Rock ‘N’ Rollin’ Through the Berlin Wall
How did Bruce Springsteen's music affect the social issues surrounding the Berlin Wall?
In the 1970s and 1980s, Bruce Springsteen's music focused on themes of the working class that connected with people on a personal level, and was not limited to American culture. Invited by the German Democratic Republic youth arm, his performance in East Germany in the summer of 1988 focused on themes of freedom and contributed to social change and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
I. Rock and Roll and Social Issues
II. Bruce Springsteen
B. Music and Albums
C. Hit Songs Influence and message on social issues
III. Berlin Wall
A. Berlin Wall history
B. Symbolism of the Berlin Wall
C. Social implications of Berlin Wall
IV. Bruce Springsteen Concert of 1988
A. History of the concert
B. Significance of the concert
C. Social effects of the concert
A. Fall Of the Berlin Wall
B. Political Consequences and effects of music
Rock and roll has evolved through the ages and torn down many social barriers throughout different generations. The power of rock and roll has not been limited to only American culture, but its irrepressible force has affected many different social issues throughout international history. One major rock and roll artist that has influenced those social issues is Bruce Springsteen. His music has focused on themes of the working class and has provided rock and roll as a salvation from various social issues. Although Springsteen has not intended for his music to be politically charged, it has touched people on a personal level and given a sense of hope to many in various political climates. In this report, I will explore the effects of Bruce Springsteen’s music and explain how it affected the social issues surrounding the Berlin Wall during the Cold War.
Bruce Springsteen was born on September 23, 1949, in Freehold, New Jersey, to Douglas and Adele Springsteen. Springsteen was influenced early in music after seeing Elvis Presley perform on The Ed Sullivan show in 1956. He was in a few different bands in his early youth, ranging from Beatles-inspired music to hard rock sounds. Springsteen then started a solo career and eventually acquired manager Mike Appel. Appel set up Springsteen with an audition for Columbia Records' talent scout John Hammond, who signed him to the label in 1972 (Ruhlmann). Bruce Springsteen would reunite with some of his old band mates and form the E Street Band, featuring Max Weinberg on drums, Steve Van Zandt on guitar, Roy Bittan on piano, Danny Federici on keyboards, Gary Tallent on bass, and Clarence Clemons on saxophone. This wide array of musicians provided the ability for the group to produce a wide range of music styles drawing from many forms of rock and roll.
In the early days of Springsteen’s career, his music focused heavily on a style of blues and folk-inspired rock and roll. As his career progressed, it shifted towards a pop rock sound which increased tempo and energy. Springsteen had a “heartland” style approach to music writing, with lyrics poetically written about themes including left wing politics, the working class, and political injustices. To date, Springsteen has sold over 65 million albums in the United States and over 120 million albums worldwide. He has won twenty Grammy Awards, two Golden Globes, and an Academy Award (Music Wikia). Springsteen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999, and Rolling Stone Magazine named him the twenty-third greatest artist of all time in its 100 Greatest Artists of All Time List (Music Wikia).
Bruce Springsteen debuted his first album Greetings from Asbury Park N.J. in 1973, in a style similar to the folk traditions of Bob Dylan. The album was best described as a 1950s style rock and roll, with tenor saxophone breaks toppled with acoustic guitar, husky voice singing, and elaborate imagery (Ruhlmann). The album only sold 25,000 copies but still proved to be a critical album for Bruce Springsteen. It featured the song “Blinded by the Light”, which was written by Springsteen but did not make it to number one on the charts until 1976, when it was covered and re-recorded by Manfred’s Mann’s Earth Band. Eight months later, Bruce Springsteen released his next album titled The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle (1973). It was well-received critically but did not sell relatively well. The website AllMusic.com rated this album as one of the best rock and roll albums of all time, while Rolling Stone Magazine ranked it as number 132 of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time (Ruhlmann). Given the little success commercially but critically acclaimed status in the past, his next album Born to Run (1975) gained traction and began a cult-like following for his music. The album was a commercial success that features songs including “Born to Run” and “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”. The album had elements of Phil Spector’s wall of sound, containing layers of guitar, echoes on the vocals, lots of keyboard, and thunderous drums (Ruhlmann). The theme of the album focused on the idea of saying fair well to the teenage life and coming of age of young adults. Born to Run ranked number eighteen on Rolling Stone Magazine’s 500 Greatest Albums of all time.
