Friday, February 1, 2013

Sporting With Bruce Springsteen

They always say that people should write what they know, so in the tradition of drinking with Springsteen and gambling with Springsteen, I present to you: Sporting with Springsteen!

The Super Bowl is this Sunday.  Last year around this time, we looked back on Springsteen's epic performance at the 2009 Super Bowl.  If you haven't read that, make sure to click that link; it will be much more entertaining than the article you are currently reading.  This year, we will take a look at how the world of sports has crossed over into Springsteen's song catalog.

Looking for Springsteen songs about or referencing sports is a difficult endeavor, as the man does not seem to be a sports enthusiast.  While he did play a little baseball in his youth, his adolescence revolved around making those guitars talk.  However, there is one Springsteen song that I'm sure jumped to everyone's mind as soon as they read the title, so let's jump write into it:

Glory Days



This Youtube video even claims that it is the greatest song about baseball (John Fogerty must have turned over in his luxurious bed).  And despite Bruce's baseball ignorance (a "speedball"), I'm inclined to agree with that assessment.  Sure, taken in its entirety, the song is a melancholy look back at faded youth.  It's a wistful song dedicated to the memory of a bygone era.  That, to me, is baseball all over.

For example, football is a high-stakes world of advanced warfare, always being the first sport to adopt new technology, constantly improving their equipment, and making their players bigger and stronger.   Basketball has always been strongly in step with the youth culture; in every generation, there's at least a few stars who set fashion trends (Michael Jordan's long shorts/shaved head in the late 80s, Allen Iverson's "gangsta" look in the late 90s, and the James Harden/Russell Westbrook "hipster" look today).  Baseball exists in a world sepia-toned photographs of chubby men with funny mustaches.  You sit down with any baseball fan, and they'll talk to you more about retired players than current ones.  One of our writers, OB, is a lifelong Mets fan whose favorite player is Gary Carter - who left the team when OB was four years old!  Baseball is Abbot & Costello, peanuts & crack jack, and "Glory Days".

Wrecking Ball



This song has just a vague reference to the New York Giants, but that's enough to make it into this article.  "Wrecking Ball" was written in 2009 when they were tearing down Giants Stadium.  It goes with the notion mentioned before that football is all about the future, as old stadium as torn down in favor of new, state-of-the-art designs.  These stadiums may have the largest digital screen displays in the western hemisphere, but they do not have the character of the old stadiums.  While paving over the past is not a problem unique to football (and nostalgia is not unique to baseball), it tends to be more associated with the culture of the sport.

While the previous two songs dealt with sad subjects draped in upbeat, toe-tapping tempos, the next two songs will deal with sad subjects in an appropriate somber tone.  Furthermore, while the previous songs dealt with team sports and the ideals behind them, the next ones focus on individual sports and the tolls they take on those who choose them as a career path.

The Hitter



This tells the story of a tough boxer who works his way up from the dockyard, earns fame and glory, takes a dive, and finds himself back in the docks again.  The story is very similar to "Workin' On The Highway", although told through Devils & Dust's barren acoustic sound, rather than the bombastic Born in the USA style.  It illustrates the perils of success, and uses brutal imagery to show how rough a living it is.  The narrator throughout is singing the song to his mother, showing that beneath the tough exterior he just wants the comfort of home and love to get him through his rough life.

The Wrestler



This has to be one of my all-time favorite Springsteen songs.  I remember watching The Wrestler in the theaters with fellow blog writer Steve, and when this song came on at the start of the credits, it was like a punch in the gut.  While the story of both the movie and the song can be applied to nearly any profession where you have to push your body physically and mentally into dangerous territory in order to succeed, it definitely works best in the context of professional wrestling.  Like "Streets of Philadelphia" only vaguely referencing AIDS, there is no obvious mention of wrestling in this song, aside from "blood", "bruises", and "broken bones".  However, the story here is one of the dozens of professional wrestlers whose life and careers were cut short as they pulled out all the stops to "make you smile".  The question at the end is a dark indictment of the fans of many sports, as they often do ask for more, taking for granted the sacrifices of the performers.

Well, that's a pretty depressing place to end the article.  So, to lighten the mood, here's a rant about being a sports fan:

A lot of people often make fun of sports fans based on their lowest common denominator.  You know who that is: the fat guy who paints his face, gets too drunk at games, and yells profanities at opposing players.  There are plenty of reasons to mock sports fans, and I'm sure I create more reasons every time I go to a game.  However, one joke that I can't stand is when people criticize sports fans for saying "we" when referring to their favorite team.  Critics will point and laughing, saying "Do you actually think you are part of the team?"  Actually, newsflash: I don't.  I just understand how pronouns work.  If I'm talking about the Giants, my favorite team, playing the Cowboys, do you know how confusing it would be to refer to multiple teams as "they"?  "They need to stop their defense because they are fighting them for a playoff spot."  Say what now?  I can't believe I have to explain this to non-sports fans in the year 2013.  Couldn't they (meaning people who make that dumb criticism) have learned about pronouns by now?  We (meaning sports fans who understand how to use the word "we" and myself, not the New York Giants and myself) figured it out long ago.

Now that my ranting is done, how about that Super Bowl?  Last year, I predicted the exact final score of the game, can I pull it through again?  Here's what the football experts at Legends of Springsteen think will happen Sunday:

OB: 49ers 27, Ravens 17
Rory: Ravens 31, 49ers 28
Steve: 49ers 35, Ravens 30

Have a great weekend, everyone!