In my recent post on my No 3. song of all time, Bruce Springsteen's "Thunder Road", I said that Springsteen is part of a rich tradition of American narrative and myth-making, and consciously draws on a range of popular-cultural sources. I bet he had inspired a few American studies theses (read "cultural studies", for people inside the US, and probably in general--sorry, I'm stuck with my University of Canterbury vocabulary).
I admired the "intertextuality" in Springsteen singing about the radio playing Roy Orbison, and half-jokingly suggested some possible academic paper titles; "He-ro and Automobile: Sexual and Religious Symbolism in Springsteen", for example.
Well, the next thing you know, I discovered this story in the Guardian about a three-day Bruce Springsteen symposium to be held at Monmouth University in New Jersey from September 9. According to the article, "the first-of-its-kind symposium is expected to attract more than 150 papers exploring Springsteen's influence on US literature, sociology, religious thought and politics. Academics will debate his impact on America's memory of the Vietnam war, and its higher education curriculum."
The guy organising it, an associate professor of English at Pennsylvannia State University, is quoted as saying: "When I figured out this was the first broad-based academic activity to do with Bruce, I was kind of shocked".
His paper is an exploration of the various female characters, such as Wendy, Sandy and Mary, that appear in Springsteen's songs (I've always thought one of his major achievements was managing to make a credible rock song with a heroine called Wendy).
"Although she comes in many guises, she's the female face at the heart of the sociocultural nostalgia that structures Springsteen's sense of pastness throughout his work," the paper's abstract explains.
Also presenting is an Italian associate professor called Samuele Pardini, who is discussing the repeated appearances of women called Mary in (Catholic-raised) Springsteen's songs.
According to Pardini, Springsteen "subverts a male-dominated, Italian-American Catholicism in order to subvert a national identity historically marked by the gender and racial conflicts of its class-divided society and to affirm the plural identity of an equal, and therefore free country".
I promise never to be flippant again.
Categories: Bruce Springsteen, Cultural Studies