On the 1st of March, 2021 a new episode of the podcast series Renegades: Born in the USA was released. This podcast is in fact, a collection of conversations between artist Bruce Springsteen and Barack Obama, former president of the United States of America (2009-2017). As its title indicates the focus of the conversation is set on music, in the beginning of the episode, the two share their memories that are in regards to the impact music had on their lives, and in which genres they found themselves.
Early Musical Memories
Firstly, Obama reveals his early memories, and he mentions that Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book (1972) was the first record he ever purchased and listened to it numerous times and in the middle of a giggle, he admits after a while he had to start using headphones while listening to it to avoid disturbing his grandparents whom he lived at the time. Obama also mentions the times when he hung out with his friends who were from a white ethnical background and listened to ‘their’ music which was heavy metal or other kind of rougher music at times.
He emphasises the moment when the distinction between genres and their ethnical origins revealed themselves. He adds that there is nothing wrong with that, actually it is quite the opposite, music is the perfect art form that demonstrates how multicoloured America is and how it became the leading country for western music in the 20th century. Blues, gospel, jazz, rock and roll, country, folk, funk, you name it, all these genres were born from multiculturalism, people who were born or ended up at some point of their lives in the United States but whose ancestors were from all around the globe.
Then Obama turns to Springsteen and asks him when and how did he end up writing songs and being an artist. Springsteen shares his early recollections of purchasing his first guitar back then in Freehold, New Jersey, which cost him 18 dollars at the time. He painted houses, mowed lawns, did every kind of job so he could save up that 18 dollars. His cousin, Franky had already learned some guitar chords, so he was the first person who taught Springsteen the basics and gave him a folk music book that contained all the basic guitar chords. After a couple of months of learning and playing the guitar, Springsteen got acquainted with the honky-tonk genre, but also emphasises the influence that Beatles songs had on him.
He also mentions that even though he listened to a lot of records of different kinds of genres like folk, pop, or blues, rock music was the one he found himself within, the sort of sound and groove that he could completely resonate with. Although Springsteen also speaks of his philosophy for live performances, who he is as an artist and what his goals are whilst having live gigs, and playing his songs on stage to others. Every time he goes on stage to play a set, his intentions are all about giving the members of the audience something that is valuable and spiritual, something that matters to people. I have always liked Springsteen’s songs and his character but this was the point when I actually understood him. As a person who has been doing his own singer-songwriter project, I can absolutely relate to his philosophy.
Amazing Grace – Obama’s famous speech, 2015
In the second half of the episode, Springsteen brings up the topic of Obama’s speech that he gave in Charleston, South Carolina back in 2015, which was in the aftermath of the tragic church shooting committed by a young white supremacist on the 17th of June in 2015. The tragedy ended with the deaths of several people including 9 African American citizens. At the end of that speech the former president of the United States of America sang the well-known gospel evergreen ‘Amazing Grace’ which is about forgiveness and that has particular importance in the American society, especially in the African American communities.
Gun Ownership – Gun Control in America
The Charleston church shooting is one of the many tragic massacres that has happened in America in recent years and it brings up the problem of gun ownership in the United States again and the reforms of gun control that have not been done yet, Obama also mentions that after the tragedy in Charleston, he made efforts to have his voice heard by the Senate but significant changes have not been put in practice yet and due to a lack of actions, firearm ownership is still a huge issue in the U.S. that must be dealt with.
Music, the Magic that Unites Us
According to the topic of ‘Amazing Grace’ and his speech in Charleston, Obama also expresses his affection and love for music and he points out at the importance of it. Songs and tunes have the power to unify people when they are divided, to bring folks joy when they need it the most and to bring people comfort when it is the time of grief. Obama’s ‘Amazing Grace’ represents the same idea.
Beyond American society and culture, music can be the unifying power, the universal language that we would all understand around the globe regardless where we come from, what our mother tongues are and what our beliefs are. All we need to do is pay attention to the tune.