Bruce Springsteen Remains a Hero, But What About North Carolina?

brucespringsteenbannerAs a fan of Bruce Springsteen, it came as joyous news to me that The Boss cancelled his upcoming concert in North Carolina because of an odious law that essentially sets LGBT rights back several years in the state. Under this new provision, multiple-occupancy bathrooms and changing facilities in all public arenas (including schools, government agencies and public college campuses) are designated for use based on an individual’s “biological sex.” Essentially, whatever sex you were born with, even if you don’t identify with that sex in the slightest, remains your sex for public restroom purposes. It’s an idiotic law that doesn’t take an ever-growing percentage of Americans into account. Or it takes them into account but then tries to make their lives miserable. Whichever you prefer. I’m not here to talk politics. Bruce Springsteen had a show scheduled in Greensboro, North Carolina, which he decided not to play in the wake of this law.

Superficially, this is another case of Bruce Springsteen continuing to be awesome. He’s a progressive artist who goes to great lengths to advocate on behalf of the working class, and he’s always been a bastion of liberalism. He even famously told Ronald Reagan to fuck off after Reagan started using “Born in the USA” during his 1984 re-election campaign without permission.

But as a rock artist, when we cancel a show because of a law passed by the state legislature, who are we really punishing? It should probably noted at this point that the law was passed at the state capital in Raleigh. That’s where most of the main protests were, because that’s where it was actually happening. This law went on the books, and Springsteen cancelled his show in Greensboro (81 miles away) in protest.

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Again, it is wonderful that an artist of no small renown and influence like Springsteen has the opportunity to take a stand against oppression in this way. But does a certain voting constituency (and the legislators they choose to represent them) really get the message? Since Bruce Springsteen is about as openly liberal as a rock musician can be without being annoying about it (Bono), would it be too much of a stretch to assume his fans would tend to vote liberal as well? Furthermore, would it be out of line to suggest that North Carolina (a traditionally conservative state that is leaning ever-closer to progressive policies) was able to garner enough support to pass this law from conservative citizens and lawmakers? This bring us to a logical question: what can the overlap between Springsteen ticket-holders and proponents of this law possibly be? I’m sure it exists, and may even be statistically significant, but I would say most of his fans (at least the concert-going ones) voted for Obama at least one of the times he ran. There are plenty of conservative folks, of course, who love Bruce and also hate this specific law, but I’m not really talking about them. Nor am I saying conservatives are all evil. Just the ones that systematically oppress people.

The point is that the main group of people that need to be taught a lesson was probably not in the potential audience for that evening.

So again, who is being punished here? I’m not questioning Springsteen’s judgment or his views. I’m certainly not casting any doubt on his musical output. It’s just so easy to imagine an entire state as some sort of hateful “black box.” I think most progressively-minded people reacted to the news of Springsteen’s cancellation in the same way: “Well, it serves those assholes right. That’s what they get for being so hateful.”

But then you think about the fans who had nothing to do with this law–who may have even voted against it. Ask yourself whether or not Springsteen made the best decision by depriving them of something that he alone could give them; he offers a unique rock and roll experience. We as a society have given rockers a lot of power. But ultimately, isn’t their power channeled through their actual music? Are these popular musicians weighing in on our morality, casting judgment in areas where they arguably have no business doing so?

I don’t have an answer. Nor do I think Bruce Springsteen is wrong for doing what he did. It’s his right. He’s under no specific obligation to play the show (other than, I assume, contractual). I’m just asking everyone to think about what this “message” actually accomplishes, and what kind of precedent it sets for the future.

End of rant. I’ll be funny next time, I promise.

Love, Jordan

Photo credit: By Bill Ebbesen (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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