Sunday, the new came from the fact that one day earlier he had convincingly won the South Carolina primary. Here’s what he had to say about that: “We won with women – I love the women. We won with men. I’d rather win with women to be honest with you. We won with evangelicals. Tall people, short people, fat people, skinny people. We won. It was a beautiful day”.

Of course, the candidate interspersed his message with such tried Trump themes as winning (“When I’m President you are going to get so tired of winning”) and losers (“They’re such losers. Just losing all the time”.

6. Fans are adamant about their admiration.

Ed Edwards and his son Matt. Both are 100% for Trump. Wife and daughter-in-law Michelle Nelsonisn’t so certain. She is currently debating between Trump and Marco Rubio. But she does dismiss the 3rd frontrunner for the GOP nomination Texas Senator Ted Cruz. “Ted Cruz is evil,” Michelle says.

Noted rock critic Jon Landau wrote these famous words about Springsteen in 1974: “I have seen rock n’ roll’s future and its name is Bruce Springsteen”. In 2016, 69-year-old Ed Edwards of Fayetteville, Georgia, and his 36-year-old son, Matt, of Acworth have seen the future of the America they want and its name is Donald Trump. The father: “He’s not a politician. We don’t have control of our borders. And if we don’t have control of our borders, we have no country. Our country is going to hell in a hand basket. Donald Trump will change that”. The son: “I don’t think he can be bought. I think he’s our last hope. We’re screwed without him”.

7. Fans not only voice their support, they wear it.

On Thursday, I wore this favorite T-shirt to the Springsteen show.

This is the back of my favorite Trump T-shirt I discovered at his venue.

8. The thematic idea of a river and all it can symbolize ran through both performances.

In his song about loss “The River,” Springsteen sang these lines on Thursday:

Now those memories come back to haunt me

They haunt me like a curse

Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true

Or is it something worse

That sends me down to the river

Though I know the river is dry

That sends me down to the river tonight

Or Trump on loss and the American Dream:

I thought to myself

I’m angry

People are angry because they’re tired of being the stupid people.

We have a right to be angry

Because we have been sold down the river.

9. Since both events were live, glitches can, and did, happen.

Springsteen failed severely to hit a note. On the giant monitors above the stage, you could see him chuckling at his failure. For Trump, it was the case of the Day the Lights Went Out in Georgia, which you can see for yourselves by clicking here.

10. Despite the fact that they are incredibly wealthy (Trump aself-professed billionaire, Springsteen a multi-multi millionaire) both superstars have come to stand with and speak for the common working men and women of this land.

Don’t believe me – run a quick check on Springsteen’s song titles or lyrics. For Trump, look at the economic statistics of his most staunch supporters. Or their musical listening favorites.

11. Both are famous enough to have songs written about them.

For Springsteen, it was the Eric Church hit “Springsteen” with lyrics like “When you think about me, do you think about 17? Do you think about my old jeep? Think about the stars in the sky? Funny how a melody sounds like a memory. Like a soundtrack to a July Saturday night. Springsteen, Springsteen, woh-oh-oh Springsteen”. It wasn’t played on Thursday. For Trump, it was this unnamed song played by an unknown artist on Sunday with lyrics like “Don’t be a chump, vote for Trump. He’s got the power up in Trump Tower”.

12. Because of their power and success in their respective fields, Springsteen and Trump have both earned the title “The Boss.”

The Boss has been Bruce Springsteen’s nickname since he first began directing bands at the Jersey shore in the 1970s.  For Trump, it’s a sobriquet he was bequeathed when he began building his real estate empire in Manhattan and solidified when he became the host of the hit reality TV show “The Apprentice”. As the Boss, both had to fire people. Springsteen once fired the entire E Street Band to explore a solo career, but thankfully brought them back together again. “You’re fired,” became a Trump catchphrase on “The Apprentice”.  NBC then proceeded to fire Trump himself over derogatory remarks he made about immigrants as a candidate.

