An Asbury Park Letter to Springsteen About “The Middle” Commercial

By Tommy DeSeno

Tommy DeSeno

Hello Bruce.  I grew up in Asbury Park.

We’ve met a few times.  Not in any way you’d remember.  Just a fan running into you at Asbury’s bars.  I have a picture of us meeting at The Jeffersonin Asbury in the early 80’s.  I was a teenager working the boardwalk and racing Asbury’s “Circuit” in the 70’s.  One of the kids “huddled on the beach in the mist,” if you will.

Before I address your metamorphosis from lyricist into political pundit, which I won’t begrudge you if that’s what you wish for yourself, I’ll tell why your songs were so important and meaningful to small town folks like me.

Your lyrics poignantly made known that small town life can be lonely.  And hard. If you are without prospects and uninspired, small towns can be a struggle.  You find yourself the only soul on a street or a mile stretch of cold boardwalk.  Everywhere else on TV seems cosmopolitan and exciting. Your local economy is always receding. Media ignores your town, so you feel unconnected to the world, wondering if anyone knows you’re here.

You know what you did, Bruce?  You told our story.  You sang about us.  Despite the commercial success of Born to Run, that song is an outlier of yours.  Your discography isn’t about some Hollywood pipedream of getting out.  You recognized the struggle to get through next week, then the week after, until you are buried right where you were born.  Far more people have to find happiness doing that than chasing dreams. 

Hearing our small-town story told by you Bruce created comradery across America.  We got to say, “Look, we aren’t extraordinary, but now we can see each other, and the world sees us here too.” It was affirming and glorious. In Asbury Park, where much of your small-town imagery is from, there is an indestructible connection to you. In the times we met, I should have thanked you for telling our story, Bruce.

Love of your songs never required a political position.  You were a safe haven from that contest. You were universal and unifying. Unfortunately, over the last decade Bruce, you’ve traded your universality for political partisanship. 

I understand the draw to it. It’s a bug that comes with fame, particularly actors and singers.  Your lot is encouraged to speak of politics, yet you may not know any better than a laborer talking at a lunch counter.  The advantage celebrities have over the rest of us is a microphone and a media that will recite what you say.  But if the celebrity isn’t particularly insightful, it’s microphone abuse. It can even be dangerous.

We see actors and singers exemplary in their craft, we love them in their craft, then they stammer, pause and struggle when speaking about politics. Punditry is a talent like acting or singing. Not everyone is good at it.

Just look at your Jeep commercial “The Middle,” played during the Superbowl.  Your intent was to unify and bring political sides together. So, did you wake up the day after wondering why it didn’t work?  Why on the Internet are the sides you were trying to unify now fighting over “The Middle?”  Who rejects a call for unity?

I’ll give you the answer. Pay attention Bruce, because I am good at this.

When the White House changes parties, there is a right and wrong way to call for unity. The wrong way to seek unity is to insist that the other side first admit that they were the problem; that they were why we hadn’t unified in the first place.

In “The Middle” you started outwell, then you framed the fight between “freedom and fear”and “darkness and light.”  I’m guessing you think your side is freedom and light and the other side is fear and darkness?  You think anyone is agreeing to that before “unifying” with you?  I promise everyone on the other side sees you as the problem.  Did you admit to fear and darkness when the other party won in 2016?  All I recall on that inauguration day was “never” this guy, protests and threats. Not unity.  Each side thinks, as you do, that they are the middle and the other side extreme.

Let me tell you the right way to seek unity, Bruce.

There is no middle, nor should there be.  The “middle” is utopian pablum.  American politics is a tug of war that no one should ever win.  Sometimes one side pulls hard and we go too far left or right, then the other side pulls harder and we go back.  It’s that struggle that keeps America from extremes, not some mythical “middle.”  When one side wins a tug of war, the other side is thrown to the ground, defeated and apart.  In political terms, that leads to oppression then revolution. May America’s tug of war never end.

I don’t expect you to give up your issues for a “middle” or “unity” (you didn’t in 2016), nor should you expect it of others now.  I wouldn’t want that for you.  I’d rather recognize you and compete for your interests than create a world where yours are cancelled.  You saw me in song in the 1970s.  I’m returning the favor and seeing you now, Bruce.

Unity is living with differences, not destroying them.  You can’t have diversity without differences, can you?

I’m not giving you the old “shut up and sing.”  You have the right to speak.  Just make sure you have something helpful to say. You can influence the whole world when you’re wrong, so be careful.

I’m not one of those who will throw away your music.  Avoiding art for politics is as ridiculous as an artist alienating his fans for politics.   Art is more important than politics.

Tommy De Seno is a lawyer, political writer, and currently resides in the Smithsonian as the last conservative from Asbury Park.

Posted: February 9th, 2021 | Author: | Filed under: Asbury Park, Opinion, Tommy DeSeno | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 54 Comments »

54 Comments on “An Asbury Park Letter to Springsteen About “The Middle” Commercial”

  1. Joe Williams said at 3:54 pm on February 14th, 2021:

    I was drafted into the Army at age 19. I was underage, couldn’t vote, and sent to Vietnam. I did my job and survived.
    Bruce was drafted, showed up at the draft board under the influence of drugs. and sent home.
    Jane Fonda and Bruce came out from under the same rock.