A few albums later, Bruce Springsteen released Born in the U.S.A. The album produced seven top ten hits and became one of the best-selling albums of all time (Ruhlmann). The album intended to criticize the treatment of Vietnam veterans and present an angry chorus to disparage those injustices. The album came off as somewhat anthemic, and the Reagan Administration tried to use it is a political tool for their re-election (Ruhlmann). Ronald Reagan stated in a campaign stop that “America’s future rests in the message of hope, in the songs of a man so many young Americans admire, New Jersey’s own Bruce Springsteen” (Rose). Bruce Springsteen objected to these actions and refused to allow his music to serve purposes other than the ones he wrote the songs to be about. In his 1988 lyric anthology, Bruce Springsteen said “it forced me to question the way I presented my music and think harder about what I was doing” (Rose). He wanted his message to tell the truth about issues affecting hard working citizens and connect the world to understand those disparities.
The first title in the album shares the same name “Born in the U.S.A.”. It features a captivating opening chord on the synthesizer, followed by Max Weinberg’s snap-to-attention snare rim shots (Rose). The song features overwhelming sounds from the E Street Band that captures the audience in a powerhouse effect that focuses on the lyrics and connects anyone no matter who they are. In a change of pace, “I’m On Fire” shifts the sound to one similar of country legend Johnny Cash. Its meaning is sexually driven about a man’s desires and longing for a woman that is out of reach (Rose). Another hit song “Glory Days” tells the tale of a lost youth, his coming of age, and acceptance of where everyone ended up (Rose). The song features a lot of energy with an eighties beat that invites the audience to sing along. In his touching ballad "My Hometown," Springsteen talks about his hometown and events that affected the community. It is a close hitting emotional experience that highlights the unfortunate struggles that many hard working people face. The song focuses on the idea of factories closing, struggles of a stagnant economy, and racial tensions that had impacted the community. The message in the song is a universal connection for many that some people say hits close to home and embraces the realities of life. Through his music, Bruce Springsteen embraced struggles and highlighted social issues. He used his music to inspire hope in those who were struggling, and bring people together. The heartland characterization of Springsteen music illustrates how he narrates life’s many issues and provides hypothetical salvation for those who are struggling. His music is not limited to the heartland of America, but has traveled the world and touched the lives of many international citizens as well.
The Berlin Wall
After the end of World War II, the Axis Powers fell, and the rise of communist Soviet Socialist Republics began. Germany was divided on August 13, 1961 and the Soviet-backed German Democratic Republic began building what would be known as the Berlin Wall. The wall separated allied occupied East Germany and Soviet-influenced West Germany. The wall served to keep the “fascist” western ideologies from undermining the socialist state (History.com Staff). Prior to the construction of the Berlin Wall, German refugees fled the communist controlled East to the safe haven of the allied controlled West Berlin. Russia tried to intimidate the allied powers into leaving through a blockade, but those efforts failed. In a last ditch effort to bolster their efforts, East Germany tried to stop the flow of immigrants by building a wall of barbed wire and concrete (History.com Staff). Before the wall went up, people were free to travel from any side, but the construction limited travel and forced travelers to go through various check points. Life behind the wall became limited and censored. Fear of any western influence forced the German Democratic Republic to ban anything resembling Western ideologies, and removed much of the culture that existed. There was always ongoing competition between the western powers and the Soviet East that made life difficult for many living behind the wall. Tensions on both sides continued to rise throughout the cold war, and innocent people were forced to suffer in the middle of the political friction. The thought of liberation after World War II became more of a nightmare of oppression and tension. The social and political ramifications surrounding the Berlin wall meant that tension was building because of the lack of freedom and extended oppression. It would only be a matter of time before the wall would give way and the East and West would be no more. The iconic symbol of the Cold War would fall victim to political pressures, with the assistance of a powerful motivator known as Rock ‘N’ Roll.
Bruce Springsteen East Berlin Concert 1988
Bruce Springsteen instilled many American values in his music, but those messages would prove to be universal in nature. The lyrics that he wrote would be heard around the world and would bring people of different races and issues together. At the time leading up to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Bruce Springsteen had been seen as a critically acclaimed rock superstar that highlighted the struggles and offered hope in those hard times. The down to earth lyrics were not meant to be political, but to embrace the personal freedoms of every individual (Alterman). The positive nature of his character can be seen during a courtroom battle with his former manager, where he said to the judge “My interest is in my career, which up until now holds the promise of my being able to significantly contribute to, and possibly influence, a generation of music. No amount of money could compensate me if I were to lose this opportunity.” As his followers grew, his personal message gradually increased its political influence. The unintended consequences of his popularity became a high speed shuttle for promoting positive intentions. It was his music that indirectly nudged the political issues surrounding the Berlin Wall.