 I could go on.  But I think I have established my premise. Now, I’m not saying a Springsteen concert and a Trump political rally are identical. There are obvious differences. But in many ways, Trump and Springsteen are mirror images of one another. The words of Trump and the lyrics of Springsteen may be quite different in tone and text, but they are addressing many of the same issues – loss, economic instability, change and uncertainty, fate and the future.  Both talk about the restoration and reaffirmation of America and the American Dream.

One comes at problems from the right; the other the left. Both, I would argue, claim to want to make America great. Trump would add “again”.  Springsteen might be more comfortable with “truly for the first time”.  Both have expressed ideas how to accomplish that; one through fiery, simplistic oratory, the other through image-enhanced song lyrics. Both want to lead people to their vision of America’s promised land.

Now no offense to Ed, or his son Matt, or the thousands here in Georgia and the millions across the country who are joining them, but I’m much more of a Springsteen guy.

But hey Boss – from one Jersey guy to another – how about it? You and the Donald in a winner-take-all struggle for the direction of the American Dream and the very soul of our country. Now that’s a series of shows between two great showmen that would definitely satisfy my hungry political heart. I know who I would want to win for, in that race, only one candidate was born to run. And his name isn’t Donald Trump.

Smithsonian Honors Paul Simon

National Museum of American History Director Dr. Anthea Hartig reads proclamation honoring Paul Simon (Photo by Talking ‘Bout My Generation)

By Dave Price

If you enjoyed music in the 1960s and were paying attention to the words, you were listening to innovative, powerful lyrics written by some great future Rock and Roll Hall of Fame song writers. There was Bob Dylan. There were John Lennon and Paul McCartney of the Beatles and Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. And there was Paul Simon, who with his singing partner Art Garfunkel, created some of the decade’s most memorable tunes.

Simon, who has been enshrined in the Rock Hall twice, once with Garfunkel and once as a solo singer/songwriter, and was the recipient of the Library of Congress’ inaugural Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, received another honor last month as the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. presented him with its prestigious Great American Medal for his significant contributions not only to American music, but also his contributions to causes as a philanthropist.

Simon’s songs include “I Am a Rock,” “America,” “The Boxer,” “Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” “Kodachrome,” and “Graceland”. But the tune that started it all was “The Sound of Silence” where Simon contended “the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls … whispering the sound of silence”. 

Simon talked at length at the Smithsonian ceremony about that song, which became Garfunkel and his first big hit, climbing to number 1 on the pop charts in 1966. In 2013, “Sound of Silence” was placed on the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry for its cultural, aesthetic, and historical importance.

When the song was first released as a pure acoustic folk song, it was a commercial failure, causing the Simon/Garfunkel duo to break up. However, in 1965, folk rock was emerging as a popular pop music genre. Trying to take advantage of that folk-rock movement, producer Tom Wilson, who had worked with Dylan on his folk-rock albums, added electric instruments to the track, it was re-released as a single, and a reunited Simon and Garfunkel were on their way to stardom.

‘“The Sound of Silence’ was the best song I had written up to that point,” Simon told the crowd at the Smithsonian Museum of American History, noting he had written the tune when he was 21.

Some believe the song refers to the assassination of President John Kennedy, but Simon said the song was composed before that tragedy. He actually wrote the tune in his bathroom, where he would go and turn off the lights to concentrate on his song writing.

“I was able to sit by myself and dream,” Simon said. “I was always happy doing that. The bathroom had tiles, so it was a slight echo chamber. I’d turn on the faucet so the water would run … I like that sound, it’s very smoothing to me. And I’d play in the dark ‘Hello, darkness my old friend/I’ve come to talk to you again”.

The song explores a strong sense of alienation that many young people were feeling at the time. “It’s a young lyric, but not bad for a 21-year-old,” Simon said. “It’s not a sophisticated thought. It wasn’t something that I was experiencing at some deep profound level – nobody’s listening to me, nobody’s listening to anyone. It was post-adolescent angst, but it had some level of truth to it and it resonated with millions of people”.

