David Brooks Went to a Springsteen Concert, And All I Got Was A Stupid Op-Ed

David Brooks, the man who claims to have his finger on the pulse of down-home, All-American, Middle-American, (heck, Any-Which-Way American), plain-n-simple, family-values-oriented folks is a man who jets off to Europe for a Bruce Springsteen concert tour. No big deal. Lots of those good folk take vacations in Europe too. (If they can get to take their annual two weeks vacation all at once, and if they’ve managed somehow to save up the requisite monies.) What they don’t do however, I’m pretty sure, is subject us to inane sociological-ethnographic-anthropological analyses of their concertgoing experiences  in Europe.

Brooks finds that audiences ‘in the middle of the Iberian Peninsula’–reaching which, I presume, requires three weeks of hard  hiking from the nearest trailhead–‘singing word for word about Highway 9 or Greasy Lake or some other exotic locale on the Jersey Shore.’ Amazing. In Europe? When did they get television, radio, newspapers, magazines, or the Internet? This is pretty mind-boggling stuff. Here is an American rock star, surely the most obscure type of cultural figure there could be, and folks in Europe, a land separated from the US by a BIG ocean, know the lyrics to his songs. Next thing you know, someone will tell me that kids in the US know the lyrics to songs sung by working-class kids from Liverpool!  The world is flat, dudes. (Sorry, wrong New York Times columnist.)

But concert-going crowds knowing lyrics is nothing compared to what Brooks then experienced. Take a seat for this one, folks:

The oddest moment came midconcert when I looked across the football stadium and saw 56,000 enraptured Spaniards, pumping their fists in the air in fervent unison and bellowing at the top of their lungs, “I was born in the U.S.A.! I was born in the U.S.A.!”

Did it occur to them at that moment that, in fact, they were not born in the U.S.A.?

Once I went to a Pink Floyd concert, and all these people were singing, ‘All in all, you’re just another brick in the wall.’ Did it occur to them at that moment, that, in fact, bricks don’t have ears and so, they couldn’t hear what these kids were saying? Another time, I went to a Kraftwerk concert, and these humans were singing ‘We are the robots!’ Did it occur to them that, in fact, that they weren’t robots (Or were they confessing?) And then of course, there was that time that I saw AC/DC and the kids were yelling, ‘I’m a heatseeker, burning up the town!’ No, dude, you are not a heat-seeking missile – you’re a human being!

From here on, unfortunately, it goes downhill into ‘paracosms’ and ‘passionate, and highly localized moral landscapes’, all the while appreciating the ‘power of ‘particularity,’ while disdaining that dreaded mix of ‘the far-flung networks of pluralism and eclecticism’, steadily downward, till it bottoms out with the offering of ‘pious advice:’ ‘Don’t try to be citizens of some artificial globalized community.’

Yeah, next time, go see Springsteen in New Jersey. Like you said, ‘Go deeper into your own tradition. Call more upon the geography of your own past.’ And don’t write Op-Eds about it; I don’t intend to have my ‘identity formed by soft boundaries.’

14 thoughts on “David Brooks Went to a Springsteen Concert, And All I Got Was A Stupid Op-Ed

  1. Was not his finest work, there’s no doubt about that. But thanks for clearing up that it’s ok to go to Europe, just in case anybody wasn’t sure if that was ok or not. LOL. “jets off” was an interesting choice of words for a man of your vocabulary.

  2. Ah, I always love a good anti-Brooks rant! I especially liked the little anti-Friedman dig in there. Thanks!

  3. At least Brooks explains why The Beatles never became successful: They were too eclectic. Instead of searching for inspiration in distant places like the US or India, they should have stuck with the traditional Northern English sound – like George Formby.

    1. James,

      Good to see you here. I’m intrigued by your reference – is to Nabokov’s lectures on Don Quixote? Or do you have something else in mind?


      1. Yes–in his lectures he shows a complete ignorance of slap-stick humor. -Jim.

  4. Damn those people who fly on airplanes to see concerts! Don’t they know that others can’t do that, and so they shouldn’t either?

    And whatever they do, they shouldn’t comment about it in a publication that pays them to comment on stuff! Who do they think they are? Columnists or something?

  5. This commentary is dumber than the column. Brooks is understandably interested in excitement felt by tens of thousands of Spaniards for imagery that was deliberately based on specifically local USA landscapes and communities. The Beatles didn’t sing much about Liverpool, but if they were expressing what they felt was a uniquely Liverpudlian experience (in “Penny Lane,” maybe?), and if kids from New Jersey felt a deep connection to it, having no direct knowledge of it, they might find that surprising as well. Brooks’s point has nothing to do with their knowing lyrics (which he’s surprised to see not because they’re European but because they’re young), and it has nothing to do with their enjoyment of images that are purely imaginary (like being a brick in the wall, which, by the way, in the song, is not being sung at bricks, but at children, who do have ears). It has to do with the surprising power of specific, particular, local imagery to engage the imaginations of people with no personal experience of them. It’s not the most interesting point in the world, but you missed it completely.

    1. The phenomenon of music fans being excited by imagery based on distant landscapes is old news. If Brooks is excited by it, then he has been living under a rock for ages, and it speaks ill of his intelligence that he felt the right place to share this news of his amazing discovery was on the Op-Ed page of a major newspaper. Perhaps he could shared it with his family, who could have told him that it’s been happening for a long time. His surprise at sing-along of lyrics is also indicative of a bizarrely superficial understanding of the rituals of public music performances. Again, this is old news for anyone that knows something about the experience of a music fan. The supposedly “interesting point” you mention, “he surprising power of specific, particular, local imagery to engage the imaginations of people with no personal experience of them” is I’m afraid to inform you, very old news, and anyone that talks about it like it’s a revelation (especially if they are grown adults writing for newspapers) and we should all share in it, while being grateful to our supposed prophet, deserves to be mocked and ridiculed. Which I did.

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