But this ideal of self-transformation is a smiley face masking the menacing visage of the culture of death. In reviewing his musical influences Springsteen mentions his love for the 60s British pop group, The Animals. “They were so cruel,” Springsteen sighs with admiration, before he goes on to say: “and it was so freeing.” It’s like they were saying (he concludes), “It’s my life and I’ll do what I want.”
In one of the more revealing remarks of his lecture Springsteen observes: “If you were a kid in 1965 you were on your own. Because your parents could not understand the incredible changes that were taking place.”
Yet another cruel truth. The 1960s saw the acceleration of a profound cultural slump impacting religious institutions, the family, government, education, and other sources of moral, intellectual and spiritual formation. Traditionally, these institutions of culture have been instrumental in guiding youth through adolescence into the adult practices of the culture. Courtship rituals, to take just one example, enabled young people to meet one another and assess each other’s potential for marriage and family life without leaving them at the mercy of their sexual instincts.
But as cultural institutions declined, youth were set “free” from such “inhibiting” rituals. Born to run and on the road, they began to scatter likes tramps and gypsies toward whatever Pleasureland (or Jungleland) suited them. The result was that youth were suspended in a state of permanent adolescence. There was no growing up into the responsibility required by family life and other key practices of culture. There was just the hungry adolescent heart and the restless quest to keep it indulged. “Got a wife and kids in Baltimore, jack. I went out for a ride and I never went back.”
Toward the end of his lecture Springsteen considers a question voiced by Hank Williams in one of his songs: “Why does my bucket have a hole in it?” Springsteen’s lecture makes clear that he has no compelling answer to this question. Yes, his latest album has been receiving universal praise. And for those of us in medias res, his music recalls adolescent memories. But we shouldn’t let nostalgia blind us to the fact that our bucket has a hole in it because we have torn it with our misguided sense of freedom, and that rock ‘n roll cannot save us from the perils of this fate.
It only serves as the soundtrack to that cultural decline and fall.
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