Like many other songwriters, Simon says he isn’t certain exactly where “Sound of Silence” came from. “You become a conduit and the music comes through you,” he says. “It’s yours but it’s almost like you didn’t write it”.

In 1967, director Mike Nichols was filming what would become his award-winning movie The Graduate. Nichols had commissioned Simon to create some music for the film. But, in the interim, the director was using already released Simon and Garfunkel songs as scene soundtracks until new music could be recorded. Nichols, however, decided to keep “The Sound of Silence” in the movie, which only added to the song’s renown.

Of course, The Graduate did include a new Simon and Garfunkel song whose popularity eclipsed that of “Sound of Silence”. And that song – the unforgettable “Mrs. Robinson” with its shout-out to former Yankees baseball great with the line “Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you” 

Simon, who grew up in New York was then – and remains – a huge fan of the New York Yankees. However, after the song was released he heard DiMaggio was upset with being included. “I heard he thought it was some hippie making fun of him, not that he was a hero of the song” Simon said. 

Eventually, Simon encountered the Yankee slugger, who by this time was fine with being recognized lyrically in one of the great songs of the ‘60s. He did, however, have one question. “Why did you write that line about where did you go?  I didn’t go anywhere. I’m always on TV selling coffee,” Simon explained. “So that gave me a chance to talk to Joe DiMaggio about metaphor and things like that”.

Patti Smith Describes Her Year of the Monkey

By Dave Price

As a creator of songs, poems, prose, and visual artwork, multi-talented poet laureate and grandmother of punk rock, Patti Smith, now 72, continues to achieve the success she was hungering for as she was coming of age in a working-class community in southern New Jersey in the 1950s and ‘60s.

Her first album Horses, released in 1975is ranked number 44 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all-time and number 10 on its list of the best debut LPs. In 2009, the Library of Congress placed Horses on its National Recording Registry for its cultural, historical, and aesthetic significance.

Her book Just Kids, which described her relationship and life with controversial artist Robert Mapplethorpe in New York City, won the 2010 National Book Award for nonfiction. 

In 2005, the French Ministry of Culture awarded Smith the title of Commandeur des Arts des

Lettres, the highest honor given an artist by the French Republic. In 2007, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2016, she attended the Nobel Prize Award Ceremony in Sweden on behalf of Bob Dylan, that year’s winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, who could not be present due to prior commitments.

Earlier this month Smith appeared at George Washington University here in Washington, D.C., to talk about her new book Year of the Monkey. She told those of us in attendance that this was her first presentation on the work, which had just been released that day, and she was planning to try a few things out to see how they worked. Smith’s ideas included performing four songs live as a duo with her band’s bass player, Tony Shanahan. Smith and Shanahan’s stunningly powerful version of “Pissing in a River” (see YouTube video at top of page) prompted a deserved standing ovation. Smith, who has been known since the ‘70s for her activism especially on climate change and the environment, also offered a cover of Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush” with its classic line “look at Mother Nature on the run in the 1970s”.

As for the book, Year of the Monkey, combines fact and fiction to create a dreamscape of the year 2016. Much of the book deals with four significant changes familiar to all of Smith’s fellow Baby Boomers – aging, change, loss and death.

Here is one of my favorite segments on that topic from the chapter entitled “Imitation of a Dream” that Smith read to the audience:

I suddenly felt dead – no, not dead, more other-worldly, a grateful kind of dead. I could feel life scurrying about, a plane overhead, the sea just beyond, and the unfolding note of “Dark Star” (a classic Grateful Dead tune) drifting through the grid of my screen door. I could not bring myself to move, and let myself be transported elsewhere, long before I knew Sandy (her long-time friend who had just died), long before I listened to Wagner, to another summer at the Electric Circus, where a young girl slow-danced with an equally young boy, awkwardly in love”.

