Rosenbaum: How Bruce Springsteen Elected Barack Obama

Scrutinizing culture.
Nov. 9 2012 6:29 PM

How Bruce Springsteen Elected Barack Obama

Sandy, Snooki, Christie, Bruce, and Barack.

Bruce Springsteen performs during a campaign rally for Pres. Obama in Columbus, Ohio, on Monday.
Bruce Springsteen performs during a campaign rally for President Obama in Columbus, Ohio, on Monday

Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images.

I know we are supposed to believe that poll analyst Nate Silver was “the other winner” on Election Day—the mythic figure whose stature was most enhanced by this election. And there’s truth to that. But I’d like to propose another candidate for “the other winner,” another mythic figure who—a case can be made—didn’t just predict the victor but helped create the victory.

I’m talking, of course, about Bruce. Need I say the last name?

Springsteen’s contribution to Obama’s victory has been, I believe, underrecognized and underappreciated. So think of this as a personal thank you to Bruce. He’s a figure whose work I’ve loved and struggled with for a long time. (I love the mixture of dread and exhilaration his music evokes; my faves include “Atlantic City,” “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” “Tougher Than the Rest.” I worry a bit about some of the anthemic bombast.) But I’ve always found appealing the original doomy vision that underlies his work, the genesis of his sensibility, his portraits of the sad, seedy romanticism of the Jersey shore (long before Jersey Shore).

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And so I was stunned by the fateful confluence of Sandy and Christie and Bruce and Barack just days before the election—a confluence that may well have decided the election. I started thinking about this on a kind of mythic level when the narrative of Sandy’s political effect (as opposed to its tragic, shore-level devastations) began to unfold. Is it not one of the weirdest coincidences that this wicked hurricane was given the name Sandy before anyone knew it was destined to virtually target and devastate the Jersey shore? A Jersey shore whose pre-Snooki muse was an elusive boardwalk goddess named Sandy, immortalized in the Springsteen song “Fourth of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)”? Who could have known then that Sandy (the storm), after heading up the Atlantic coast of the United States, would stop and take that sharp left turn, smashing into the boardwalks and beach towns of the Jersey shore that Bruce had celebrated and mourned? Thereby summoning Barack Obama into the arms of Chris Christie, Chris Christie into the arms of Bruce Springsteen, just when Springsteen was summoning the hearts of those all-important undecided voters in Ohio and the Midwest to Obama? Not even Nate Silver could have predicted all that.

After all, hurricane names are chosen long before the hurricane season by the World Meteorological Organization, and Sandy just happened to be next up alphabetically. It could just as easily have been called Raphael or Tony, this year’s R and T names.

Sandy—the elusive, iconic Jersey girl—appears on Bruce’s album, The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle. “Fourth of July …” is a song that evokes in a strained but heartfelt way the poignant and seamy, the doomed wild and innocent romanticism of the old Jersey shore.

If you listen—it doesn't quite come across in cold type—you can hear the beautiful desperation that would run throughout Springsteen's best work:

And Sandy, the aurora is rising behind us
This pier lights our carnival life forever
Oh, love me tonight, for I may never see you again
Hey, Sandy girl
My, my, baby ...

Sandy (the song) has even got a dangerous fortune teller on its boardwalk:

“Did you hear the cops finally busted Madame Marie for tellin’ fortunes better than they do?” (A prefiguration of Nate Silver?)

One lyrics website quotes Springsteen talking about the way “Sandy” was a turning point for his life and music:

4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” was written in mid-1973. In his 1998 book Songs, Springsteen wrote: “I’d been evicted from my apartment above the beauty salon, so I moved on myself and was living with my girlfriend in a garage apartment, five minutes from Asbury Park, in Bradley Beach. This is where I wrote ‘4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy),’ a goodbye to my adopted hometown and the life I’d lived there before I recorded. Sandy was a composite of some of the girls I’d known along the Shore. I used the boardwalk and the closing down of the town as a metaphor for the end of a summer romance and the changes I was experiencing in my own life.

Needless to say he couldn’t know when he wrote “Sandy” that his beloved boardwalk was not only in sad decline, but that it would later be revived as a theme park for the most noxious elements in American culture, a kind of puke-spewing, reanimation of the worst of the past and present marketed as “reality.” He couldn’t have known Sandy would be replaced by Snooki.

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