First, let’s get to the point: He played six songs, starting with “No Surrender,” then weaving to “The Promised Land,” then a new one called “Forward” that he joked he came up with after President Obama telephoned him asking for a song to go with the campaign’s “Forward” slogan.
Even the man viewed widely as one of America’s most renowned lyricists admitted he couldn’t really get his head around that one. “Forward?” said Bruce Springsteen, the latest surrogate on the presidential campaign trail, looking stumped. “Yeah.”
The only thing going for the slogan, he said, is that it beats “Backward.”
The crowd, some 3,000 packed in a gymnasium at Cuyahoga Community College, laughed. Mr. Springsteen, for his part, did the best he could.
“I kissed your sister and I kissed your mama,” he sang.
“Forward!” yelled the crowd, per instructions.
“Let’s vote for the man who got Osama,” Mr. Springsteen sang, looking sheepish.
But Ohio is working-class country — the prime Springsteen demographic. So there was no way this crowd wouldn’t love anything he did, even “Forward.”
The president’s campaign aides were ecstatic to have the Boss back on the road for their boss. Mr. Springsteen joined former President Bill Clinton on stage for the event, as part of the Obama campaign’s full-throated effort to scrounge up every single vote it can in Ohio. If Mr. Obama can win the state, campaign aides figure, the path to victory for the Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, will look like one of those single-track dusty roads that Mr. Springsteen is always singing about.
Both Mr. Clinton and Mr. Springsteen, at some point in their careers, have been compared to preachers, and on Thursday, Mr. Clinton was definitely channeling his inner pulpit-pounder. “This is the first time in my life I ever got to be the warm-up act for Bruce Springsteen,” Mr. Clinton said. His voice started rising. “I am qualified ’cause I was born in the U.S.A., and unlike one of the candidates for president, I keep all my money here!”
Mr. Clinton delivered a fire-and-brimstone condemnation of Mr. Romney in particular and Republicans in Congress in general, accusing them of doing everything they could to stand in the way of Mr. Obama’s jobs agenda.
Of the unemployment rate, Mr. Clinton said: “They were crushed when it dropped to 7.8 percent. They had talked about the unemployment rate for three and a half years as if it were scripture! It was right up there with the tablets that Moses brought down from Sinai!”
His arms flailed, his cheeks reddened. “Then when it comes down, they say ‘no, it was rigged!’”
By the time Mr. Springsteen showed up on stage, Mr. Clinton had worked the crowd up to the point that the rocker known widely as BRUUUUUUUCE, the star who has sold out Giants Stadium in under seven minutes, was claiming that Mr. Clinton was a tough act to follow.
“It’s like going on after Elvis,” Mr. Springsteen said.
After performing “Forward” — don’t look for that one on the Billboard charts — he wrapped the crowd around his little finger with “Youngstown,” from his uber-depressing 1995 album, “The Ghost of Tom Joad.”
Mr. Obama, whose musical taste runs more toward Miles Davis, Al Green and Javanese flute music (a preference he apparently acquired back in his Indonesia days), has been proclaiming himself a big Bruce fan ever since Mr. Springsteen hit the road for him in 2008. But the truth is, unlike the working-class young white men the president is hoping that Mr. Springsteen will help him make inroads with, Mr. Obama did not cut his musical teeth on Springsteen anthems like “The River.” It’s doubtful anyone has ever seen the president singing along, like legions of fans, when Mr. Springsteen belts out: “But lately there ain’t been much work, on account of the economy.”
In fact, the longest block of time that the president has spent with Mr. Springsteen seems to have been in December 2009, when the singer sat next to the Obamas during the Kennedy Center Honors, howling with laughter and slapping palms with Mr. Obama during the comedian Jon Stewart’s tribute: “I believe that Bob Dylan and James Brown had a baby. Yes, and they abandoned this child — as you can imagine at the time, interracial same-sex relationships being what they were — they abandoned this child on the side of the road between the exit interchanges of 8A and 9 on the Jersey turnpike. That child is Bruce Springsteen.”
But Mr. Obama has a legion of staff members and speechwriters who are massive Springsteen fans, so when the president took the stage at the same event, he could say, truthfully, “It’s no wonder his tours are not so much concerts as communions.” Alas, just when people started thinking that maybe Mr. Obama had actually jammed at the Stone Pony on the Jersey Shore at some of those communions, the president added, “I watched him on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial” when Mr. Springsteen “rocked the national mall for my inauguration.”
No matter. Mr. Springsteen is a fierce Democrat, and even though he said he wasn’t going to return to the campaign trail this year, these are hard times for many Democrats here in this American land.
And so, the Boss played. He did an acoustic version of the song that the Obama campaign has co-opted, “We Take Care of Our Own,” Followed by Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.”
Mr. Springsteen exhorted the crowd to “Vote! Vote! Vote! Vote! Vote!”
Then he told the crowd, “I’ve got one more for you.”
And the screen door slammed.
A MESSAGE FROM BRUCE
The election is coming up on all of us and we all have strong feelings about it. I’ve been getting asked a lot about where I stand, so for those who are interested, here goes.
This presidential election is different than the last one because President Obama has a four year record to run on. Last time around, he carried with him a tremendous amount of hope and expectations. Unfortunately, due to the economic chaos the previous administration left him with, and the extraordinary intensity of the opposition, it turned into a really rough ride. But through grit, determination, and focus, the President has been able to do a great many things that many of us deeply support.
Domestically, that record includes working to increase and expand employment for all, protecting our all important social safety net, passing guaranteed health care for most of our citizens, with important new protections for all of the insured, rescuing the auto industry and so many of the American jobs that go with it, protecting and enhancing the rights of women, and bringing us closer to full acceptance of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.
In foreign affairs, that record includes following through on the removal of troops from the misguided and deceptive war in Iraq, and vigorously pursuing our real foreign enemies, especially the killing of Osama Bin Laden.
Right now the opposition’s resort to voter suppression in so many states is not receiving as much attention as it deserves. I believe that all of us, of whatever views, should be opposing these anti-voter, anti-citizen efforts.
Right now, for the President to be effective in his next term he needs our increased support and he needs support in the Congress, where some sterling candidates, such as current Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, challenger Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts, and so many others, are fighting to make their constructive voices heard.
Right now, there is an ever increasing division of wealth in this country, with the benefits going more and more to the 1 percent. For me, President Obama is our best choice to begin to reverse this harmful development.
Right now, there is a fight going on to help make this a fairer and more equitable nation. For me, President Obama is our best choice to get us and keep us moving in the right direction.
Right now, we need a President who has a vision that includes all of our citizens, not just some, whether they are our devastated poor, our pressured middle class, and yes, the wealthy too; whether they are male or female, black, white, brown, or yellow, straight or gay, civilian or military.
Right now, there is a choice going on in America, and I’m happy that we live in a country where we all participate in that process. For me, President Obama is our best choice because he has a vision of the United States as a place where we are all in this together. We’re still living through very hard times but justice, equality and real freedom are not always a tide rushing in. They are more often a slow march, inch by inch, day after long day. I believe President Obama feels these days in his bones and has the strength to live them with us and to lead us to a country “…where no one crowds you and no one goes it alone.”
That’s why I plan to be in Ohio and Iowa supporting the re-election of President Obama to lead our country for the next four years.
"We Take Care of Our Own" Acoustic - even BETTER than it is with the full band IMO