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Professor analyzes Springsteen’s lyrics

By Jonathan Edmondson
Arts & Entertainment Editor

Mention the name Bruce Springsteen to almost anyone in America, and he or she will immediately think of a rock star with multiple best-selling albums.

He or she may not, however, think of him as a literary genius.

This is why it may seem strange to some that Lincoln Konkle, an English professor at the College, is currently on sabbatical to write an academic book about Springsteen. The book, as Konkle pointed out, will analyze “Bruce’s song lyrics as poetry, short stories, tragedy, comedy, social commentary and philosophical and religious musing.”

Konkle, who also teaches an Honors Freshmen Seminar Program titled “Springsteen’s Lyrics as Literature,” is more than just a fan of Springsteen’s music. He has analyzed his lyrics and listened to his albums over and over again to decipher hidden meanings behind each track.

“When I was in college, a friend played ‘Born to Run’ for me.  Living in a rural, redneck community in northern Indiana, I could relate to the lyrics, ‘this town’s a deathtrap / it’s a suicide rap / we gotta get out while we’re young,’” Konkle said when asked about the first time he heard Springsteen. “(And) after hearing this line from ‘Growin’ Up’ — ‘I found the key to the universe in the engine of an old parked car’ — I was really hooked,” he added.

Springsteen 3
Bruce Springsteen’s lyrics are the topic of Lincoln Konkle’s new book. (AP Photo)

But Springsteen’s lyrics were different from typical rock ramblings. They were inherently poetic.

“Combining macrocosm and microcosm (universe and old parked car), and reviving a dead metaphor (no one pictures a key when they say ‘the key to x is’), I knew right then this was rock and roll for English majors,” Konkle said.

While there are many Springsteen fanatics across the globe, it takes a truly passionate listener to dedicate a whole year to analyzing and writing about his music. Konkle, who also loves theater and literature, gets to combine all of his interests into one creative package when writing about Springsteen.

“There have been many books written about Springsteen, some with analysis of his lyrics, but none of them has had the basic thesis that this guy is a great writer of literary lyrics — as well as kick-ass rock music,” he said. 

The process to obtain a sabbatical, as Konkle notes, is a long one. One must complete preliminary research to complete a proposal and map out a timeline for the project. The proposal is then evaluated by a committee deciding whether or not to grant sabbatical. For Konkle, this was his second time applying.

But even after obtaining the sabbatical, Konkle knows that there will be major challenges ahead.

“I anticipate the most difficult task is to plan in which specific chapters I’m going to analyze specific songs,” he said. “Some of them fit under multiple topics. It may come down to flipping a coin as to within which chapter I discuss some songs.”

One might believe that the most challenging aspect for Konkle might be to convince others that the rock star really can be a literary genius. However, as Konkle points out, he is definitely not the only one who believes in Springsteen’s literary standing.

“Most long-time Springsteen fans know and love the depth of his writing. And the hundreds of people who presented papers at the three ‘Glory Days: An International Bruce Springsteen Symposium’ events in 2005, 2009 and 2012 (at which Konkle presented) don’t need persuading,” Konkle explained. “Some of those conference participants have published their own papers as articles in journals or academic books,” he stated. “So there is really no question that Springsteen’s songs and albums warrant analysis from multiple perspectives.”

By the time Konkle is finished with his book, he will be able to add it to a vast collection of academic writings on Springsteen’s lyrics, a collection that  many never knew existed.

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