Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Highway is Alive Tonight

Bruce Springsteen's birthday is today. I think he's 62 or 63. When I think about him I don't really think about all his hit songs. I don't think about the concerts I've attended or the recordings I have. Well, almost. I think about one...only one in particular. The Ghost of Tom Joad. That CD and the title song came along at just the right time for me. As I recall, the CD coincided with what has come to be know as the economic downturn in this country. To honor a character in Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath while in the classroom I was making comparisons to the 1930s was a gift. I taught Grapes of Wrath for at least 25 years. For some reason it became the crescendo of the academic year. But I learned it was best taught before and after the Winter break. That's because the reading amount is heavy for most high school juniors and they have the holiday break to finish and really appreciate the last few chapters. But today is about Springsteen and his genius in writing and performing "the ghost." One of the most fascinating things in teaching The Grapes of Wrath was always how students and in many ways their families, responded to the text. I must confess that I made a big deal about it because I really believe in what the book says. Its thematic content is needed these days just as much as 70 years ago. But inevitably, every year somebody would tell me that the book is too depressing. How can a novel that focuses on the perfectibility of human beings be a downer? I did my best to stress less depressing themes but ultimately that only goes so far. I prefer to think of the intensity of the human experience as challenging, maybe even inspirational. Not depressing. Sure shit happens. That's the point. So Happy Birthday Bruce Springsteen. So glad you got the message.

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