On July 19, 1988, the German Democratic Republics youth arm, the Freie Deutsche Jugend invited Bruce Springsteen to play a concert in East Germany as part of an official drive to conciliate the country's increasingly restless youth (Crossland). Michael Jackson and Pink Floyd had performed in West Berlin, and this was a response to a concert that aggravated the youth in the East, due to jealousy and resentment. Prior to the concert, the people behind the wall had reached their boiling point, and would no longer tolerate years of oppression and censorship. Bruce Springsteen would put on an unforgettable performance that attracted an estimated 300,000 people in East Germany, ranging from ages 18-35 (Connolly). Springsteen put on a four hour performance of thirty-two songs that gave the youth in East Berlin a taste of personal freedom.
After playing twelve of the thirty-two songs, Bruce Springsteen suspended his performance to give a speech to a stunned audience in their native German (Crossland). Springsteen said to the audience "I'm not here for any government. I've come to play rock 'n' roll for you in the hope that one day all the barriers will be torn down." This speech would drive the message home, and the crowd would erupt in a thunderous roar with overexcitement. The audience waved homemade American flags, and the idea of freedom resonated throughout his captivated audience (Connolly). Bruce Springsteen would play Bob Dylan’s "Chimes of Freedom" and further drive the message of freedom deeper into his audience. After the concert, the effect on East Germany was an indirect outcome influenced by the power of rock 'n' roll. The music didn’t topple the Berlin Wall, but it made cracks in the foundation by instilling a sense of desire in the youth to want more (Connolly). It was a life changing moment for everyone that attended, and some would say contributed greatly to the motivating factors that drove the fall of the Berlin Wall and eventually the Soviet Socialist Republic.
Eighteen months after the Bruce Springsteen concert, the Berlin wall fell, and all of Berlin was liberated from the oppression of a socialist government. The former German Democratic Republic had given the youth the ability to arrange a performance to relieve tension, but it ended up having the opposite effect. The concert inflamed a spirit of rebellion within the youth, and the desire to promote change (Connolly). Music is not necessarily the hands that knocks down walls, but the hands that wipes away the cloudiness from one's vision. It does not force people to act a certain way, but allows someone to see things differently. The art is not in the composition of the music, but in the way a user listens to it. Music is a powerful platform for change, and it has repeatedly influenced many social changes. The music of Bruce Springsteen has given everyone the idea of hope, and opened people’s eyes to fight for what they want. Bruce Springsteen played his heart out that night in Berlin, and the people were fueled by his passion. Like a coach that pushes you be better, Springsteen’s music allows listeners to become motivated and reach for their desires. After exploring the issues surrounding the Berlin Wall, I believe that Bruce Springsteen played a part in helping to bring down the Berlin Wall. Some would say it was as much as a prayer, but I believe the power of music runs deeper than that. Music has always been an art to express emotions. It finds a way to bring out the best in everyone. Musical preference is a personal preference that reflects directly on an individual’s identity. It allows anyone to do anything that they can imagine; even bring down an impenetrable wall and promote personal freedoms throughout the land.
Alterman, Eric. Bruce Springsteen's Political Voice. 11 April 2012. Web Page. 16 June 2014. <http://www.thenation.com/article/167356/bruce-springsteens-political-voice>.
This article is from a reputable online news organization. The article focuses on the political influences of Bruce Springsteen’s music and shows how the unintentional powers that has inspired many individuals. The weakness in the article is that it does not go into too much depth about each song but gives a general idea of how his music has impacted social issues. The feature of the article is that it clearly explains how his music has been influential and puts it in a big picture perspective. The intended audience is anyone who is interested the influences of music and historians focused on the cold war.
Connolly, Kate. "The Night Bruce Springsteen Played East Berlin – and the Wall Cracked." 5 July 2013.Theguardian.com. Web Page. 22 June 2014. <http://www.theguardian.com/music/2013/jul/05/bruce-springsteen-east-germany-berlin-wall>.
