Sunday, June 16, 2019

Thomas Sowell Talks About Discrimination, Race, And Social Justice

June 13, 2019

Image result for thomas sowell

A newly updated version of Thomas Sowell’s book, “Discrimination and Disparities,” came out this spring. The author and famed economist sat down with writer David Hogberg to talk about it and his life’s work.
David Hogberg: I want to read to you something that a currently very popular actress by the name of Brie Larson said at a recent awards show. She stated that, “USC Annenberg’s Inclusiveness Initiative released findings that 67 percent of the top critics reviewing the 100 highest grossing movies in 2017 were white males.  Less than a quarter were white women and less than 10 percent were unrepresented men. Only 2.5 percent of those top critics were women of color. Now you’re probably thinking right now that … doesn’t represent the country I live in. And that’s true. This is a huge disconnect from the U.S. population breakdown of 30 percent white men, 30 percent white women, 20 percent men of color, and 20 percent women of color. So, why does that matter? … If you make a movie that is a love letter to women of color, there is an insanely low chance a woman of color will be able to see your movie and review your movie … We need to be conscious of our bias and do our part to make sure that everyone is in the room.”
That’s an example of the main fallacy that you expose in your book, correct?
Thomas Sowell:  It’s one of the many fallacies. My God! We could play the same game with basketball and get even greater skewed representation. Blacks are the vast majority of basketball players in the NBA. That quote is downright silly.
What’s become so frustrating to me over the years is people who assume that if people or events are not evenly represented, then that’s some deviation from the norm. But you can read through reams of what scholars have written and find that nowhere is this norm to be found. You can read people like Gradell and others who have studied internationally various cultural events, and they say again and again that nowhere do they find a distribution of people who is representative of the population of the larger society.
So [people like Larson] are taking something that no one can find and making it a norm, the deviations from which should cause the government to intervene to correct this supposedly rare thing.
Hogberg: What is the “Invincible Fallacy”?
Sowell: It’s what been illustrated by the example you mentioned.  It’s the belief that people would be, in the normal course of events, proportionally represented in various endeavors in the way they are represented in the general population. And if that doesn’t happen it must be some kind of negative factor like either genetics or discrimination that is causing the deviation.
What’s frustrating is that I can come up with 100 examples to the contrary, but the people who believe in the fallacy do not have to produce even one example—not one speck of evidence  from anywhere in the world over thousands of years of human history that what they are asserting is the norm has ever, in fact, happened. 
For example, there is a book called “Why Nations Fail” that asks, why are there such economic disparities among nations? It compared the U.S. to Egypt and asked, why has Egypt failed?  The authors wrote as though what happens in the U.S. is the norm. When, if anything, what happens in Egypt is closer to a norm. In any case, they are assuming that there is this natural tendency among nations that has somehow been thwarted in Egypt and therefore we must do something about that.
Hogberg: If you were to make a list of the causes of disparities with the most important causes being at the top of the list and the least important toward the bottom, where would discrimination be?
Sowell:  I wouldn’t even attempt to rank them since there are so many causes. Just one that I mention in the first chapter of the book is being the first-born child in a family. First-born children tend to have higher IQs than their siblings. They are generally more successful in all sorts of endeavors, they tend to have higher incomes—you can run through the list. There are so many reasons for disparities that to single out one reason a priori is almost madness.
Hogberg: So what impact does discrimination have?
Sowell:  It can have some negative effect. But that is the whole point. When you say A has a certain effect on B, it does not mean that every time you see B you can infer A. One example wholly away from economics or politics is that some children are years late, later than most children, in beginning to talk. Some of them have very severe mental retardation. Because there are many reasons that some children begin talking late does not mean that we can say that mental retardation has nothing to do with it.  But there are other children who talked late and grew up to be intelligent and in some cases geniuses like Albert Einstein.
I didn’t write a book that says discrimination has no effect. There’d be no point in my writing a whole chapter on discrimination in the book if discrimination had no effect.  I did write this book to say that disparities arise from all kinds of factors.
Hogberg: Is it possible for people to face severe discrimination and still prosper?
Sowell:  Yes. The Jews are a classic example. So are the overseas Chinese. Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. You could run through a long list of them.
Hogberg: How important is geography in affecting outcomes?
Sowell: Huge. Just one of the reasons it is important is the enormous difference in the cost of land transport versus water transport. One example I note in the book is that in the days of the Roman Empire you could ship cargo the length of the Mediterranean Sea, more than 2,000 miles, at a cost less than the cost of carting that same cargo 75 miles inland. So, if you lived 75 miles inland, you had nothing like the prosperity that you had on the coast.
And while modern transportation has eased some of that cost, it has by no means eliminated it. So even now, if you are born up in the mountains and someone else is born in the river valley, then the odds are huge against you of ever being as prosperous as that person born near the river.
Hogberg: Before I move on from our discussion of the Invincible Fallacy, I want to briefly talk about genetic determinism. Today, the idea that difference between races is due solely to genetics is pretty much limited to the political fringes in the U.S. But 100 years ago it was huge among the intelligentsia, correct?
Sowell: Absolutely. For example, John Maynard Keynes set up the first eugenics society at Cambridge. And there were many others—Madison Grant, Woodrow Wilson, Harold Laski, George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells. In fact, just recently I was looking back over R.H. Tawney’s 1931 book “Equality.” He’s this great egalitarian who says in passing that there is proof of the genetic inferiority of certain peoples.
Hogberg: Now, regarding the practice of discrimination, in your book you note that even if, say, employers are racist and they want to discriminate in their hiring practices, there are often powerful forces that may prevent them from doing so. Can you explain?
