Today's offering from David Brooks grips you right from its first line, which is this, inexplicably:
They say you’ve never really seen a Bruce Springsteen concert until you’ve seen one in Europe, so some friends and I threw financial sanity to the winds and went to follow him around Spain and France.
Wait. What? Who says this? Who, in all the wide world, is going around telling people that the best way to appreciate Long Branch, New Jersey's native son live in concert is to jet off to Barcelona on a whim with your pals. (How financially insane a prospect is this for David Brooks, by the way? Not very. He just purchased a $3.95 million dollar home in Cleveland Park, with "vast spaces for entertaining," which I guess aren't vast enough to offer the authentic Springsteen-on-the-Iberian-Peninsula experience that all the "true fans" of The Boss have experienced.)
Well, if you manage to make your way past the first line -- which is screaming at you, "Click close tab! Click close tab!" -- you learn that Brooks is really intrigued by the crowds of Spanish people at Bruce Springsteen concerts:
Springsteen crowds in the U.S. are hitting their AARP years, or deep into them. In Europe, the fans are much younger. The passion among the American devotees is frenzied, bordering on cultish. The intensity of the European audiences is two standard deviations higher.
Yes, if there's anyone equipped to statistically measure the intensity of cultish devotion in Europe, it's David Brooks, and in Spain, that intensity nearly crossed the threshold into "Black Swan Event" territory. But this odd intensity manifested itself in ways that seemed to have really astounded Brooks, who was maybe at his first ever live rock show, or something?
The oddest moment came midconcert when I looked across the football stadium and saw 56,000 enraptured Spaniards, pumping their fists in the air in fervent unison and bellowing at the top of their lungs, “I was born in the U.S.A.! I was born in the U.S.A.!”
Did it occur to them at that moment that, in fact, they were not born in the U.S.A.?
Well, did it? Why didn't David Brooks turn to one of them and ask if they realized that they were from Spain -- which has a King, and tapas, and soccer and stuff? Maybe there is just some crazy live rock tradition where people sing along to the choruses of globally popular songs? Who knows? Hopefully, if these Spanish Bruce Springsteen fans were confused about their nationality, it passed before it got too awkward.
At this point you're really wondering where Brooks might take this. Is he going to make some broad metaphoric connection between the economically dislocated characters in Bruce Springsteen songs and the Eurozone crisis? Is he going to broadly suggest that the power and primacy of American rock culture has truly gone global? No, he's actually going to do a little pop-psychology dilettantism.
My best theory is this: When we are children, we invent these detailed imaginary worlds that the child psychologists call “paracosms.” These landscapes, sometimes complete with imaginary beasts, heroes and laws, help us orient ourselves in reality. They are structured mental communities that help us understand the wider world.
We carry this need for paracosms into adulthood. It’s a paradox that the artists who have the widest global purchase are also the ones who have created the most local and distinctive story landscapes. Millions of people around the world are ferociously attached to Tupac Shakur’s version of Compton or J.K. Rowling’s version of a British boarding school or Downton Abbey’s or Brideshead Revisited’s version of an Edwardian estate.
So, successful "writers" write stuff that is detailed and specific. This doesn't explain how "good things that are written" achieving a "wide global purchase" is a "paradox," though. And it doesn't explain how what's holding back a band like The Gaslight Anthem, which follows in the tradition of New Jersey rock bands by writing sing-a-long songs about the "distinctive story landscapes" of New Jersey's working class, from selling out the big stadiums in Europe.
Anyway, Brooks is of the opinion that this experience "makes you appreciate the tremendous power of particularity" and that if "your concerns are expressed through a specific paracosm, you are going to have more depth and definition than you are if you grew up in the far-flung networks of pluralism and eclecticism." That seems like a little bit of "projection" -- to use some dime-store psychoanalysis of my own -- on Brooks' part, as he struggles to enlarge and enhance his own "paracosm," which is the "paracosm" of a millionaire editorial-writing goofball who can afford to jet off around the world to see better rock concerts than you.
"Maybe this is why younger rock bands can’t fill stadiums year after year," Brooks writes, "while the more geographically defined older bands like U2, Springsteen and the Beach Boys can."
I don't know! Maybe plenty of younger rock bands actually are filling stadiums. Maybe U2 and Bruce Springsteen benefit from having a powerful, global marketing campaign behind them. All I know is that The Paracosms were much cooler when they played the small clubs.
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