In another favorite passage, Smith speaks for so many of her generation when she writes:

I had bad feelings about an election in the Year of the Monkey. Don’t worry, everyone said, the majority rules. Not so, I retaliated, the silent rule and it will be decided by them, those who do not vote. … Election night I joined a gathering of good comrades and we watched the terrible soap opera called the American election unfold on a large-screen TV. One by one each stumbled off into dawn. The bully bellowed. Silence rules. Twenty-four percent of the population had elected the worst of ourselves to represent the other seventy-six percent. All hail our American apathy, all hail the twisted wisdom of the Electoral College.

Finally, here is a link to an article on Smith by Karen Heller that appeared in The Washington Post just prior to her book talk sponsored by Politics and Prose.

10 Must-Listen-To Songs by Patti Smith

  • Because the Night (from Easter)
  • Pissing in a River (from Ethiopia)
  • Gloria: In Excelsis Deo (from Horses)
  • Frederick (from Wave)
  • Gimme Shelter (cover of a Rolling Stones’ song from Twelve)
  • My Blakean Year (from Trampin’)
  • Wicked Messenger cover of a Bob Dylan song from Gone Again)
  • Dancing Barefoot (from Wave)
  • People Have the Power (from Dream of Life)
  • Trampin’ (from Trampin’)

The Simple Dreams of Linda Ronstadt Captured in Print and On Film

By Dave Price

Many people believe that the rock stars of the late 60s and early 70s, fueled by a diet of drugs, alcohol and adoration, engaged in a decade-long series of wild, sex-filled parties after their sold-out concerts. Linda Ronstadt, one of the most popular singers of that period, admits that while the times could be wild, they were not the same for everyone. “Did I try things? You bet I did,” Ronstadt says. “But my addiction is to reading. I was the girl back in the hotel room reading and knitting”.

Actually reading is much more of the pastime with rockers than you might imagine, Ronstadt explained a few years ago at the National Book Festival in Washington, DC.. “A musician was the one who turned me on to Anna Karenina “The piano players always read; the drummers not so much. The piano player was the guy who had to calm things down. The lead guitar player was like the high-strung pitcher and the piano player was the catcher”.

She compared the life of a touring musician to that outlined in seafaring books like those ofHeart of Darkness author Joseph Conrad. “Those books capture how provincial a sailor’s life is. The harbors are the same all over the world. You hang with the same scabby old guys. You don’t go beyond the harbor. Being on tour is very much like that. There’s the bus, and the hotel, and the sound check, and the show, and the dinner, and then the after-dinner playing. And then you do the same thing the next day”.

Ronstadt, now 67 and battling the crippling effects of Parkinson’s disease that has dictated she will never sing in public again, was appearing at the festival to talk about her new memoir Simple Dreams, which focuses on her upbringing in a musical family in Tucson and the evolution of her career.

“My Dad sang these Mexican standards and folk songs,” she told the crowd of fans that packed the huge tent on the National Mall. “I just wanted to be a singer. I didn’t want to be a star”.

Ronstadt first came to national attention with the band the Stone Ponies and their 1967 hit “Different Drum”. She settled in the southern California area and began putting together a new band. She was able to recruit Don Henley on drums, Glen Frey and Bernie Leadon on guitar and Randy Meisner on bass. If those names sound familiar, it might be because those 4 went on to form The Eagles, one of the biggest selling bands of all-time. “They started playing (opening) shows together and regularly blowing me off the stage, but I didn’t care. It was great music and I was loving it,” Ronstadt said.

She says she is still amazed about those days in Los Angeles. When she was 18, she met a singer/songwriter who was one year younger. His name was Jackson Browne. “I was astonished that someone that young could write songs that well. And the 1st guitar player I met was Ry Cooder. He was up on stage playing his ass off like a demon”.

In the 70s, Ronstadt released a series of hits that showcased her versatility such as “Heat Wave”,”Blue Bayou,” “Tumbling Dice” and “You’re No Good”.

