The coronavirus outbreak has exposed the difference between the American dream and the American reality.
That was the word from Bruce Springsteen during his “Bruce Springsteen: From His Home, To Yours … Part 2” on April 24 on Sirius XM's E Street Radio. The Boss took a break from spinning records to share his thoughts on the political implications of the outbreak.
The deejay set took place at Springsteen's home in Colts Neck, New Jersey.
“There was an op-ed a while back in the New York Times that I would advise every American who cares about his country to read. It is called ‘The America We Need.’ Now let me paraphrase from just a small, small piece of it.
“Franklin Delano Roosevelt said liberty requires opportunity to make a living, a decent living according to the standard of the time. A living which gives a man or a woman not only enough to live by, but something to live for.
“Now the current pandemic has laid bare the inequalities in wealth and in health that plague our nation. In Michigan, hard-hit by the coronavirus, African-Americans make up 14 percent of the population but 40 percent of the deaths from this disease. So many disenfranchised Americans lack the essential liberty to protect their own lives, and the lives of their families. This pandemic has shown the great divide between our American dream and American reality, between current America versus the ideals enshrined in our founding documents.
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“Now that’s just a small piece of the editorial, and I hope I didn’t do it a disservice. But all I know is, here in the beginning of the 21st century, in Paterson and other New Jersey cities, in Michigan, in rural America, and all across the United States, this reality is so frustrating that, as the great Marvin Gaye said, we should want to holler.”
Springsteen then proceeded to play Gaye's “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler).”
The phrase “American dream versus American reality” did not appear in the New York Times editorial of April 9 that Springsteen referred to, but certainly the idea was there. The Boss has been exploring the theme throughout his entire public career, beginning in earnest with 1978’s “Darkness on the Edge of Town.'
“I have spent my life judging the distance between American reality and the American dream,” said Springsteen at a 2012 “Wrecking Ball” press conference in Paris.
For the Springsteens of Freehold in the '50s and '60s, it was often a dream deferred.
“I lived in a house where there was a lot of struggle to find work,” said Springsteen previously to the New Musical Express. “Where the results of not being able to find your place on society manifested themselves with the resulting lack of self worth, with anger, with violence. And as I grew up, I said, ‘Hey, that's my song.’ because, I don't know, maybe that was my experience at a very important moment in my life.”
It was his song, and it's his voice, in between the tracks he played as a DJ on April 24 in a very uncertain time. The riff on the American dream versus the American reality during his Sirius XM radio set was a fairly short but important message to impart amid an hour and a half of songs and musings.
Indeed the numbers in New Jersey bear out Springsteen's point. Of the first 729 people to perish in the state because of COVID-19, 24 percent were African-Americans despite the fact that African-Americans make up just 15 percent of the population.
In a time of questions and uncertainties, Springsteen delivered a moment of hard truths on the radio.
“I’ve lived in the United States for 70 years now, and I have to admit I’ve often been disappointed in our failure to live up to our ideals,” Springsteen said earlier in the show while introducing a cover of his “The Promised Land” by the Nashville punks Blacklist Royals. “But I also have to say, I’ve never really been able to deny that there’s a promise that constantly resides in the American people, that could make us the great democratic nation that we carry in our hearts and in our dreams. And if we put our hearts and our lives together and fought for the very ideals, those of equality, of liberty, of social justice, of compassion for our neighbors, we would find that this is where our strength resides. And we have it within in our power to create the kind of humane society we’ve always dreamt of.
“Now, all of this sounds corny when you say it. But it ain’t corny when you do it.”
“Bruce Springsteen: From His Home, To Yours … Part 2” setlist
“Town Without Pity” by Frank Bey and the Anthony Paule Band
“Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today)” by the Temptations
“Seasons (Waiting on You)” by Future Islands
“Sufferin’ in the Land” by Jimmy Cliff
“Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees
“Bad Luck” by Social Distortion
“The Promised Land” by Blacklist Royals
“Dear Mama” by Tupac Shakur
“Sexual Healing” by Marvin Gaye
“Let the Good Times Roll” by Sam Cooke
“Guava Jelly” by Johnny Nash
“New York State of Mind” by Billy Joel
“New York City Serenade” by Bruce Springsteen
“Long Walk Home” by Bruce Springsteen
“A Picture of Me (Without You)” by George Jones
“Not Dark Yet” by Bob Dylan
“Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)” by Marvin Gaye
“Times Like This” by Slim Dunlap
“Over Yonder” by the Consolers
“Many Rivers to Cross” by Jimmy Cliff
Chris Jordan, a Jersey Shore native, covers entertainment and features for the USA Today Network New Jersey. His multiple awards include recognition for stories on both Bruce Springsteen and “Jersey Shore.” Contact him at @chrisfhjordan; firstname.lastname@example.org.