Saturday, January 14, 2017
#RIPUSA Oy Vey I sound better in my bath tub accompanied by my kitty cats . A long in the tooth Springsteen Cover band is Tramp Trump's choice for his inauguration #ImpeachTrumpNow
The B Street Band has played at several recent Inauguration galas.PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY THE B STREET BAND
Earlier this week, it was announced that the B Street Band—“the original Springsteen tribute band”—would be performing at the Garden State Presidential Inaugural Gala, one of several semiformal events that will be happening in and around Washington, D.C., next weekend. The President-elect has been having a famously hard time securing acts with any popular cachet to help celebrate his Inauguration; the dismal lineup has been a source of endless and petty glee for his opponents. Putting aside, even, the fact of the B Street Band’s source material, there was an immediate and satisfying irony to this particular booking. A cover band—an admitted simulacrum!—hired to toast the Inauguration of a President who many believe was elected at least in part via the distribution of fake news that merely resembled actual news. Like so many things in the headlines these days, it felt nearly too absurd to be real.
I will not speak to the musical acuity of the B Street Band; by all accounts, the group is excellent. I have had profound spiritual experiences in the presence of cover bands (and, for anyone who can’t shell out a hundred and fifty bucks for a big-name concert ticket, these shows are an opportunity to holler along to your favorite jams, performed live with precision and fervor). While the Garden State gala is a serious event—Governor Chris Christie and his wife, Mary Pat Christie, are its honorary chairs—it does not appear on Donald Trump’s Inauguration schedule, and there is no expectation that he will attend. Black tie is optional; the “Boardwalk Gourmet Buffet” promises “hot and hearty delights.” The B Street Band has played this party before—in 2009, for Barack Obama’s first Inauguration, and again in 2013, following his reëlection. The group was also a featured band at the Democratic National Convention last year, in Philadelphia.
These sorts of affairs are organized months, if not years, before Election Day, and unfold as planned, regardless of the election’s outcome. They seem, now, like strange relics of a time when the nation dutifully coalesced to celebrate its new President as a matter of civility. It is cruel to eviscerate the B Street Band for aspiring to something like bipartisanship, or at least impartiality (even if, in 2017, impartiality seems to indicate either indifference or great privilege). Besides, such is the cover band’s lifework—all eyes on the next paying gig. Bar mitzvahs, proms, wedding anniversaries, corporate picnics, two hundred shows a year, what’s the diff: “We’re hired to do things and we don’t look at what the repercussions are of playing an event at all,” Will Forte, the band’s sixty-three-year-old founder, told Rolling Stone. “We don’t even go into politics that deeply. The guys in the band are so easy-going, I don’t even know if they have any politics.”
Springsteen, of course, does have politics. “The republic is under siege by a moron,” he has said. He has called Trump “a flagrant, toxic narcissist.” Yet Springsteen remains curiously beloved by the right despite his constant and unambiguous dismissals of conservative ideology. This seems to flummox even him, though, of course, Springsteen’s origin story dovetails with a certain kind of redemptive American myth: the tough, hardworking white man, who, with wit and will, transcends his hardscrabble beginnings (and a stern, unknowable father) to achieve extraordinary wealth and notoriety (and girls).
Pundits have credited Trump’s campaign with speaking directly and effectively to millions of struggling, agitated citizens who feel understandably alienated by institutions, and condescended to or ignored by the so-called élite. Much of Springsteen’s discography scratches the same itch. His lyrics are rhetorically sophisticated, and frequently despairing, but his focus is always granular. Like this, from “The River”:
I got a job working construction for the Johnstown Company
But lately there ain’t been much work, on account of the economy
Springsteen is equally adept at voicing disparity—the devastating chasm between those who have and those who merely look on from afar. It is hard to find a more succinct encapsulation of basic American class divisions than this verse, from “Mansion on the Hill”:
Tonight down here in Linden Town
I watch the cars rushing by, home from the mill
There’s a beautiful full moon rising
Above the mansion on the hill
But, mostly, Springsteen is hungry to indict anyone in power who’s out to hoodwink disenfranchised Americans, either by drafting them to fight wars, dismantling their unions, or cutting crucial federal-assistance programs. His single “Born in the U.S.A.,” which Ronald Reagan played at his rallies until he was asked to stop, is a seething anti-war anthem about a poor kid from “a dead man’s town” who gets drafted, goes to Vietnam, loses his brother to the Viet Cong, comes home, and can’t find a job. Despite its echoing, propulsive beat, it’s not the sort of song that should ever be played to rile up conservative donors. (Though Bob Dole and Pat Buchanan used it, too.) Chris Christie, meanwhile—an early and loyal lackey of Trump’s—is frequently spotted singing and dancing in the crowd at Springsteen’s shows. He has reportedly seen Springsteen perform a hundred and forty-one times. It is as if the schism between Christie’s own beliefs and the spirit of the music he loves is illegible to him.
Springsteen is not the only rock musician who is reluctant to be embraced by the Republican Party. Last summer, I wrote about the strange role that rock music played at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, which incorporated half of an electric guitar into its logo. (Cleveland is also home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.) This incongruity feels both more profound and more pervasive by the day. The literal meaning of something? Who cares! A careful, informed reading? No currency! Of all the terrifying precedents being set this year, the idea that objective truth can be reinvented at will is perhaps the most damaging. These reductive, hasty readings—But the chorus says “U.S.A.”! But the snare is so loud!—don’t seem destined to yield us anything other than deep embarrassment.