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Bruce Springsteen, Cultural Studies, and the Runaway American Dream

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There is little question about the incredible power of Bruce Springsteen’s work as a particularly transformative art, as a lyrical and musical fusion that never shies away from sifting through the rubble of human conflict. As Rolling Stone magazine’s Parke Puterbaugh observes, Springsteen “is a peerless songwriter and consummate artist whose every painstakingly crafted album serves as an impassioned and literate pulse taking of a generation’s fortunes. He is the foremost live performer in the history of rock and roll, a self-described prisoner of the music he loves, for whom every show is played as if it might be his last.” In recent decades, Puterbaugh adds, “Springsteen’s music developed a conscience that didn’t ignore the darkening of the runaway American Dream as the country greedily blundered its way through the 1980s” and into the sociocultural detritus of a new century paralyzed by isolation and uncertainty. Bruce Springsteen, Cultural Studies, and the Runaway American Dream reflects the significant critical interest in understanding Springsteen’s resounding impact upon the ways in which we think and feel about politics, religion, gender, and the pursuit of the American Dream. By assembling a host of essays that engage in interdisciplinary commentary regarding one of Western culture’s most enduring artistic and socially radicalizing phenomena, this book offers a cohesive, intellectual, and often entertaining introduction to the many ways in which Springsteen continues to impact our lives by challenging our minds through his lyrics and music.

“A fascinating book for fans of the Boss, academics, and students of popular music alike.”—Fraser Hammond, Popular Music

Bruce Springsteen, Cultural Studies, and the Runaway American Dream is part of an ongoing series of academic books about popular music, and credit must go to the editors, Kenneth Womack, Jerry Zolten, and Mark Bernhard, for preventing the book from becoming another soul-killing exercise in academic exploitation. Unlike many essay collections that randomly cobble together a hodge-podge of essays devoted to minutia, Womack, Zolten, and Bernhard have organized the essays into four categories focusing on class, gender, religion, and politics. This structure makes the book quite readable, with a smooth sense of progression and coherence, clearly showing readers the primary ways to think and talk about Springsteen. . . . The book is quite worthwhile and demonstrates clearly that despite Springsteen’s accessibility as an artist, his work is nevertheless remarkably complex.”—Greg Carpenter, PopMatters

“The book’s strength lies precisely in [its] diversity of vantage points. . . . It tackles American identity, gender, religion, and ethics, while mixing Springsteen’s lyrics with scholarly evidence to support claims about how we understand and interpret such durable issues as the Vietnam conflict, Old Testament stories, and the promise of the American automobile. Representing the overlapping proclivities of cultural studies programs, the authors array insights from diverse authorities including Martha Nussbaum, Hannah Arendt, Max Weber, and even Karl Marx. The reader who consumes the entire interdisciplinary book stands to learn much about the musician, his work, and how researchers from many corners of the academy contribute to the big tent of popular music studies.”—Michael Ethen, Notes

“If you want to think about Bruce Springsteen and his songs and vision, here is the book for you.”—Robert McParland, Popular Music and Society

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