We can compare modern “working-class” bands with Bruce Springsteen all we want, but the simple fact is that no one has ever done it better. Maybe no one besides him has ever done it, period. Today's bands of that ilk are really just the heartbroken songwriters of indie's milieu dressed in blue collars. They give the impression that somehow they are easier to relate to because their lyrical wheelhouse consists of small towns, of nondescript cars, and of bills to be paid. They take wrong turns when they presumptuously attempt to be the right band for a certain age. What they don't understand is that the age from which Springsteen sprung was the right age for him. It is not less noble for a band to take a look around them and hope to comment on or even combat events with their music. But it is better when music is written as a product of a microcosm (say, growing up in Asbury Park) and then naturally comes to embody a macrocosm (America in general). The idea is that listeners will see their own story in the songs instead of just hearing something with clever lyrics that they'd like to sing along to or remember to quote later on in conversation, which can create an illusion of familiarity.
It is this essential quality that sets him apart from everyone else even after all these years. His fictional characters are easier to relate to than any modern indie song sung in the first person. It has been interesting to watch this particular musical shift. How is it that a song rife with such nameless characters as the Magic Rat and the Barefoot Girl, with imagery of Exxon signs and ambulance lights and death in those lonely corridors of the city seems more homely than any song about the end of a relationship which, presumably, any listener would be able to relate to much more? It is as if the old rules have been transferred from stone tablets to pieces of notebook paper, frequently scratched out and rewritten to fit the latest trends. That storytelling trait has, with a few exceptions, long been absent from music and perhaps that is telling. What makes Springsteen's music so great is that his stories and characters made it all the more affecting when he did
write something personal. When he personally wondered if love was real it sounded more genuine because of similar, prior sentiments from the lonesome, wandering denizens of Asbury Park. Story echoed real-life and vice versa, each lending weight to one another.
Springsteen's America seen through today's lens seems more modern than the vision being presented currently. It is a marvelous thing that none of Springsteen's songs seem quaint or outdated but it is not surprising in the least. He was able to both hearken to an earlier time by harnessing the power of music's golden age and to make an audience look to the future, to attempt to keep alive a sense of America's commoner nobility – the notion that there is nothing purer than trying to survive through means universal and familiar, through foot before foot and hand over hand. The notion that we could succeed or fail to walk like heroes but either way America, although perhaps dull-eyed and empty-faced, was nevertheless bound for a greater glory somewhere down the road.