Posted by: Erin Longbottom | 29th Oct, 2009

The Good Grey Poet Vs. The Boss

While waiting for my DC pictures to upload on Flickr/Facebook, I thought I’d do a quick post on an article I read today.

Last night I started poking around on databases for ideas on what I should do my final project on, and I happened to stumble on an article called “Whitman, Springsteen, and the American Working Class” by Greg Smith. I had to read this for two reasons. The first being that my mother is a HUGE Bruce Springsteen fan, and has spent the last two years converting me so that I will accompany her to shows on his cur

rent tour with the E Street band (we’ve been twice in the last year, and we’re going again in November) and the second reason being that it’s a pretty interesting comparison, considering Bruce Springsteen is kind of like the Walt Whitman of our (our parent’s?) time in the sense that America is his schtick.

Older picture of the Boss circa the late 70s early 80s. Did I mention I totally have the hots for him?

Older picture of the Boss circa the late 70's early 80's. Did I mention I totally have the hots for him?


A young photo of Whitman for good measure.

A young photo of Whitman for good measure.

The article discusses the success of the respective writers to reach/capture the American working class, something  Whitman, as we all know, desperately wanted to do. Smith says that Springsteen wins this fight on both counts, and I have to agree. While the article mostly focused on Springsteen, it did bring up an interesting contrast between Walt and Bruce. Whitman represents the idealized American Dream, where America is continuing to expand, the industrial revolution is still in motion, and the working man is happy and robust (Smith refers to “I Hear America Singing”). Springsteen is concerned with destroying the fallacy of the American Dream, and truthfully portraying the American working class, destroyed by their blue collar jobs. Smith makes no mention of Whitman’s war poetry (I suppose that would be a bit of a tangent considering it was focused on the working class) but I wondered what comparisons he would have drawn between Springsteen and Whitman there.  While he may have romanticized the working man, Whitman was of course dedicated to portraying the horror of war,  just like Springsteen sings about the effects of the Vietnam war. 

You can read the article here.

By the end of the article I was prepared to start working on in-depth comparison of Whitman and Springsteen, but I’m not sure there would be any real value to that analysis except that it would amuse me…


YOU rock, fauxredhead. Great post. Thanks for gently suggesting I am in your parents’ generation…

As Kim was saying on Saturday, Whitman’s concern for the working classes actually did affect his experience in the war also. Remember how he lauds those who, like his brother George, rise up through the ranks because of their bravery and intelligence vs. being commissioned officers because they are well-connected? And he disapproves of allowing men to buy themselves out of service ($300, cheaper than in Vietnam but….). His primary interest is in honoring and caring for the common soldier (possibly illiterate, poor, far from home, hungry).


I just loved your article. By chronology and geography (raised at the Jersey shore) I am a Springsteen fan ~ in my heart I am a Whitman fan. Thanks for this… it makes my day!

The celebration of America has shifted from victories attributable to manufacturing efficiency to victories attributable to the uniquely American creative genius and entrepreneurial spirit.

This “Looking for Whitman” experiment i a great example of our capacity for creativity applied in the real world of education! Keep up the good work!

LOVE LOVE LOVE it. What a great article, never would have thought about that sort of juxtaposition. If the Boss is our parents generation, who is our Walt? Any guesses? T.I.?” …You can have whatever you liiiiike…” I kid. Really.

@Virginia I was thinking about this when I was writing the post…I was gonna say Jay-Z but I’m not really sure. We need to open this up to the class I think.

@Dr. Scanlon I was merely saying that I didn’t think I could say “our generation” since Bruce was, after all, making hits well before I was born. You can read that however you like.
Your comment goes back to me wishing that Smith had talked more about Whitman’s war poetry, because I think he would have found a lot of similarities there to Springsteen’s lyrics. Smith has a valid point about Whitman’s earlier works, but, as we have been discussing in class, Whitman’s writing changed from the war. Had Smith gone on to evaluate those, I think he would have given Whitman a bit more credibility.

@Mark I’m glad you enjoyed it!

Also, I think I was still emotional from Saturday, as the Springsteen lyrics quoted in the article kept making me cry 0_o

I love this comparison! An interesting extra parallel between them that you mentioned is Springsteen’s and Whitman’s interest in portraying war in their lifetimes. They both remain somewhat problematic with me inasmuch as they appropriate soldiers’ voices for the songs/poems, since neither was actually involved in the battles they discuss. This, I suppose, is a pretty common thread through both of their works as they write pieces speculating about such things as witnessing the death of Lincoln and recovering as a vet. I wonder if we could trace the reputation of Springsteen and many other artists/writers as representative of the American people back to Whitman. Whitman, the first American author?

[…] Preface to this blog: I got a little off-topic. Also, reference to Bruce Springsteen may seem out of the blue if you haven’t read my previous post on an article I read comparing Walt to the Boss, which can be found here. […]

Erin I think this may be one of my favorite posts throughout the collective project. Mainly, because I love Springsteen and I’ve actually considered the comparisons between these two. A really wonderful article and a great post on your behalf! I commented here after viewing your most recent article.

Also, haven’t check through yet but are you the Erin from the Levis Go Forth site? If so I’ve spoken with you on there!

I am the Erin from the Go Forth site! Man I didn’t know how many Springsteen fans were involved in this project…

Erin your article reference has helped to flesh out my ideas for my final project here in Camden. I’d been debating on how much of Whitman was really him and advertising and an American icon and found that a lot of the things he did with regard to that met up with Springsteen. The idea that these figures throughout American history are icons partially out of their work but also out of promotion on their own part. It’s almost like the tall tales of America! Just wanted to let you know and say thanks!

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