Bruce Springsteen: Theologian?
Students who have taken classes with me over the years can attest to the fact that I am a big fan of Bruce Springsteen and his music. Various scholars have attempted to discern the numerous theological themes present in Springsteen’s music. To recount those discussions would take more space than I have available.
One important theological theme in Springsteen’s music can be found in his album called “The Rising,” written after the tragic events on September 11, 2001. The title of the album conjures up notions of eschatology, a theme present in much of Springsteen’s music. In several songs on this album one can hear messages about “last things” as he sings about life, death, and life after death. For example, the song “Waitin On a Sunny Day,” while bouncy and fun, is nevertheless a song about hope for a “sunny day” in the midst of darkness, grief and loss.
The longest track on the album at more than 6 minutes is an invitation to the party at “Mary’s Place,” no doubt an allusion to Heaven. The song’s second verse begins with the lyrics:
Familiar faces around me,
Laughter fills the air,
Your lovin grace surrounds me,
Mary’s Place is Heaven. Those who come to the party see familiar faces, celebration, and the loving grace of Mary, most likely a reference to the mother of Jesus. “Everybody’s here may suggest a hint of universalism in Springsteen’s theology.
The most chilling song on the album is called “Paradise” which explores different perspectives on the afterlife. The first verse of the song graphically examines the feelings of a Palestinian suicide bomber just before his death:
Where the river runs black
I take the schoolbooks from your pack
Plastics, wire and your kiss
The breath of eternity on your lips
In the crowded marketplace
I drift from face to face
I hole my breath and close my eyes
I hold my breath and close my eyes
And I wait for paradise
And I wait for paradise.
Another (and perhaps best) example of eschatology on the album is the title track called “The Rising.” This recalls the horrors of the collapse of the World Trade Center towers and the firemen who died and has resurrection as its major theme. The chorus of the song is an invitation to “come on up for the rising” and later speaks of “Mary’s garden, a garden of a thousand sighs.”
Bruce Springsteen is not a Gospel musician per se. However, his music contains important allusions to theological themes. And for his loyal fans, these songs give us encouragement as we travel the journey of life.