How To Dance In The Darkness: Lessons From Springsteen

Cameron Williams is a writer and film critic.

MrCamW

Approx 5 minute reading time

The New York Times app sends push notifications when there’s breaking news. Of late, it has become more terrifying than informative. I’m considering replacing the notification sound with a ‘boo’ for the sake of accuracy. The Hellmouth has opened beneath the White House with the arrival of, and I still can’t believe this is a real thing: President Donald Trump. Since Trump’s election it has felt like that scene in Ghostbusters where they turn off the ghost containment unit and all the evil spirits are unleashed on New York City.

This but not even as pretty

We’re still reeling from the events of 2016. I don’t need to detail the news stories that broke our hearts or the legendary people we lost, but there are still bad vibes in the air. I try to be an optimistic person but the state of the world didn’t hit me until I learnt the Boss is depressed.

Bruce Springsteen confessed his woes to over 30,000 people during the Melbourne leg of his 2017 world tour. Springsteen greeted the crowd by saying, “we come before you tonight as embarrassed Americans.” It’s the worst time to be the pop cultural ambassador for all things red, white and blue. As America withdraws into itself and closes its borders, the totems of American society are judged accordingly and Springsteen is in that grouping. Granted, Springsteen’s iconic song Born in the U.S.A (currently, missing from his set list) was never intended as a literal statement of pride – it has always been a protest track. Born in the U.S.A is a tribute to the mates Springsteen lost in the Vietnam War. The lyrics reference the hardships faced by veterans when they returned home. The chant of ‘born in the U.S.A’ is one of hollow patriotism, a country blinded by nationalism and failing to acknowledge the war they’d lost. Springsteen’s music has always been co-opted by people who don’t know how to read between the lyrics. Ronald Reagan tried to leverage Springsteen’s work during his 1984 Presidential election campaign, that was rebuffed by the Boss, and now, Trump supporters belt out Born in the U.S.A like it’s their national anthem – take a hint.

The current political climate is causing Springsteen to have a minor identity crisis. The man famous for crafting moving songs about struggle and endurance filled his show with the songs exemplifying these feelings, and as it would eventuate, his own mindset. Springsteen wasn’t just sad, he was angry, he introduced songs written decades ago and quipped he couldn’t believe they were still relevant in 2017. And the cheers that went up in agreement with his statements lumped us all together in the same mindset, but Springsteen had one more lesson to teach us.

As the sun set on Melbourne, Springsteen switched from the Boss to the Preacher. He led the crowd in a celebration of his biggest hits. I looked around to see folks dancing with strangers and having the greatest night of their lives. Springsteen was showing us how to maintain the rage while still having a good time. Turns out, the two are linked. It’s a way to overcome the curveballs the world is throwing at us. During Dancing in the Dark, Springsteen ventured into the crowd to point out signs people had made, lots of anti-Trump cardboard creations and the best sign of them all: Springsteen 2020. He then began pulling women up on stage to dance with, as he did with Courtney Cox in the iconic music video for Dancing in the Dark. One of the women had a sign that said: “dance with this nasty woman #lovetrumpshate”, she was also wearing a marriage equality Australia t-shirt. As the crowd went wild, Springsteen was crafting an amazing moment of joy and activism unlike anything I’d seen before. I’d witnessed U2 attempt a similar thing in concert but when Bono gets preachy it feels like you’re in detention – with Springsteen it was pure revelry. And for a moment I felt like everything was going to be okay. I was experiencing what things are meant to be like – people aspiring for a better world while grooving together. We had a great shared self-esteem thanks to Springsteen.

Thanks, Boss

On the same day as my Springsteen epiphany, Beyonce posted her magnificent pregnancy announcement photo on Instagram to let the world know she’s expecting twins. The number of people rushing to say “who cares?” is an indicator of how a smidge of good news is snuffed out by cynicism these days. How did we forget to be happy for others? Regardless of Beyonce’s fame and fortune, at a base level, she’s entitled to the goodwill of people wanting to share in her good news.

And it goes both ways. Being invited to share this beautiful news reminds us that we’re all worthy of being the subject of a grandiose photo shoot. After seeing the Beyonce photos I yearned to be more theatrical about things, even the little stuff. Why can’t I make pancakes for my 2-year-old son and have it delivered to him via a parade? If 2017 has taught me anything so far, it’s to take these moments, the people you love, and apply a WWBD (What Would Beyonce Do) filter to it. And it’s okay to get angry every now and then, it’s healthy, you just apply the WWSD (What Would Springsteen Do) filter instead. And there will be times when things do feel hopeless, that’s when the minuscule elements of your life will take on a greater responsibility. Take those tiny pockets of glee and light them up.

Pop culture has the power to inspire us during tricky times – it’s why there are 7 films in the Rocky franchise – but what we cherry pick from our favourite media can only take us so far. When inspiration fades you’re alone with your thoughts and that’s when the darkness creeps back in. That’s when you put the tools you’ve learnt to use. As the shadows roll in you’ve got to keep dancing.