With the Olympics dominating the media, most Ministers and MPs opted to take things quietly this last week. They assumed that a public consumed by sport would simply ignore anything to do with politics.
Julia Gillard went on holiday. Tony Abbott was uncharacteristically subdued. Both sides took the view that discussing issues of policy while our athletes were competing in London would be a waste of time and energy.
Only the Treasurer - boring, unadventurous Wayne Swan - defied conventional wisdom. And, remarkably, it paid off. He made the kind of splash some of our swimmers would have envied.
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Forget Kevin Rudd’s high-brow inspiration, the courageous if obscure German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and don’t even mention Paul Keating’s beloved Austrian romantic composer Gustav Mahler. Treasurer Wayne Swan’s ideas and values come from straight from “The Boss”.
And while he might be the nation’s top economic official, it ain’t the beat of Wall Street he’s tuned in to, but the driving rhythms and power-chords of E Street.
Whether he likes it or not, Springsteen will tonight be outed as Swan’s muse - the driving force behind Australian Labor’s core economic policies from union-friendly IR laws and increased pension and family payments, to public slanging matches with billionaire mining magnates.
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When Wayne Swan is at his desk he likes to work to music. He told journalists during the week that his Budget song this year had been Bruce Springsteen’s “Land of Hope and Dreams”.
Perhaps it was two lines in the opening verse that struck a chord with the Treasurer:
You don’t know where you’re goin’
But you know you won’t be back
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Brisbane songwriter maestro Robert Forster fell into an old but reliable trap last month when he used Bruce Springsteen as a contrast at the beginning of a brilliant critique of the Dirty Three’s latest opus Toward the Low Sun.
After listing four song titles from Springsteen’s show-stopper record, Wrecking Ball, Forster says the names of the tunes give away the whole disc as a dud. “...these song titles, shop-worn and spare even by Springsteen’s standards, offer little encouragement to listen to an album that seems to be stuck in old ground,” he wrote in The Monthly.
Never judge a book by its cover, our betters told us when we were young and learning. Never a truer word, as they say in the backstreet bars of any town with a musical heart.
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At the South by South-West music conference in Austin, Texas, last Thursday, Bruce Springsteen let a brilliant cat out of the bag. He junked the supposed key to modern politics: authenticity. In a 50-minute address, Springsteen said it’s not real.
“There is no right way, no pure way of doing it,” said the Boss to a packed auditorium. “There’s just doing it. We live in a post-authentic world. Today authenticity is a house of mirrors. It’s all just what you’re bringing when the lights go down. It’s your teachers, your influences, your personal history.
“At the end of the day it’s the power and purpose of your music. It still matters.” Anyone who watches modern politics will recognise the profound truth in what Springsteen says.
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Springsteen has done it again. You’ve got to look for the silver lining in these troubled times and if the economic and social train wreck that’s engulfed the mighty United States of America has to be endured at least it’s producing some of the best new music heard in years.
From Todd Snider’s biting Excitement Plan through Ry Cooder’s gritty Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down - and much in between and next door - we’ve heard some fantastic commentary set to heart breaking and soul lifting music.
Perhaps Aleo Blacc’s I Need A Dollar is the anthem of the hard times so far but the Boss comes roaring back with a very bitter judgment on social inequality and you can bet it will stir some controversy.
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