Saturday, April 15, 2006

Born in the USA

Born down in a dead man's town
The first kick I took was when I hit the ground
You end up like a dog that's been beat too much
'Til you spend half your life just coverin' up

Those words were written by Mr. Bruce Springsteen, in a little song he called "Born in the USA." I quote them today because, well, in part because Mr. Springsteen is a major deity in our household, especially for Goose, who has published a scholarly article on the Boss ("Sexual Mobilities in Bruce Springsteen: Performance as Commentary," South Atlantic Quarterly 90 [Fall 1991]: 833-854; rpt. in Present Tense: Rock & Roll and Culture [ed. Anthony DeCurtis, Duke UP, 1992], 197-218). Goose's interest is not just academic. She is a serious fan, able to track down tickets for concerts when few others can manage to find them and willing to drive long distances to catch a show. In the summer of '99, she saw him seven different times when he and the E Street Band re-united for a tour after more than a decade apart. Moose only went along for six shows, but she is a devoted follower, too. She says that the moment in the show when the lights go up and everyone in the arena screams "Born to Run" together is for her an out-of-body experience, a moment comparable to the religious ecstasy that causes some people to speak in tongues. Moose is weird sometimes and given to extreme comparisons.

Speaking of comparisons, I bring up Bruce today because I've been thinking a lot lately about how humans use dogs as a source of figurative language. "You lie like a dog," someone might say of, for example, presidential spokes-liar Puffy McMoonface (aka Scott McClellan). Or, "He's mean as a junkyard dog," one might remark of the snarly vice president of the United States, Darth Vader (aka, oh, you know). I see the point of these comparisons and the targets of them have done much to deserve them, but they are grossly unfair to dogs. Dogs, as anyone who has ever looked into their eyes knows, do not lie, ever, though we might avoid your gaze if we've done something we're ashamed of, like tinkle by the door, even if we couldn't help it. And junkyard dogs are mean through no fault of their own; they are mean because of irresponsible owners who have brought them into the world and abandoned them. Dick Cheney doesn't have that excuse. His meanness is an offshoot of his selfishness, a selfishness of monstrous proportion and implication. To compare him to a junkyard dog is an insult to animals that have already been mistreated.

Mr. Springsteen, on the other hand, in probing the rage and confusion of a man who has known only brutality and disappointment, rightly compares him to a dog "that's been beat too much" as a way of capturing the psychic costs to individuals of blighted dreams and misguided national policies. Lacking meaningful economic opportunities, sent off to fight in an unjust war, haunted by his own and his country's actions, Springsteen's abused dog/man is an apt and powerful metaphor for the bitter aftermath of Vietnam, which mutated into the cold neglect of social needs that characterized the Reagan years and led inexorably to the million nightmares of the Bush years. Bruce gets Five Paws on his chart for an effective use of dog comparison and a Roxie's World Seal of Approval.

1 comment:

  1. You are not only saying very important things, Roxie, but you are saying them so well, so adroitly, that I am laughing as I read your musings -- and that's a good thing.


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