As part of my continued preparation to see “The Boss” next weekend in Baltimore, I just finished reading Jeffrey B. Symynkywicz’s The Gospel According to Bruce Springsteen:” Rock and Redemption from Asbury Park to Magic (Westminster/John Knox, 2008). Symynkywicz is a Unitarian-Universalist minister, a graduate of Harvard Divinity School, and a Bruce fan. He is certainly qualified to explore some of the religious themes in Springsteen’s music.
What we get in this book is a chapter-by-chapter commentary on every Springsteen album and almost every Springsteen song. Each chapter begins with a a few paragraphs on the direction Springsteen’s career was taking at the time he wrote the given album and, when appropriate, a bit of historical context. Symynkywicz offers some great insights. I especially liked his chapter on The Rising, entitled “From Good Friday to Easter.” His discussion of “Mary’s Place” prompted me to go back and listen to the song again in order to rethink the religious imagery. I was moved by Symynkywicz’s account of Springteen’s thoughts upon the birth of his first child, Evan James, as portrayed in the lyrics of “Living Proof.” “The birth of a child,” Symynkywicz writes, is “living proof that God’s mercy beats at the very heart of creation.” Or as Springsteen puts it:
Well now on a summer night in a dusky room
Come a little piece of the Lord’s undying light
Crying like he swallowed the fiery moon
In his mother’s arms it was all the beauty I could take
Like the missing words to some prayer that I could never make
In a world so hard and dirty so fouled and confused
Searching for a little bit of God’s mercy
I found living proof
Symynkywicz’s book can get a bit preachy at times, but what else should one expect from a member of the cloth? At the end of the book he offers Bruce’s “Ten Suggestions for Spiritual Living.” This section offers a nice overview of Springsteen’s understanding of humanity, hope, community, and the brokenness of this world.
The Gospel According to Bruce Springsteen is a nice introduction to Springteen’s music. I plan to use it as a reference tool. Perhaps someone might correct me on this, but I don’t think there is a more comprehensive interpretive treatment of the Springsteen canon available. Die hard Springsteen fans might disagree with Symynkywicz’s interpretations of some of the Boss’s songs, but this book certainly gives us a lot to think about.