When I was in Baltimore last week, I took a pass on the company Orioles game to continue reading We Are Alive: Bruce Springsteen at sixty-two, which I’d started on the early morning train. In the middle of it I came across this Magritte cartoon, which got me thinking … what do Bruce and René have in common besides being great artists who were once photographed in a black suit and tie?
I thought long and hard and decided that they have nothing else in common, and are possibly direct opposites. I actually don’t know all that much about Magritte or surrealism—I understand it overall, drawing on dreams and the subconscious to create ambiguous relationships between words and visual images, but I’m not usually drawn to nonrational things, so I’ve never investigated. It’s hard enough to connect to people, let alone their subconscious.
A few weeks ago I read another article about Bruce called The Power of the Particular, attributing his universal appeal to the specificity of his lyrics about his jersey roots and corner of the world that people can relate to. “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.”
It makes you appreciate the tremendous power of particularity. If your identity is formed by hard boundaries, if you come from a specific place, if you embody a distinct musical tradition, 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, surfing from one spot to the next, sampling one style then the next, your identity formed by soft boundaries, or none at all. —NYT
I have a vague idea that this whole thing could be argued in the other direction since the surrealists are more famous than Bruce, but I’m pretty sure they took opposite approaches to get there.