2012 Issue 2, Number 2
Columbia Records, 2012
“Why is there a hole in my bucket?”
That’s Bruce Springsteen, paraphrasing the title of a song from Hank Williams, “My Bucket’s Got a Hole In It,” at the South by Southwest music festival this past March 2012. In his keynote speech at that festival, Springsteen traced his musical lineage pointing out his reliance on country music in songwriting, particularly, Hank Williams’ song.
But there is a limit to country music, says Springsteen. It is rarely politically angry and politically critical. Its fatalism, says Springsteen, has a toxic element. Country does not answer the question “why does my bucket have a hole in it?’ Country music doesn’t respond to why lives are broken, and how lives are torn and intricately connected to political and economic systems.
But Springsteen and the E Street Band have, over the decades, taken on the “why” with guitars, drums, horns, and strings in full throttle.
This leads us to Wrecking Ball, Springsteen’s 17th studio album. Our country has a hole in it and it’s from a wrecking ball. On the album, Springsteen addresses the hole in our country, the hole caused by the wrecking ball known as the financial crisis, the hole that swallowed up so many of us.
On the album, Springsteen dances between hope and despair, anger and gratitude as he leads the listener through the economic journey, the story, of the current American reality. Wrecking Ball takes on the question of “why,” and it passionately, through image and narrative, names those who wrecked this economy and those who now suffer from the reckless, irresponsible corporate behavior. Not only does Springsteen take on the “why,” he uses image and narrative to bring the “why” alive.
Through the thirteen songs, Springsteen distinctively sings of the peaks and valleys of life, metaphorically lifting up the widening gap between the haves and have nots in American society. The weaving together of image and narrative, narrative and image is distinctly Springsteen and it is nearly impossible for this listener to hear a song on Wrecking Ball and not be taken in by the spectrum of emotions Springsteen elicits.
“We Take Care of Our Own” questions our culture’s conscience—do we really take care of our own? “Death to My Hometown” is a wrenching, angry, burning- from-the-gut Celtic-punk declaration that a hometown can be destroyed in ways beyond war-induced bloodshed and bombs dropping. “Rocky Ground” is a Gospel infused promise that a new day is coming.
Through the unnamed characters and multi-dimensional images throughout Wrecking Ball, the listener becomes part of the story. The listener’s story and the characters and images who speak to a national narrative become connected, woven together, responsible to each so we are now, together, part of the answering of the question “why?’ Why does our bucket have so many damn holes in it? Why is life so broken and torn?
Why are so many in economic distress when, as Springsteen sings in “Shackled and Drawn”: “Gambling man rolls the dice, working man pays the bills/It’s still fat and easy up on bankers hill/Up on bankers hill the party’s going strong/Down here below we’re shackled and drawn.”
The power of weaving together image and narrative is this: as Springsteen brings the modern situation to life, his songs carry us to that place of aliveness, it animates us, and it reminds us what it means to live. It calls us to action, to create change, to jump on board the train bound for a land of hopes and dreams.
The asking of “why” in Springsteen’s methodology and creative songwriting is relevant to church life, particularly in the creation of liturgy. At Church of the Pilgrims, where I am Minister for Spiritual Formation, we pattern ourselves in the same songwriting methodology when we plan and create liturgy.
We take a biblical image, we take the biblical story, and we take the story of our lives and the story of the planet. We weave all of it together in the vast hope we come alive together on Sunday mornings as one body.
Liturgy, the work of the people, isn’t created out of an empty vortex but, like Springsteen’s songs, takes into account the tradition, influential ancestors of the craft, Biblical narratives which expose the human condition, and a theology that emanates, as does Wrecking Ball, out of our sweat, tears, the corner store, and local bar. It’s the intersection of the personal and the political, the stories about exclusion-inclusion politics. This is how people live, according to Springsteen. Lives cross over; people get tangled up, and the answer to “why does my bucket have holes in it” gets lost in the mess. To Springsteen, our lives are all connected, and that connection is hard to make in a modern, post-industrialized world.
Liturgy and Wrecking Ball demand human connections. This is the purpose of both. This is how liturgy speaks truth to power, deconstructs the “why” and imagines a world-made-new. Liturgy, like Wrecking Ball, is a map; guiding people through the complicated lives we are living especially when our backs are smashed up against the wall. Springsteen’s music is liturgy. It’s liturgy for the masses. As an album, Wrecking Ball seeks to heal a wound the size of our national culture. After all, a wrecking ball creates holes, it doesn’t fully demolish, it creates rubble where life can begin again. If a liturgy would be created for the size of our national wound, look no further than this album. Wrecking Ball is liturgy for society’s brokenness and declaration to the powers-that-be that we are alive.
Ashley Goff, Church of the Pilgrims, Washington, D.C.