The following is an article written by Kate Connolly for the Guardian.com. The guardian is an online news organization that reports on many different focuses similar to print newspapers like the New York Times. The article explorers the Bruce Springsteen concert in Berlin in 1988. It examines the effects and consequences the ground breaking concert had on East Berlin citizens and suggest that this was a catalyst that influenced the fall of the Berlin Wall. The article directly correlates to the topic of the research question and shows minor weakness in a sense that it is a persuasive piece that tries to argue an opinion that is not common knowledge. The special feature of the article is that it does examine witness accounts from the day of the concert. The intended audience is anyone who is interested the influences of music and historians focused on the cold war. It enables a new perspective vs whats generally perceived.
Crossland, David. Chimes of Freedom: How Springsteen Helped Tear Down the Wall. 19 June 2013. Web Page. 14 June 2014. <http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/book-says-springsteen-concert-helped-bring-down-berlin-wall-a-906236.html>.
This article is featured in an online German News Organization that focuses on many areas of reports including international programs. The article is examines the events that occurred at the Bruce Springsteen concert in East Berlin in 1988. It offers some insight to the emotions of the people affected and provides descriptive imagery of the events. The source is relevant to the article because it helps to detail the issues surrounding the Berlin Wall and support findings on what lead to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The weakness is that outlines certain events but does not go into too much detail about the culmination of events. The special feature of the article is that it highlights the audience’s reactions and gives insight from an author writing about a similar topic to the research paper. The intended audience are people who want a deeper understanding of music and its influence on social issues like the Berlin Wall
History.com Staff. Berlin Wall. 2009. A+E Networks. Web Page. 16 June 2014.<http://www.history.com/topics/cold-war/berlin-wall>
The article explores a brief history of the Berlin Wall and is a reputable source from A+E networks History channel. It outlines key events that caused the construction of the Berlin Wall and also details the time frame for the fall. The article directly correlates to the research project but the weakness is that it does not include any musical influences. The intended audience are those interested in the history of the Berlin Wall
Music Wikia. Bruce Springsteen. n.d. Web Page. 22 June 2014. <http://music.wikia.com/wiki/Bruce_Springsteen>.
The article explores information regarding Bruce Springsteen and gives brief biographical information
Rose, Caryn. Bruce Springsteen's 'Born In The U.S.A.' at 30: Classic Track-By-Track Album Review. 4 June 2014. Web Page. 22 June 2014. <http://www.billboard.com/articles/review/6106507/bruce-springsteen-born-in-the-usa-30-classic-song-by-song-album-review>.
This article was a part of Billboard's review of Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA album. It does a song by song break down of the album and gives a detailed analysis of each song and content meaning. It is relevant to the research because it takes the song meaning into depth and helps to explain why Bruce Springsteen was such a rock icon. The best feature of the article was that it included direct links to youtube for the songs. The intended audience are those who are interested in a deeper understanding of Bruce Springsteen's music.
Ruhlmann, William. Bruce Springsteen Biography. 2014. Web Page. 18 June 2014. <http://www.allmusic.com/artist/bruce-springsteen-mn0000530745/biography>.
Allmusic is a reputable musical reference that includes biographies and discographies for many musicians. This article focuses on the biography of Bruce Springsteen and how he rose in the music industry. It is relevant to the research paper because it details his early life and how he became such a star. The intended audience are those who want to learn about the life of Bruce Springsteen.
Springsteen, Bruce. Born in the U.S.A. 1984. Youtube. 22 June 2014. <http://youtu.be/EPhWR4d3FJQ>.
Bruce Springsteen - Cadillac Ranch - East Berlin 1988. 14 June 2009. Youtube. 12 June 2014. <http://youtu.be/nJsHD958vpg>.
Bruce Springsteen - Glory Days. 1985. Youtube. 22 June 2014. <http://youtu.be/6vQpW9XRiyM>.
Bruce Springsteen - My Hometown. 1985. Youtube. 22 June 2014. <http://youtu.be/77gKSp8WoRg>.
Springsteen - Chimes of freedom - East Berlin 1988. 8 September 2008. Youtube. 22 June 2014. <http://youtu.be/9_hQit-3Vh0>.
Each of these youtube videos are music videos from some of the songs from his hit albums. Each video is unique in that they help illustrate the message in his songs and demonstrate creative talent on Bruce Springsteen's part. The chimes of freedom and Cadillac ranch videos are from his performances behind the Berlin Wall in East Berlin. They are important because they are a significant part of music history. The performance gives insight into the passion and emotion of Bruce Springsteen's performance and how it influenced many.