"I always felt that the musician's job, as I experienced it growing up, was to provide an alternative source of information," Bruce Springsteen told Rolling Stone three years ago, on the eve of the Vote for Change Tour. As the war in Iraq drags on with no end in sight and no hope for anything resembling peace, rock & roll is doing just that.
Springsteen and John Fogerty have both just released new albums that draw some of their strength from a direct return to their early music, and have something else in common as well: They both address the war in Iraq. Springsteen and Fogerty were born just four years apart — Springsteen in 1949 and Fogerty in 1945 — but by the time Springsteen put out his debut in 1973, Fogerty's Creedence Clearwater Revival had just called it quits. Both are artists who — from the start — were able to be at once current and out of step, looking backward to shape their styles, Fogerty to Fifties rockabilly and Springsteen to Sixties R&B-driven rock. Fogerty's Revival — the title a clear nod to his rapprochement with the CCR sound — slaps at George W. Bush explicitly, using rock & roll as weapon. "I can't take it no more," he brays while pummeling his guitar like it's Little Richard's piano. "You know you lied about the WMDs/You know you lied about the detainees/All over this world." On a frankly nostalgic album (skip the ode to the Summer of Love), the handful of songs taking on Iraq give the music urgency.
In 1980, Springsteen made his debt to Fogerty clear by borrowing the title of a ten-year-old Credeence song — "Who'll Stop the Rain" — for a lyric on "The Ties That Bind," the lead track of The River. He also showed up on the cover in a plaid shirt, the same sartorial statement Fogerty used to signal his own working-class sympathies during the ruffled-collared heights of hippiedom. Springsteen's Magic — the title a reference to the beguiling and poisonous way the current administration redefines reality at will — unfolds as a series of allegories. A lyric about heartbreak is followed by one about the ship of Liberty sailing on a blood-red horizon, and the meaning of the song shifts entirely. Springsteen is plain-spoken one moment, channeling the Book of Revelation the next. It brings to mind a more straightforward version of the American mysticism of John Wesley Harding, though with louder guitars.
"I believe the world is burning to the ground," goes the chorus of the new Matchbox 20 single. In the video for the Foo Fighters' "The Pretender," the band faces off against a wall of riot police. "As we sit free and well, another soldier has to yell, 'Tell my wife and children I love them,'" says Kid Rock, ticking off the world's ills on his new record. Fogerty sings about a long, dark night. Springsteen sings about a long walk home. And no one has any idea what's going to happen on the other side.
This story is from the October 18th, 2007 issue of Rolling Stone.