Anger, faith and rising up: Spirituality in Springsteen’s ‘Wrecking Ball’

By Jeffrey B. Symynkywicz

[Editor’s note: The Rev. Jeffrey B. Symynkywicz is the author of the highly recommended book “The Gospel According to Bruce Springsteen.” He recently delivered a sermon based on Bruce Springsteen’s “Wrecking Ball,” and offered to adapt it for us in the essay below.]


The darkness is no longer on the edge of town. It is now at the very heart of our nation.

Almost 30 years ago in My Hometown, Bruce Springsteen wrote about factory closings and jobs heading south. The tone was something of sadness, as a young man and his wife lie in bed at night, discussing whether or not to uproot their young son, in search of (perhaps) better economic prospects elsewhere. The insinuation in the song is that they will stay put. It probably wasnt a good decision.

Now, in the face of the economic devastation that came to a head with the financial meltdown of 2008, the whitewashed windows and empty stores of 1984 seem almost quaint. Thirty years of greed, speculation and unfettered, robber baron capitalism have brought, in Springsteens words, Death to My Hometown.

Even worse, perhaps, is that no one has been called to justice for the devastation. Not a single person has been prosecuted for the crimes that nearly toppled our entire financial system; instead the perpetrators walk the streets as free men now, Springsteen sings. He warns that they and their mayhem will be back unless we unite to Send the robber barons straight to hell.

Springsteens tone isnt one of resignation any longer. Wrecking Ball presents a word of prophecy and judgment, with plenty of blame to go aroundand plenty of work for all of us to do.

There are other allusions to Born in the U.S.A. here, as well. We Take Care of Our Own speaks of the promise from sea to shining sea, with American flags again waving in the breeze. But like the priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan, we have come answer the question, Who is my neighbor? much too narrowly, Springsteen believes. The years have killed something in us, and the American spirit is circling the wagons and drawing in on ourselves. Almost in desperation, he cries out for eyes that can see, and hearts filled with mercy. But the only answer that comes the refrain, We take care of our own, over and over sounds like the icy sarcasm of a Scrooge, slamming the door in the face of the solicitors ask him for charity.

All higher values seem to have left the field. From Easy Money the shallowness of a life lived for material gain alone were led to being Shackled and Drawn, part of a universal chain gang, cogs in a great neo-feudal economic machine. But while for working people, all notions of the dignity of labor lie buried by the side of the road, Up on Bankers Hill, the partys going strong, Springsteen sings, and again, our memory drifts to earlier times. In Mansion on the Hill from Nebraska, a young boy and his sister also listen to the music coming from a big house on the edge of town. Back in 1982, even amid the grittiness and starkness of Nebraska, there was still some sense of longing and at least a glimpse of hope. Now, 30 years later, it is as though the young boy is again standing at the foot of the rich mans hill, but this time with his legs in irons.

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Anger, faith and rising up: Spirituality in Springsteen’s ‘Wrecking Ball’

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