Bruce Springsteen has been the darling of the rock press for three decades, first marked by simultaneous Time and Newsweek cover stories in 1975, when he hadn't yet had a big hit song. Two years ago, Springsteen was the toast of rock music again for his album "The Rising," a sober set of songs about the losses of September 11, and Time put him back on the cover. He offered the response the press had wanted: sad literary chronicles of loves lost and hopes dashed, without any of what they saw in country star Toby Keith, oafish flag-waving bravado with a redneck accent.
At the time, Springsteen had even supported President Bush's invasion of Afghanistan, telling Time it "was handled very, very smoothly." Apparently, that opinion was temporary, because Springsteen is how headlining "Vote for Change," a vote-against-Bush concert series sponsored by the hard-left outfit MoveOn.org, which, unlike Springsteen, opposed the invasion of Afghanistan with every fiber of its cyber-being. The tour is also sponsored by Americans Coming Together, a Democratic soft-money coalition of labor unions, abortion lobbies and old Clinton lackeys.
Springsteen and all the other artists who signed up, from James Taylor to little-known bands with names like Death Cab for Cutie, signed on to a declaration that saluted these "progressive" groups for being on the "cutting edge" of social justice and war and peace debates. The obvious hope is a resurgence of the cultural politics of the Sixties, with rock stars as revolutionaries against the military-industrial complex, capturing the radical imagination of nostalgic baby boomers and their kids at the same time.
Soon, the media was tsk-tsking about the unfortunate mockery of that precious breed of liberal singers with the conscience and courage to speak out for John Kerry. Ted Koppel arrived at Springsteen's estate for an interview on "Nightline," but it quickly appeared he had come to treat "the Boss" as that oracle of the age who could stop the madness of Bush's wars on the state supporters of terrorism.
Koppel's tone could be summarized as "whoa, this is a little dangerous for you to be so bold for the right thing." He did ask the obvious question of why a rock star would tell anyone how to vote. But Springsteen said this was his favorite question, "because it only seems to be asked of musicians and artists," and not corporate lobbyists or union activists. Like the Dixie Chicks, he had the self-pitying idea that small-minded conservatives insist that Celebrities of Conscience pay a price for just being "citizens" of America.