what if cain was one of us
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music friday: bruce springsteen, “we take care of our own”

While this is something of a repeat, it is tied to current events.

Back in January, when this single was released in advance of Bruce’s album, Wrecking Ball, I chose it for a Music Friday entry:

The repetition of the title, “We Take Care of Our Own”, hammers home the irony of the place where the flag is flown (this throws us off, because Bruce is usually the least ironic of artists). There would seem to be no way to take it other than ironically: good hearts turn to stone, there ain’t no help, the promise from sea to shining sea is gone, but “wherever this flag is flown, we take care of our own.” No one is being taken care of … he can’t get much more clear than “there ain’t no help”.

Yet some folks are apparently unearthing a hopeful message from all of this, as if the mere existence of a Bruce Springsteen song in these dark times is reason to hope (I’m regularly guilty of this idea, myself). … There may be hope elsewhere on the album, and Bruce has a long tradition of finding hope in the midst of despair. But it ain’t here.

The always trustworthy Matt Orel locked onto this at the time:

It didn't take long for history to repeat. Already this morning, a piece in Los Angeles Times was titled, "First take: Bruce Springsteen's patriotic 'We Take Care of Our Own'" According to this misread, the lyrics "offer an affirmation of national glory," and "the title phrase borders on jingoism." Of the chorus, "We take care of our own/Wherever this flag is flown/We take care of our own," the piece concludes, without the barest hint of irony, that it's "about community and pride."

He added, “I hear an accusation, a cry of betrayal from a former believer … the song is one of bitterness, angriness, and is a reminder of who we supposedly were.”

It’s perhaps understandable that some folks would misread this song, as many did with “Born in the U.S.A.” … but this week, a surprising new person jumped onto the Misreading Train.

Bruce Springsteen appeared with Bill Clinton at a rally for President Obama. At that rally, Bruce sang “We Take Care of Our Own”. Afterwards, I wrote an email to a group of fellow Bruce fans:

I was confused when Bruce sang "We Take Care of Our Own" today. He is rarely ironic ... too straightforward for that ... but WTCOOO is one of his most ironic songs, since he is singing about a country that no longer seems to take care of its own. …

He didn't write this song when Bush was president, he wrote it during the current administration.

So when Bruce sang it as part of a pro-Obama performance, I wondered why he seemed to be misinterpreting it, as well.

I understand Bruce endorsing Obama, and playing for him today. I just don't get his use of that particular song.

Once again, Matt Orel was on the case. “We Take Care of Our Own fired up the crowd. Several months ago I suggested that that song slammed Obama every bit as much as his opponents; while I still hold to that opinion, one would never have gotten that impression from Bruce's performance today.”

Here’s Bruce at the rally (you get a bonus, “This Land Is Your Land”):

And here he is, offering up an angrier version of the song (this video comes from TheMagikRat, who turns out the most amazing audience-shot concert videos I’ve ever seen on YouTube):