Sex Roles And Gender Identity In The Music Of Bruce Springsteen

1180 words - 5 pages

Popular musicians often turn out to have a great deal of insight into complex social issues that one might not expect given the way that a lot of them carry themselves. The white establishment constantly rails against rap music, while young African-Americans claim that a lot of it speaks directly to their hopes, fears and concerns. Woody Guthrie, the composer of "This Land is Your Land," could at points in his life have been identified as a socialist. Scrawling "This Machine Kills Fascists" on his guitar and duct-taping his own mouth shut to stand that way on a New York street corner was only one of many bizarre and courageous political escapades undertaken by the godfather of American folk music. And while, traditionally, both rap/r&b/hip-hop and folk have been marginalized commercially and the public's attention rarely lights on them for long, rock legend Bruce Springsteen has quietly, tactfully brought sociological and political messages into his music for years while still achieving the kind of commercial success that "cause" acts like Phil Ochs and Rage Against the Machine have traditionally failed to achieve. The role that gender plays in Springsteen's music is one of the most interesting aspects of his songwriting; many of his narrators' voices are asexual or anonymous, and the companions and relationships to which they refer could be interpreted in a number of ways, as well. In his 1975 song Backstreets, Springsteen's nameless narrator refers to his friend Terry, with whom he had one of those remarkable relationships of youth that was so full of passion that nothing seemed to matter--but that when it ended the narrator was left devastated and feeling betrayed: "Blame it on the lies that killed us, or the truth that ran us down/You can blame it all on me, Terry, it don't matter to me now./When the breakdown hit at midnight there was nothing left to say, /'Cept I hated him/And I hated you when you went away." Most interpretations of Backstreets see both the narrator and Terry as male characters (excepting Rolling Stone critic Greil Marcus, one of the most esteemed rock journalists of the time, who said "It is a measure of Springsteen's ability to make his music bleed that Backstreets, which is about friendship and betrayal between a boy and a girl, is far more deathly than Jungleland, which is about a gang war."), best friends who shared with each other secret dreams and male macho fantasies ("Remember all the movies, Terry, that we'd go see/Trying to learn how to walk like the heroes/We thought we had to be"). But the name Terry is an androgynous one, and that particularly draws attention to portion of the above quotation that says "But I hated him, and I hated you when you went away." If Terry is indeed a male, and was stolen away by another man, then the narrator is either female--being sung by a male and therefore a bit of a gender-bender unto itself--or else a male with either open or latent...

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