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Bruce Springsteen and Labor Day: An American Dream


By Anthony “Zute” George

As Labor Day is upon us, it is foolish to think that the ‘American Dream’ has been offered on an even playing field for all. Nothing could be further from the truth. What is even more disingenuous is the idea that hard work is all that is needed to get ahead in the good old USA. In fact, in many cases, the harder some people work, the harder it is for them to get ahead. Jobs mean very little if wages are not adjusted for inflation. For the ‘working American,’ wages have been stagnant for a long time. Long before that Orange Disaster took office, to tell you the truth.

With that being said, hard work does count for something, and there is still a certain sense of pride for Americans who get up and go to work every day. Even if most are getting shafted as they do so. Bruce Springsteen is an excellent example of the American Dream. He would not have gotten anywhere if he did not work so hard at his dream. Ironically, he did his best to avoid the hard labor that most Americans had to endure or would gladly perform if they were given a fair chance. Indeed, Bruce has also become widely successful because no one has ever done it better, and we will take a snapshot of some of his best songs suited for Labor Day as evidence, but even he had to face obstacles. Obstacles that could have been discouraging enough to give up. His first two albums did not sell initially, and just when it was going well for Bruce, he was betrayed by what he felt was a close friend, and years of legal battles ensued.

While not all Americans can become insanely rich like Mr. Springsteen, because most of us cannot write songs as wonderful as he, we should all be awarded for our hard work. As captured in his songs, Americans can work hard every day, be extremely talented in their own way, be None But The Brave, and still come out on the losing end. A dynamic we should all keep in mind while we celebrate this holiday. So, here is a Springsteen setlist you can enjoy and reflect while enjoying your Labor Day barbeque. That is hopefully practicing social distancing and consisting of plenty of vegan food.

1. Badlands: Is there a better tune to get a party started? A song that also consists of a great moniker and could have a different meaning for different people. What is it that you need to concede that your country is treating you good?

2. Two Hearts: Another badass rocker with deep lyrics. Indeed, as rough or as good as your world treats you, having a genuine partner with you is a great prescription for anyone. However, humans are often their own worst enemy and have many shields to protect them from one another.

3. Out in the Streets: Another great party song, also from The River album, and hits the visceral chords of many hardworking Americans. Although many Americans do not have the luxury of working for the weekend as this song suggests. The weekend becomes our side hustle instead, with little room for partying.

4. Factory: The second tune on the Darkness on the Edge of Town album and one of Bruce’s most underrated songs. Pride in the working day cannot mask how grueling a working day can be.

5. Spare Parts: While this rocker’s sound can create an up-tempo mood, its lyrics are unfortunately fitting for Labor Day. The American Dream can be crushed, or perhaps altered, by an unplanned child. To choose to hide behind hard work instead of being a responsible parent is a dynamic that happens much more than America would probably like to admit. Thus, the unbelievable rash of mental health issues ravaging the red, white, and blue.

6. Racing in the Streets: This song is one of the most popular amongst hardcore Bruce fans, and for good reason. It is a musical masterpiece. It provides an example of how such talents, as building your own racecar, can fill a void courtesy of a skewed American Dream. But where do those who do not have such skills turn? Or the ones who do not have the means to maintain the financial demands of any car?

7. Loose Change: For some, Labor Day will also be their birthday, and no doubt, a birthday to some loners. This deep cut is for all of them.

8. Jack of All Trades: Okay, so the tempo of our party is still sullen, but this song has to be heard and understood on such a day. Indeed, a man who possesses such eclectic handy skills should never be thinking about just being ‘alright.’ They should bask about how much they are ahead in this so-called American Dream. But how often does that happen?

9. Ain’t Good Enough For You: One of my personal favorites that should get the crowd moving. The socially distanced crowd, of course. While this song has an up-tempo vibe, the lyrics are nothing to take lightly. As being stuck in a bad relationship with an ungrateful partner often seems more American than apple pie. Unfortunately.

10. The Wrestler: A song that is in my personal top ten. Another example of a man who has exceptional skills. This time in the world of entertainment, but somehow is still on the losing end. For every Hulk Hogan, there is probably one hundred Randy “The Ram” Robinson’s. But let us keep thinking all it takes is hard work and talent to live the dream.

11. We Take Care of Our Own: A rocker that will provide an adrenaline shot, but not let us forget what our country has become. We do not take care of our own nearly as much as we grab with both hands in America. Unfortunately, while this is a great song, it has done very little to change that dynamic.

12. Dancing in the Dark: Another one of my favorites, and it often gets a bad rap from the hardcore Bruce fanes. Many feel this one is for the casuals. I do not get it. Dancing is one of the best songs of all-time with meaningful lyrics. It is the tale of a man who has become so fed up and bored with everything, especially himself. Indeed, no matter what one does to change their physical appearance, there is no escaping yourself. If your day is filled with monotony and you feel you’re its cause, the best you can do is to dance in the dark. A hell that no Star-Spangled Banner can cure. Albeit it can make you feel great in the moment.

13. I Want to Marry You: Admittedly, this song plays best as a slow dance jam, so, make sure you wear a mask. Another gem off The River Album. Bruce was writing about the ‘working girl’ at a time when women were treated with even less respect in the workforce than they are now. Another dynamic we Americans can hang their flag on.

14. Backstreets: This gem is part of my setlist simply because. Because how can you have a Springsteen setlist without at least one tune from the Born to Run album? Because it is one of the three best songs in American history. Because Labor Day symbolizes the end of the Summer, and nothing symbolizes a long hot summer more than this song. Anything else?

15. Born to Run: The same as the above.

16. Land of Hope and Dreams: Our final track of this setlist. All great things must come to an end. What better way to call the end of the night than with a song with such realism and promise? For us to get to that train, though, as Americans, we must put away that flag for a minute and took a good long look at what we have become, who we have hurt to get here, and what we all need to do to improve. Pointing fingers is easy. And it has somehow become more American than even hard work. We are all better than this, and there is room for us to get to a better place. It is what the music of Bruce Springsteen pulls no punches about. Still, even many of his greatest fans have trouble admitting. The time to do so is now.

All aboard, and Happy Labor Day!

Anthony “Zute” George is the Author of Tough Man: The Greg Haugen Story, a new boxing book that covers the skilled champion from Auburn, Washington, as well as the scope of the times during his days of pugilism.

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