The Corner

The Boss Can Write. But What Does He Read?

It has long been known by the wise that the characters Bruce Springsteen creates for his songs often have great depth and a staggering level of development. As just one example, recall that Sean Penn’s 1991 crime drama The Indian Runner was based off Mr. Springsteen’s 1982 song “Highway Patrolman,” a masterpiece.

Knowing that the Boss can write, the New York Times took the natural step of asking what he reads. You can find the whole interview here, but my favorite question was the hardest: “If you had to name one book that made you who you are today, what would it be?”

Mr. Springsteen’s answer:

One would be difficult, but the short stories of Flannery O’Connor landed hard on me. You could feel within them the unknowability of God, the intangible mysteries of life that confounded her characters, and which I find by my side every day. They contained the dark Gothicness of my childhood and yet made me feel fortunate to sit at the center of this swirling black puzzle, stars reeling overhead, the earth barely beneath us.

Flannery O’Connor is one of the greats, especially for Catholics. And my experience listening to many of Mr. Springsteen’s songs often feels remarkably similar to reading some of O’Connor’s short stories: Their unflinching courage to show the cruelty of life, always tempered with deep faith in the presence of grace and the possibility of redemption.

As you probably expect, after reading this passage from his Times interview my mind immediately turned to the conclusion of Mr. Springsteen’s 2004 speech inducting Jackson Browne into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Now I always thought that in our fall from Eden, besides the strains of physicality and the bearing of earthly burdens, our real earthly task was that an unbridgeable gap, or a black hole, was opened up in our ability to truly love one another. And so our job here on earth — and the way we regain our divinity, our sacredness, and our general good-standing — is by reconstructing love and creating love out of the broken pieces that we’ve been given. That’s all we have of human promise. That’s the way we prove ourselves in the eyes of God and facilitate our own redemption.

Amen, Boss.

— Michael R. Strain is a resident scholar and economist at the American Enterprise Institute. You can follow him on Twitter at


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