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Modern Happiness: Springsteen and the American Dream

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Written by Spencer Jarrold

I read, recently, in a psychology class that I'm taking, about the idea of primary and secondary motivators: the idea is that there are a few inherent forces that motivate action (i.e. sex, hunger) and secondary motivators that make those primary goals more accessible (ideas like money or power).

In my complex ruminations about Springsteen's music, I focused on the American Dream, but couldn't withdraw myself from thought (for about a day I just sat around thinking) about the subject because my stream of consciousness had led me all the way back to primary motivators, and I just couldn't figure out the question or the answer that I was looking for. Ultimately, though, I concluded my thoughts with one idea: that life is motivated by emotion. Although the emotions of everyone are dictated by external factors, the chase of those emotions is what I think drives people. (In a different direction than I want to take this: my emotions drive me, but that could very well be because I don't have to worry about survival; I could give a shit about secondary motivators because I'm a fortunate son)

Lyrically, many of Springsteen's songs seem to cover secondary motivation, especially with ideas like the American Dream, which is a society-based theme.

Now, I consider almost everything to be secondary motivation, with emotions being the primary motivators, and while many of Springsteen's songs provide me with some emotion, I'm personally more aroused by songs that aren't "happy." I think happiness is an idea that's kind of overblown in our society, and incredibly muddled down by different shit that tries to appeal to happiness or make you happy, but really only one person knows what happiness is, and that person is everybody. So, with all this crap trying to make me happy, when I really want to feel emotion (when I really want to be alone with my most elementary self), I listen to stuff that I think would likely be described as "sad," and one of my favorite contributors is Springsteen's relatively little-know "Terry's Song." I dunno why. It's lonely, and I think that's one of the common themes in all songs that give me the greatest stimulation because most of the time you don't have a choice but to live life like a game ("America touts itself as the land of the free, but the number one freedom that you and I have is the freedom to enter into a subservient role in the workplace. Once you exercise this freedom you've lost all control over what you do, what is produced, and how it is produced. And in the end, the product doesn't belong to you. The only way you can avoid bosses and jobs is if you don't care about making a living. Which leads to the second freedom: the freedom to starve."-Tom Morello), and in this game where secondary motivation has somehow transitioned into primary motivation, it feels good to feel those instinctive feelings again. ("Beyond the walls of 'intelligence,' life is defined."- Nas).

Spencer Jarrold recently completed his freshman year at the University of Wisconsin, currently considering English and Political Science as prospective majors. His hobbies are playing sports and listening to and playing music.