Bruce Springsteen's America
It's so boss.
When's the last time you met someone with the nickname "The Boss"? Yeah, that's what we thought. Bruce Springsteen is a national treasure, and in this course, you'll find out just what he thinks about that nation of his (spoiler alert: it's not what you think).
In this course, we'll take a close look at Springsteen's lyrics—dad rock and Garden State variety patriotism included—to see how this guy managed to build a career that's spanned over half a century.
Here's what's in store:
- Common-core aligned close-reading assignments designed to get you thinking critically about Mr. Springsteen's vision of America.
- Lessons that will walk you through his more notable albums, tackling the famous songs right alongside the lesser known ones.
- Activities and quizzes to keep you on your lyric toes—and probably have you tapping your foot to the beat.
Unit 1. Bruce Springsteen's America
In this unit, you'll become The Boss of The Boss, analyzing how Bruce's lyrics show us exactly what he thinks about the U.S. of A.
Sample Lesson - Introduction
Lesson 8: Down in the Valley
Every town's got one: the local spot. A place to go to hang with the cool kids, to drown your sorrows, or even just to think. Maybe it's the Starbucks on the corner, or maybe it's the town park. Maybe it's the lake on the outskirts of town, or maybe it's just your friend's living room.
But it's the place you—heck, everyone—goes to get comfortable.
Here's the thing about those places: they're local and unique, sure, but they're also universal. It's just like we said: every town and every person has one. Just like every town and every person has a story.
While his early career might have been rooted in the very specific, oh-so-local imagery of the Jersey Shore and its shenanigans, as he mature as a songwriter, his themes grew much more universal. And yet, they never lose that local sense. There's a feeling in all these songs that while the experience could happen anywhere in America, perhaps more importantly, it can happen right outside your door. It's both local and universal all at the same time.
Springsteen's fifth album, The River, is full of local-universal stories just like that. The titular track, "The River," is one such story.
Sample Lesson - Reading
Reading 1.8: That Was All She Wrote
Sample Lesson - Activity
Activity 1.8a: A Union Card and a Wedding Coat
A guy knocks up his young girlfriend, gets an okay-but-dead-end-job, and marries her down at the courthouse.
Yeah, that's one for the ages, Shmoopers.
This story might not be your story, but we're betting you know someone who's had a similar experience. It's a classic story of how your choices (or lack thereof) in youth can echo on down through the years of struggle and strife. It's also about how we seek solace in the places we find familiar—those local comfort zones that we all turn to.
So yes, this story could happen anywhere in America. But the fact is, it's also based on one specific story: that of Bruce Springsteen's sister Virginia. Like the "Mary" of the song, she got pregnant at 17 and married her high school sweetheart. Bruce wrote this song to honor their years of struggle to go the distance and deal with their lot in life.
We want you to think about people you know—the Everywomen and Everymen—and write your own version of their story.
Their story should be both specific to them, but also representative of what you think makes up the larger American experience—just as Mary and the speaker of "The River" represent the nagging feeling we all have at times that our lives didn't turn out quite how we dreamed they would.
Here's how to git 'er done:
Step 1: Think of the people you know. Tall order, we know. Try to think of the people who have compelling, but universal stories. Of course, you can define "universal" however you want, but the idea is to choose someone whose story is representative of what you think the American experience is. And yes, you can have a more positive, less bleak outlook than Bruce does in "The River." That's totally allowed.
Step 2: Write your chosen person's story in poem form (or you can write a song if you're really ambitious). Aim for about 40 lines (that's how long "The River" is). As you write, try to include details that make the story feel specific and local (like Bruce's "Johnstown Company" or "I got a union card and a wedding coat."), as well as lines that make the experience seem more universally American (like "They bring you up to do like your daddy done," or "on account of the economy").
Sample Lesson - Activity
Activity 1.8b: Your Very Own Bruce Anthology, Continued
Nothing fancy here, Shmoopers. Just make sure you're adding lyrics from "The River" into your Bruce anthology.
Sample Lesson - Activity
Quiz 1.8c: No Wedding Day Smiles
- Course Length: 3 weeks
- Grade Levels: 11, 12, College
- Course Type: Short Course
- History and Social Science
- High School
Just what the heck is a Shmoop Online Course?
Common Core Standards
The following Common Core Standards are covered in this course:CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.1