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​“Springsteen isn’t Creative:” The “Seinfeld is Unfunny” of Music?

By Jonathan Skufca | 31/10/16 12:50pm
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So I’ve been listening to a lot more Bruce Springsteen these past few years. It’s odd how much he’s grown on me in that time— if you had asked me in high school if I would ever spend time thinking of the implication of his lyrical themes, I’d laugh in your face and say something about how he was a relatively uncreative hack whose lyrics are trite and boring compared to what is being done now in music (see the column I wrote on a Gaslight Anthem song). But if you’d ask me how I felt about Seinfeld, I’d say it was one of the best shows to ever air on television and set the stage for numerous sitcoms to come.

Only recently have I realized the hypocrisy there. I grew up watching Seinfeld daily with my dad and brother, and, maybe, if I had been raised on Springsteen as opposed to The Beatles, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Blues Traveler, I’d have never needed this revelation. Sure, Springsteen’s lyrics may be heard as trite today, with ones like “my old man’s shoes and a scientist’s heart” in the Gaslight Anthem song I wrote about earlier bursting at the seams with imagery, while ones like “Girls comb their hair in rearview mirrors, and the boys try to look so hard” seem lacking a bit. Of course, it partly was the cynical hipster side of me that prevented me from even trying to give The Boss even half of a musical chance. I flipped past inexpensive copies of Born to Run and Born in the USA in thrift stores and record stores, scoffing as I looked for obscure pysch-pop and early punk records. And now I’m kicking myself as prices of recognizable artists’ records have been rising, as stores try to capitalize on vinyl’s increasing popularity.

Seinfeld often gets similar criticisms when compared to modern sitcoms, saying the episode’s plots are very simple and unoriginal. But one has to remember that, in the late 80’s/early 90’s, the concept of the “sitcom about nothing” with characters who aren’t the best people was not even a concept. Flashforward to 2005, and a little series called It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia premieres on FX. IASIP is often touted as “Seinfeld on Crack,” and is clearly influenced by the 90’s sitcom, but with increasingly ridiculous characters and plotlines. Without Seinfeld, Sunny would not be the same show it is today.

However, as I’ve spent more and more time realizing that Born to Run is potentially one of the best albums of all time, I’ve noticed that Springsteen’s lyrics on that record are often more inventive that I gave him credit for, especially on the album opener, “Thunder Road,” and the title track. Take these lyrics that open the album:

The screen door slams, Mary’s dress sways

Like a vision she dances across the porch

As the radio plays

Roy Orbison is singing for the lonely

Hey, that’s me, and I want you only

Don’t turn me home again

I don’t think I can face myself alone again

Barring the fact that he rhymed “again” with “again” in the last few lines, these are incredibly picturesque lyrics. One closes their eyes, and they can perfectly picture the scene: a porch in a working-class neighborhood in America with a lonely boy gathering up the courage to ask the girl of his dreams (AGAIN!) to leave with him. And then “Born to Run” has these gems:

Beyond the palace, hemi-powered drones scream down the boulevard

Girls comb their hair in rearview mirrors

And they boys try to look so hard

The amusement park rises bold and stark

Kids are huddled on the beach in the mist

If that doesn’t paint a perfect picture of the Jersey Shore pre-MTV, then I don’t know what will. Between 8th and 12th grade, I spent the first weekend of May in Wildwood, New Jersey for indoor drumline championships and, while it’s no Asbury Park, the general feeling of boardwalk amusement parks rising out of the sand, cheap but delicious pizza, and the exploration of self that comes with late nights on the boardwalks was still prevalent. The fact that Springsteen can transport me back to those years (especially my freshman year when we won) proves that his lyrics, at least some of them, have merit, and even if they are contrived, it ultimately doesn't matter to anybody but the individual listener.