  2. Kevin Beck said at 6:36 pm on February 14th, 2021:

    There is a middle. It’s where most of the country resides. The people who aren’t kool-aid drinking viewers of 24/7 cable news. Most of the citizens would probably describe themselves as “in the middle” unless they are truly partisan hacks. And that tug of war you describe is exactly what the middle is. It’s the center balance to the extreme wings of each party. As far as “fear and darkness ” goes, it was in fact Trump’s inauguration speech that spoke of “American Carnage” , that spoke of this imaginary reality that our cities are war zones. I wonder when the last time he even walked down the streets of NYC was. Between limo service and private planes and his Florida retreat, he rarely ever mingles with regular people in a regular situation. Campaign rallies don’t count. It is also fair to point out that one side, the side with the big (R) , is constantly stoking fear in its supporters. Fear of Mexicans, fear of Muslims, fear of Socialists, fear of regular ol’ Democrats, fear of caravans, fear of environmentalists, fear of regulations, fear of trans people etc, etc, etc. Now the other side was fearful of what someone like Trump would do because of those exact over-the-top views. I’m not sure what America he was looking at and experiencing when he made that speech because it was a complete dystopian paranoid fantasy to most people who heard it. I believe the point of the stupid commercial was say that we shouldn’t be afraid of each other. And the fact that so many people seem to be so bothered by a stupid Super Bowl commercial is ridiculous and absurd. It also shows how sensitive some folks are. The very mention of coming together is perceived as an attack on them, because they voted for the big (R). Geez, and these people talk about “snowflakes” huh? Were the Trump supporters calling for unity with their chants of “lock her up!”?
    How about telling elected officials to “go back where you came from”? Is that unity? I agree with your point about the separation of politics and art. Art is definitely more valuable to the human experience. People who won’t watch a new DeNiro film because of his politics are ridiculous and only robbing themselves. But what some people who disagree with the previous president are asking for is acknowledgement. Acknowledge that he was the furthest thing from a unifier. Because it’s the truth. And that is the biggest problem facing everyone today. It seems that one side can’t seem to acknowledge simple truths. And when that happens, you get situations like Jan. 6th.

  3. Erik said at 2:23 am on February 16th, 2021:

    A Letter To Tom

    Tom, I wanted to read this until you wrote, “Unfortunately, over the last decade you’ve traded your universality for political partisanship.” I still finished your piece & felt that even hinting this is an overnight transition for Springsteen is inaccurate. For example:

    In 1979, Bruce & The E Street Band participated in the No Nukes concerts at MSG.

    Prefacing the live video for his 1985 cover of Edwin Starr’s “War,” he stated ‘Blind faith in your leaders will get you killed.’

    In 1988, he & the band were part of the massive Amnesty International world tour.

    In 1993, I first saw him play a benefit for the NJ food bank. He’s done dozens of these over the years.

    In 2004, he participated in the Vote For Change outing with several other artists.

    Those lucky enough to witness the 2006 Seeger Sessions tour heard him turn 1929’s “How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times & Live?” into potent social commentary.

    All of this happened across the last 40+ years, not “over the last decade,” as you wrote.

    Essentially, it seems you feel Bruce has lost himself. While I can understand that view to a degree, the best artists evolve. Think the transition REM & U2-and frankly, Bruce- underwent as the 1980s ended. I have an Irish friend who claims U2 hasn’t made a decent album since 1983’s War. The Beatles had to leave the Cavern Club. Fans don’t have to follow an artist. Their journey is their own. Maybe some fans will stick around for the ride, maybe some won’t. If you’re as big a fan as you claim to be, you missed many visible signposts during Bruce’s artistic travels.

    Also, to overlook the kindness and generosity the man consistently gives back to his community is unfair. Too many in Monmouth & Ocean counties go to bed hungry every night. Alleviating this to the level he & Jon Bon Jovi have admirably done make them ok in my book, regardless of their views. In the spirit of unity, they are welcome at my place for a few cold ones anytime-as are you.

  4. Bella said at 11:28 am on February 17th, 2021:

    First Bruce want drafted because he hurt his, leg bad, in an motorcycle accident. Yes, he did act nuts, to. But the reason he truly didn’t pass is, cause, of, his, leg, which gave, him a, limp for, life.I am a, huge, fan and unfortunately I didn’t like the commercial. And was disappointed he gave in and did it. My father in his hobby for years has, been in a, Doo Wop group for years and, knows a good friend of Bruce’s from Ashby Park. He said he is, very down to earth. My friend saw, him shopping at a, Jersey mall in a store by himself buying flannel shirts. When he was, finished she got a, photo. He was great to my friend who has, cancer. She went to the Broadway show and he talked to her for awhile and gifted, her a bag, of nice, things. At every concert he asked his fans to bring a can of food for the local food banks. Then he donates 10 Grant to every local food in each town he plays. He bought a, new fire truck for, Freehold to. I have meant him and he acts like, a, regular person. He did speak out it 2016. Trump wanted him to play, for his inauguration. He said, no. I think he thought he was coming from a good place, with the commercial. I will always be a, fan. Even if I don’t agree with him sometimes. I liked, what you said in this article. I feel like that’s how most of his fans are, feeling about it. In his 71 years he made a mistake. But he always gives himself to his fans. He is a, loud to have, a, opinion even if we don’t agree.