Springsteen’s Catholicism.

It’s definitely real, but also evidently elusive. Damian J. Ference tries to pinpoint it:

An authentic Catholic worldview is one that does not blink, but has both eyes wide open to the fullness of the real world, in all its horror, beauty and mystery. It is a worldview that insists on the following. Mary is both Virgin and Mother, that Jesus is both God and man—without being more of one than the other. Faith and reason are not opposed, but live in harmony. We human beings are both sinners and saved, all at the same time. And death is life. The Catholic worldview holds two contrary positions together because to take one away would be to deny the fullness of the truth.

Perhaps what makes [Wrecking Ball – his new record] so good is that Springsteen has simply gotten better at what he’s always been good at—holding two contrary truths together at the same time—an undeniable product of his Catholic imagination. Just as the Psalter comprises ancient hymns both of terrible sorrow and great joy, so too is “Wrecking Ball” a collection of songs about both despair, anger and damnation—and faith, hope and love.

This is ingenius, but not, I think, convincing. Such contradictions are clearly central to his music and its power. That has always been the case, from Born to Run and Badlands through to Glory Days. So many of his songs play on the tension between sad lyrics about losers and these huge, deeply joyful guitar riffs. It’s like he celebrates depression. And I’ll never be able to rationalise why it moves me so.

But to suggest this is inherently Catholic, as if that branch of Christianity has a monopoly on the sentimental paradoxes of human life, is a real stretch. Perhaps I don’t hear it only because I don’t identify with the faith, but I’ve never sensed religion running through the veins of Springsteen’s songs in the same way, say, that Bono so obviously brings it to U2’s music. The most I’ll concede is that his religion got him hooked on the theme of redemption, but even that can be given a strongly secular reading. Especially when the liberating vehicle in his music is, quite literally, so often a car, and not time spent praying from the pews of a church.


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