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That's not to equate the heartfelt pieties of one of rock's most decent millionaires with the demands for unanimity launched by those gutting the Fourth Amendment. I mean, I like Bruce. I trust him. If you see Sting panting after you in the rearview mirror of your ambulance, don't slow down for the amber light. At least Bruce pursues his causes with justice in mind, not a hefty cash settlement. If he offers up The Rising to heal his city in ruins, that's because he believes rock and roll has the power to unify.
But has pop culture ever suffered a shortage of vague, uplifting promises? Certainly not now. Puritans blather about selling your soul to the corporation, but the satanic bargain megapop offers is much subtler. You can feel as deeply as you like, just don't think too much, mister. Springsteen's commitment remains, but his message is as attenuated as any random Democratic Party platform, and for similar reasons. He sounds as genuinely hurt and confused as any of us, but if he's gained any insight into that hurt or confusion, he's not about to express it. Might alienate somebody.
In 1992, Springsteen seemed irrelevant because he was outflanked by both rhythm and noise, by PE on the left and Nirvana on the white. If only The Rising seemed that irrelevant today. Because his vision of rock and roll is so grand, Springsteen requires a popular consensus as surely as any invasion of Iraq. And as we've learned yet again, nothing sparks phony consensus like national cataclysm. Maybe that's why, for the past few days, a nagging thought has burrowed into my brain that I wish was merely the snide aphorism I initially took it for: If there hadn't been a September 11, Bruce Springsteen would have had to invent one.