Not to turn this into a YPIS situation (or more of one), but I'm pretty sure that "working-class kid from Jersey" qualifies as something other than moneyed, elite white person, and might be closer to "working-class kid from Tennessee" which might itself be closer to "poor man from the Delta" than said other, richer, more powerful white people.

It's also weird to interject race into one of the really important cross-racial moments in American popular culture. Allen Freed and Dick Clark and Elvis had a lot to do with removing the stigma against "black" music. So did Chuck Berry and Little Richard and Bo Diddley (the three of whom have a pretty interesting conversation on this topic in the Chuck Berry birthday/concert film Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll). But Elvis is one of the critical moments at which those streams converge, when the world of black music opens up for white audiences. So... yes, the moment at which white people realize they can enjoy and attempt to play the music of black people is crucially important; a rising tide is going to lift all boats.

(Muddy Waters, famously, was painting the ceiling of Chess Records the first time the Rolling Stones showed up. But they liked him and played his songs and helped him achieve a higher, more satisfying level of popularity, so he could go back to playing music full-time. This isn't white people acting as saviors, this is a group of legitimate fans raising the popularity of one of their idols. And this happened with a lot of musicians whose work would otherwise have been neglected or forgotten. I seriously fail to see the problem here.)


Amber said...

Admittedly, it was an ungenerous post. But the way Springsteen frames his magic moment is not quite consistent with your description of white people removing stigma in a manner that directly benefits black artists.

The quote reads as a description of Young Master Springsteen realizing that he can throw off the constraints of his upbringing and appearance and "the social context that oppressed [him]." Elvis, by opening a new channel for the re-imagination of the self, has lifted up little Bruce. However, Bruce does not appear to have been enlightened, via watching Elvis, of the illegitimacy of social constraints applicable to black Americans.

Nicholas said...

But it again seems like class is at least as relevant a criterion as race: being working-class white and, one presumes, "ethnic," will actually create something of a social context that oppresses him. And that this might be the connection he sees with Elvis, another working class white boy with limited prospects beyond music. I don't know that you have to claim that in either case it was worse than the consistently high level of oppression against African-Americans in order to claim that it still constituted a problem in its own right.

Springsteen also has a (well-deserved) reputation for having an intense depth of knowledge about music in general and being a quite articulate commentator on his own work and that of others. So it's possible that I'm bringing this to the table even if it's not in the text of the speech itself.