She also had a series of boyfriends, including current Oakland Mayor and former California Governor Jerry Brown. But despite the fact that she raised 2 adopted children, she never married. “I didn’t get married. It wasn’t important to me. I was a serial monogamist,” she said with a laugh. Although Ronstadt enjoyed her time in the rock limelight, she actually pulled herself out of the business to devote time to raising her 2 children, who are now 19 and 22.

Ronstadt said she was inspired to write her memoir after reading other such volumes like the one penned by fellow singer Roseanne Cash. “I thought I would like to write a thank you note,” she said. “I wasn’t the most talented singer, but I was one of the most diverse singers. I wanted to write about why these musical choices weren’t arbitrary. And they certainly weren’t career moves”.

She did a series of standards arranged by the late, great Nelson Riddle in the 1980s, predating such singers as Rod Stewart and his American songbook. She followed that with a return to her Mexican roots. “That was music I was passionate about. I had to sing it or I felt I would die,” she said.

There is a belief that all music stars with hit records make millions of dollars. “That just isn’t true,” Ronstadt said. She cited an article on her current book tour that portrayed her as squandering a fortune. “The writer wondered why I couldn’t afford a $20 million house. Oh gee (hitting herself in the head for emphasis), I must have snorted it”.

Ronstadt says the recording industry of her days is a thing of the past. “The record business I knew is completely gone. Now we don’t have any gatekeepers. They knew what a good record was”. Ronstadt says that while she is not against change, “the price we pay may be much too dear for what we lose”.

And while she describes herself as not particularly political, she does have strong feelings about the immigration debate. She contends that like much of America, the golden era of 20th Century music was nurtured by great American immigrant songwriters like George Gershwin. “It was completely created by the fact that we were a nation that was welcoming to immigrants,” Ronstadt said. “We allowed them to come in and find their place. We allowed them to prosper, which is what people from Mexico and Guatemala and El Salvador and Liberia and Libya and all these people would be doing now if we let them. We need to help them find their place. “I don’t know why this country doesn’t learn.”

Of course, she is asked how she feels about the Parkinson’s that has robbed her of her singing voice and forces her to steady herself with the aid of 2 walking sticks. Her succinct answer – no regrets. “I had a great career. I had an unusually long run at the trough,” she says.

This summer, a praised documentary on the life and career of Ronstadt was released. You can check out the trailer and a review below.

To read David Browne’s review of the documentary, click here

Talking ‘Bout My Generation Makes News

As a former journalist I’m used to seeing my name in print, but this was the first time one of my programs made the news in Washington, DC. My lecture was listed second of the best things to do in DC on this particular Monday night. And I have to admit, Paws of Honor was a much better cause than my talk.

The Washingtonian

Things to Do in DC This Week
AUGUST 26-28, 2019

MONDAY
DOGS The St. Gregory Hotel is celebrating National Dog Day with a “Patio Pawty” where both humans and canines can enjoy food and drinks (four-legged friends will enjoy treats from Doggy Style Bakery). The event is a fundraiser for Paws of Honor , a nonprofit that provides no-cost veterinary care for retired service and military dogs, which the hotel also supports with its pet stay fees. Paws of Honor alums will be on hand for snuggles and belly rubs. Free to attend; $35 for drinks, light appetizers, and doggy treats, 5 PM – 10 PM.

LECTURE Even beyond Woodstock, 1969 was a crucial year for music with the formation of the Allman Brothers, Judas Priest, and ZZ Top as well as the recording of the Beatles’ final album. In a lecture at the S. Dillon Ripley Center presented by Smithsonian Associates, DC-based author Dave Price will explore the year in a before-and-after context, looking at the events  of 1959 (“the day the music died” with the death of Buddy Holly ) and the late 1970s with the arrival of Tom Petty , the Clash, and more. Price will pull from the research for his upcoming book What’s That Sound: Song Lists and Stories to Help You Better Understand the Music of the Baby Boom Era. The final lecture in the series takes place on September 23 . $45, 6:45 PM.
My T-shirt says it all …
I share a laugh with one of my guests, South Jersey poet and songwriter R.G. Evans