When Super Bowl XLIII gets underway in Tampa on Sunday, neither of the NFL teams that play their home games in New Jersey will be on the field. But one New Jerseyan who has performed for large crowds at Giants Stadium will be there at Raymond James Stadium when the Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers square off to determine this season’s NFL champion.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band will provide the halftime entertainment, joining the ranks of Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and other superstars who have performed at the 42 previous Super Bowls. While this provides a great opportunity for Springsteen to appear before a capacity crowd of 72,500 and a television audience of up to 100 million viewers, it also represents a plus for New Jersey because of the unique and important role that the Garden State plays in his music and his lyrics.
Springsteen is not the only New Jersey native to gain widespread fame and popularity. The state has produced a number of individuals who have achieved great success as entertainers, scholars, athletes, governmental leaders and more. What sets Springsteen apart is the fact that the others are people from New Jersey who have become successful, whereas he is successful because he is from New Jersey. Springsteen’s New Jersey roots are not just something buried in the liner notes of his albums; they are the very essence of his music.
So with Bruce (and indirectly New Jersey) in the national spotlight, what better time to revive the campaign to make a Springsteen composition the official state song? After all, New Jersey is the only state in the union without a state song. Even American Samoa, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands have them – and they’re not even states. Moreover, if popular, but less influential artists such as John Denver (“Rocky Mountain High” in Colorado) and the McCoys (“Hang On Sloopy” in Ohio) can have their songs affiliated with states, isn’t the Boss deserving of a similar recognition in his home state?
It’s not that people haven’t tried. Back in June of 1980, the New Jersey General Assembly passed a resolution designating “Born to Run” as the state’s official rock theme. I even wrote an op-ed for The New York Times supporting the proposal. The legislation, however, died in the State Senate.
Truth be told, “Born to Run” probably was not the best choice for a state anthem. Although it did in many ways capture the spirit of the state, it probably was unrealistic to expect the Governor and Legislature to put their official sanction on a song that included references to suicide machines, death traps and wrapping one’s legs around velvet rims.
At the time, there were only three Springsteen albums from which to choose a state song. Today he has a body of work that includes nearly 30 albums and close to 300 songs. So from this vast collection, what Springsteen composition should become New Jersey’s official song? It’s a tough call. There is no shortage of songs with references and inferences to the Garden State, but most of them, such as “Atlantic City,” “Johnny 99”and “My Hometown,” paint accurate, but bleak pictures that make them unlikely candidates for any type of official state designation.
My vote is for “The Rising”. Sure it was written about 9/11, but songs often take on new meanings and grow with the times. Springsteen’s “My City in Ruins” is a case in point. Originally written about Asbury Park in 2000, the song later became more associated with New York City and the 9/11 attacks.
Since its release in 2002, “The Rising” has become a staple at Springsteen concerts with its upbeat chorus delivering a message of strength against adversity and hope and optimism for the future. Not a bad message for a state song. We’ve already seen that it works well with choral groups. Springsteen’s performance of the song at the start of the Obama inaugural concert included the backing of a 125-member female choir. The tune may not have the direct association of such popular state songs as “Oklahoma” and “Georgia,” but it does have more than a casual New Jersey connection. It made its public debut when Springsteen performed it on the Today show live from Asbury Park on July 30, 2002.
Over the years, there has been no shortage of efforts to designate a New Jersey state song. As related in Fitzgerald’s Legislative Manual, the state held a contest in 1939 that produced a recommendation that was never acted upon. In 1972, both houses of the Legislature approved Red Mascara’s “I’m From New Jersey,” but the Governor did not sign it into law. The State Arts Council conducted a competition in 1996 and ultimately submitted three songs to the Legislature for consideration, but no further action took place.
While choosing a state song has been a challenge, New Jersey has had less trouble designating items such as a state fruit (the highbush blueberry), a state bug (honey bee) and even a state dinosaur (the Hadrosaurus Foulkii). If we can do all that and more, certainly we can select a state song. It’s long past time.
As Bruce would say, “You can’t start a fire without a spark,” and what better spark to get the ball rolling than a Super Bowl Sunday that puts the Boss in the spotlight.
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