Friday, September 9, 2011
September 9, 2011: Triple Play
I realized yesterday that I had the perfect way to follow the last two posts and round out this trio on AmericanStudies and rock music: “Galveston Bay” (1995), a Bruce Springsteen song from the same album as “The Ghost of Tom Joad” that also happens to be my second favorite song about (if in a very different way from Joel’s) the Vietnam War. “Galveston” has spoken deeply to me since the first time I heard it, sitting in my freshman year dorm room listening to The Ghost of Tom Joad album, but I’ll freely admit that I wasn’t nearly ready then to appreciate two of its most perfect elements: its quiet but crucial portrayal of how its dual protagonists, two incredibly different men in many ways, are linked by their defining love for their children; and its (spoiler alert) surprising and optimistic and hugely powerful ending, one that (to reference my third book in progress) is entirely earned by the song’s thorough willingness to engage with the darker American histories and realities from which that endpoint departs.
Also doesn’t hurt that this is perhaps the most fully AmericanStudies of all of Bruce’s songs, at least in its ability to touch on pretty much every significant disciplinary question of the last few decades: race and ethnicity; transnational and international and comparative national identities; region and place; multigenerational family heritage; work and class; domestic terror and the reactionary backlash against post-1960s social and demographic shifts; America’s foundational passion for violence and its connections to masculine ideals; the role of the legal system in aiding and furthering social progress on many of these issues; and of course the lingering effects and impacts of Vietnam (among others!). And in case that makes it sound like a textbook or something, it’s also a deeply moving dual narrative of two men’s stories, of lives that tragically but then much more hopefully interweave and intersect in an America that has long been seen as defined by only one of them but that, the song and this AmericanStudier argue, is finally being recognized as constituted very fully out of both, and even more so out of the worst and the best of their intersections.
Okay, that’s enough from me, just go listen to it if you would, and please feel free to share your thoughts (even if you don’t love it quite as much as me) in the comments. More this weekend, a September 11th-inspired post,
PS. Two links to start with:
1) “Galveston Bay”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shEFYVaobZM
2) OPEN: Responses? And any suggestions for future musical AmericanStudies posts?