The idea of collegiate minds centering critical thought around a musician’s body of work being novel long since a thing of the past, what with people able to now notch a Masters in The Beatles, everyone from Radiohead to Lady Gaga are getting syllabi crafted around lyrical themes and cultural impacts. Our personal fav – although we can’t confirm it still exists - Harvard‘s “Modern Protest Literature: From Thomas Paine to Tupac,” spawned around 2002. Boston University‘s “Bob Dylan Lyrics,” the same, if it’s still available.
The BOSS, though, this is the first we’ve seen a classroom go down “Thunder Road.” And not the classic frustrated ‘Murrica-isms of finding one’s place in the inky-night of Purple Majesty in the mid-70s, or anti-war screeds. Rather a vast, four-decade-spanning theory on Springsteen’s biblical threads, apparent on everything from Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. (1973) to Wrecking Ball (2012), according to the Rutgers professor responsible for the course, Azzan Yadin-Israel, raising some pretty heady brows. When asked by Rutgers Today about a “dominant theological philosophy” that runs through said oeuvre, Yadin-Israel references the Old Testament, the New Testament as vessels for redemption:
On a literary level, Springsteen often recasts biblical figures and stories into the American landscape. The narrator of “Adam Raised a Cain” describes his strained relationship with his father through the prism of the biblical story of the first father and son; Apocalyptic storms accompany a boy’s tortured transition into manhood in “The Promised Land,” and the first responders of 9/11 rise up to “someplace higher” in the flames, much as Elijah the prophet ascended in a chariot of fire (“Into the Fire”). Theologically, I would say the most dominant motifs are redemption — crossing the desert and entering the Promised Land — and the sanctity of the everyday.
Perhaps Bruce was born-again Saved like Dylan and we all missed it? Then again the Bible is the world’s ultimate story and Bruce one of music’s ultimate storytellers, so this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Though don’t try and tell us Jeebus is the sparkle in the wink of young girl’s eyes on “Glory Days,” that’s just silly: