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Born in the AUS: Swan’s Springsteen tribute shows you don’t mess with the Boss

Politicians should invoke the Boss at their peril. EPA/Daniel Dal Zennaro

Wayne Swan’s deeply felt and widely pilloried use of the music of Bruce Springsteen as some kind of political motivation begs some interesting questions.

On the one hand it has those of us who remember the fiasco surrounding Ronald Reagan’s use in his 1984 re-election campaign of the Boss’s – or maybe that should be The Boss’s – “Born in the USA” quietly chuckling into our lattes. For those too young to remember (he says wistfully), the President or his minders interpreted the song, its anthemic hook in particular, as a patriotic celebration of life in the can-do US of A. Unfortunately, what the song was really about was the despair experienced by Vietnam veterans who, shunned and unemployed, languished in the ever-expanding rust belts of 1970s-80s America.

But no matter. Reagan was re-elected in a landslide victory.

Swan’s tribute to Springsteen has raised some eyebrows.

So, it is a brave politician who hitches his wagon to The Boss’s working-class-champion persona. An even braver one who is filmed being regaled by his kids performing Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark”:

I check my look in the mirror
I wanna change my clothes, my hair, my face
Man I ain’t getting nowhere
I’m just living in a dump like this

Hmmm …

Still, maybe Wayne’s choice has given us a subliminal message about the government’s current woes and his future prospects:

You can’t start a fire
You can’t start a fire without a spark
This gun’s for hire
Even if we’re just dancing in the dark

An allegory for the government’s fortunes?

But the broader issue to my way of thinking comes down to the values we as individuals attach to music. If Swan hears in Springsteen’s music some kind of motivational message, a call to reinvigorate working class values and so on, then who are we to judge?

Now, I realise that this kind of “to each his/her own” attitude might be seen as fey, but the moral and ideological alternative is but a few short goose steps away – just ask those caught up in Hitler’s Reich and Uncle Joe’s USSR.

The prospect of Swan’s nemesis (well, one of them) Clive Palmer hitching his colours to Redgum in criticism of the Treasurer – a band with unimpeachable Leftist credentials – is no less curious. Palmer? Red Gum? The choice, apparently, comes down to good old-fashioned patriotism.

“Unlike the Treasurer, I don’t go to the United States for inspiration”, Palmer is quoted as saying. “I have inspiration in the Australian bush and our culture and our history and he should remember who the Australians represent [sic], not the US Secretary of the Treasury.”

Is the problem that the Boss isn’t Australian?

So is the brouhaha because Swan chose an American song to champion his vision of Australia? Perhaps he should have opted for Barnsey’s “Working Class Man”? Except that, and I bet someone is dying to this point out, it too was written by an American: Jonathan Cain. Imagine that – Jimmy Barnes standing in the shadow of a Port Kembla smelter belting out a song with much the same blue collar credentials as any number of Springsteen songs.

To my way of thinking, Swan’s folly was not that he chose a song by an iconic American popular performer, but rather that he chose to profess his love of The Boss wearing an Eric Clapton t-shirt … “Cocaine”, anyone?

If it were me, I would have opted for John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero”:

You think you’re so clever and classless and free
You’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see.

Then again …

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