Editor's Note: While we try to run the classiest of all Springsteen fanblogs, we also are dedicated to exploring every nook and cranny of the Springsteen-iverse. With that being said, some of the language ahead is salty, so if you usually read the Friday Legends of Springsteen posts as bedtime stories to your children, you may want to skip this week.
Fuck. It isn't a word you expect to hear out of Bruce Springsteen. Throughout most of his career, he has worked a clean act. I'd speculate that record company executives preferred to keep it this way in order to not to alienate his fanbase. However, pop culture continues to push the envelope over what is acceptable, and Springsteen has built up a loyal following whose adoration he constantly challenges (with controversial songs such as "American Skin" and "Death To My Hometown"). With these two factors converging, Bruce has started to test the waters of using more profanities in his music. The first instance occurred on Bruce's 11th studio album, The Ghost of Tom Joad, over 20 years after he made his mark on the scene. The last track, "My Best Was Never Good Enough", expresses a man's frustration with various cliches, as Bruce sings:
The early bird catches the fucking worm
The song sounds disturbingly dated (quoting Forrest Gump at the end) and uses a couple of other naughty words. It doesn't sound true to Bruce's nature, as it seems he wasn't sure how he wanted to make his foray into the new world of swearing. It would be ten years before Bruce would drop the f-bomb again, this time in the Devils & Dust track "Long Time Comin'". This fantastic song tells the story of a man getting rid of his past demons and starting a new life. When the narrator finds out he is going to be a father (again), he wishes that
I ain't gonna fuck it up this time
As opposed to "My Best", this song was much better constructed and told a powerful story that the use of "fuck" ends up being an exclamation point on the message of the song. In "My Best", the cursing was just out of frustration with his situation. Here, he curses out of the self-doubt and fear every parent has. He knows the suffering he had in his life, and he is reminding himself that he is responsible for making sure that this does not happen to his children. Of the three songs I'm spotlighting here, this is the only one I had the chance to see performed live (during the Seeger Sessions Tour). The audience knew that the f-bomb was coming, and erupted in applause after the line.
The final use of "fuck" to date was in "Queen of the Supermarket", a corny love song that ranks among the worst of Bruce's songs. It is a lovey-dovey ballad to a blue-collar worker that drives Bruce mad with desire. Towards the end of the song, Bruce informs us that she has a smile
That blows this whole fucking place apart
Here, rather than cursing in fear and anger, he is shouting out in the name of love. It seems like a desperate plea to make us truly buy into the romance of this song. "I love her guys. I love her. I FUCKING love her!" The song ends with a cash register beeping, a beeping which could've been used over Bruce's f-bomb earlier.
While it is interesting to see Bruce experiment with dirtier language, the results have not been good, as he is just one-for-three in effective uses of "fuck". While it would be easy to say that it just doesn't "fit" Bruce, I feel that pidgeon-holes him, and sets expectations for an artist that has consistently tried to shed the labels given to him. I feel the error in his use of "fuck" so far has been a lack of commitment - it seems that the use of it has been half-hearted and worked in after the fact, rather than essential to the lyrics. Given how angry "Wrecking Ball" was, I fully expect to see more cursing from Bruce in the future, and I see them being in a different context than the previous songs.