Working Class Heroes & Grievance Politics

JOHN LENNON WROTE AND RECORDED a song entitled “Give Peace A Chance” in the early Seventies and it proved to be a powerful anthem for those of us who were against the Vietnam War in those days. If only the world had listened and taken his message to heart! If so, thousands and thousands of people would have had their lives spared. Instead, in the half century since those days, thousands have perished as a direct result of bombs, bullets and many another horrific weapon of war.

People, of course, are still dying needlessly in a number of conflicts currently unfolding today, all at the behest of another few cold-hearted warmongers suffering from dark delusions of grandeur and conduct unbecoming of a truly caring “leader”.

Lennon also wrote a song entitled “Working Class Hero” and it is a powerful tune, as well. I am a great fan of John and The Beatles, but the truth is he fairly sneered his line about how a working-class hero was something to be. In fact, he told those who consider themselves to be working class that they were “still f**king peasants” as far as he could see and those were harsh words, indeed. In fairness, he wanted working-class people to wake up and see how they were being exploited by governments and the wealthy elites who run the world, but the tone and the content of the lyrics were ice cold and unsympathetic.

Bruce Springsteen on the other hand has never been known to talk down to his devoted fan base, which easily consists of millions of working-class folks.

Quite interestingly, the last song Lennon reportedly said he really liked a short time before his tragic death at the hands of a deranged gunman was Springsteen’s catchy hit at the time, “Hungry Heart”.

As Barack Obama recently put it in an interview he and Springsteen did together, he said that Bruce and his songs constitute a form of “ministry”.

Personally, I can easily concur with that sentiment as that is exactly how I always feel when I come away from a Springsteen concert. I feel as if I have just been to some form of an amazing and uplifting spiritual ritual of epic proportions. After all, Springsteen’s lyrics alone can leave one profoundly moved. There even seems to be a healing effect on old emotional wounds as one loses oneself in the celebratory unity which overcomes everyone in the audience as Bruce and the E Street Band give it their all. People sing out the words, they dance and leap about, they cheer and whoop with delight to the melodies and the thunderous, insistent beat, to the electrifying guitar riffs, to the breathtaking piano parts and the sound of those famous horns.

At the end of it all, a Springsteen concert seems to give one hope to press on despite whatever traumas have left one haunted in any form of anguish which one happens to be enduring. There is a kind of powerful transcendence in what he sings and one’s soul exults in the greatness of what he expresses.

In truth, the wealthy probably get just as caught up in the uplifting spirit of Springsteen’s music as do “working-class” folks and that is down to one very simple reality: Bruce expresses positive values, extolls human virtues and offers his listeners an unflinchingly honest narrative about love, loss and suffering. He admits outright that he and those he sings about are far from perfect, but that most of us do try our best to be good to others and to lend a helping hand where we can.

As his fans generally know, Bruce has had a problem with depression over the years and sometimes finds it hard to cope and keep a positive attitude himself. This despite attaining a level of success that very few in the world have ever achieved. One cannot but wonder how an acclaimed artist of his magnitude can possibly ever feel down and out when he is so incredibly gifted, wealthy, wise and loved. What troubles, we ask ourselves, could the man have compared to those of us who are just average, ordinary working- class folk scratching out a living or maybe being somewhat financially comfortable, but far from wealthy or acclaimed for anything.

Fortunately, there is one thing that we all have in common, and it is something that can soothe us when life’s myriad challenges get to us: that is music itself. Music does heal our wounds and it does give us hope no matter who we are, how much or how little money we have, or how acclaimed or utterly average we are. Music is an expression of the soul, but it can only be uplifting if it wraps the listener in harmonious chords and the kind of melodies that can enrapture and send one flying upward into the upper stratosphere of his or her own soul. Music which purposely hammers away with discordant sounds and dark lyrics may express forms of anger and suffering to a gut-wrenching degree, but such music cannot heal wounds, it can only deepen the bitterness within and add to the anguish which one already feels.

Bruce Springsteen’s music has a way of raising us up no matter how much suffering is expressed in the narrative being offered and is, as a result, profoundly moving and always beautifully uplifting.

The ultimate message is this I think: working-class people have every right to stand tall and proud so long as they retain their dignity, their integrity and their honesty.

To rant and rave on and on about how the “elites” or the “deep state” is out to oppress working-class people may make for a rousing incendiary speech full of grievance politics and serve as a way to stir up those who have little in comparison to more financially successful people, but such rants are relentlessly negative in nature and immersing oneself in such dispiriting emotion does no one any favors, not even he or she who happens to be running for a position in government which will serve them in a seemingly positive way. The fact is, however, that stirring up such negativity is invariably soul-destroying for all involved, perhaps especially for the fiery orator him or herself.

What the world needs are honest leaders who inspire, who have unwavering integrity and who speak from the heart, extolling the virtues of humanity’s highest principles and values, not leaders who rail against a perceived “enemy” and offer nothing more than grievance politics and an authoritarian agenda. After all, it is democratic freedoms which allow each and every one of us to stay true to ourselves and to live a life of honesty and integrity, as well.

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