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.
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
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.