Sowell:  It depends on the context. If, for example, it is an industry operating in a labor market in which there is a chronic surplus of qualified job applicants, then it costs the employer nothing to turn away qualified applicants from groups he doesn’t like and instead hire people from groups he does like that are still qualified.
But you seldom have that in a free market because wages adjust over time. You may have temporary surpluses or shortages, but those things tend to self-correct. It is when you have something like the minimum wage law, where you raise the wage rate above where it would be in a free market. Therefore, you increase the amount of workers available to the industry but you reduce the quantity of workers that employers demand because labor is now more expensive. And so you create a chronic surplus of labor.
I go into detail about the minimum wage in the book. And what is fascinating to me is to look back to 1948, when, for all practical purposes, the minimum wage law didn’t apply because inflation had made all wages above what was specified in the law. At that time not only was unemployment as a whole a fraction of what it is today, there was no difference between the unemployment rate of black teenagers and white teenagers. Today that seems almost impossible to believe.
It’s only later on, when politicians started increasing the minimum wage to keep up with inflation and so on, that’s when the total unemployment of teenagers in general became some multiple of what it was in 1948. And that’s when a gap opened up between the unemployment rate of black teenagers and white teenagers.
So, the increase in unemployment among black teenagers was not due to racism, which was at least as great in 1948 as it is today. Rather, the cost of discrimination to the discriminator had changed. You lowered the cost of discrimination. As you would expect, you lower the cost and more is demanded.
Hogberg: There were even costs to discrimination in South Africa, correct?
Sowell: Even in South Africa. That was the classic case. And I use that example in the book instead of getting bogged down in these questions about how much racism exists and so forth. I deliberately picked the country where there is no question at all about the racism of the people in control of the country. Which is to say that the whites had openly proclaimed white supremacy. And yet in South Africa, there were occupations where the black workers outnumbered the white workers even though it was illegal to hire any black workers in that occupation. And this was not due to the white employers having different social views. Rather, the cost to them of not hiring blacks was just too high.
If I may, just the other day I came across an article about how employers setting up new factories in the United States have been deliberately locating those factories away from concentrations of black populations because they find it costlier to hire blacks than to hire whites with the same qualifications. The reason is that the way civil rights laws are interpreted, it is so easy to start a discrimination lawsuit which can go on for years and cost millions of dollars regardless of the outcome.
It makes no sense from a business standpoint to hire a black worker if a white worker can be hired with the same qualifications who can’t start a lawsuit. So what this suggests is that when you give some people special rights, those special rights have special costs, not only to other people but to the people with special rights.
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Hogberg: Related to discrimination, you have a section where you note that Harlem, which was predominately white in the early 20th century, was less hostile toward blacks when it came to providing housing that blacks could afford than San Francisco is today. Please explain.
Sowell: The landlords of Harlem weren’t less hostile toward blacks, they were more hostile. The realtors and building owners were assuring the white tenants that they were not going to let any blacks move into Harlem and, thus, there was no reason for their tenants to leave. Well, as it turned out that was a bad prediction. And my point is the reason it failed was the cost to the discriminators.
Now, if every single realtor in Harlem had stood firm on not letting blacks into Harlem, then Harlem might not be black today. But even racists, who prefer one race to another by definition, tend to prefer themselves most of all. So if a landlord has a building where he is having trouble finding tenants at the prices he wants to charge, but he can find blacks willing to pay those prices, then he is not going to pass up that money. Most people would not. And once that process starts, it becomes costlier and costlier for the holdouts among landlords and realtors to continue holding out.
Now, in San Francisco, they have restricted the supply of housing by restricting the building of housing. And there is no cost—people who already own houses or apartment buildings can easily vote to restrict the building of more housing. That causes the price of existing housing to go up. So, by 2005, the number of blacks living in San Francisco was less than half of what it had been in 1970 even though the total population of the city had increased. And that’s because more and more blacks were priced out of the housing market and forced economically to leave San Francisco.
So I doubt there was anywhere near the amount of hostility toward blacks in San Francisco in the late 20th century as there was toward blacks in Harlem one hundred years earlier. But where the cost of discrimination was low, people discriminated and where it was high they had to give it up.
Hogberg: Let’s talk about crime. You write, “Statistics cited in support of claims that the police target blacks usually go no farther than showing that the proportion of black people arrested greatly exceeds the roughly 13 percent of the American population who are black.” Why is that charge misleading?
Sowell:  It’s misleading because what is relevant is not the percentage of people in a population but the percentage of people who are doing a given thing, in this case committing crimes. As long as there has been data collected, the homicide rate among blacks has been some multiple of the homicide rate among whites. Among blacks and whites, murderers tend to kill people among their own race. It’s the one area where segregation still reigns. And so, therefore, the relevant comparisons are the number of black homicide victims as compared to white victims and the number of blacks arrested for homicide as compared to whites.
The media have this thing where they do not mention the race of people who commit a crime but they do mention the race of people who are punished for committing a crime. Well, just from that one inconsistency you can generate a whole range of outrageous rhetoric about how the cops are targeting blacks.
There have been studies, for example, of people who are speeding on the highway, and they show that blacks speed more than whites. Therefore, it is not at all surprising if the cops pull over more black motorists than white motorists. So the whole argument that cops are discriminating against blacks falls apart when you put facts into the equation. Unfortunately, there are lots of people who have great incentive to avoid putting facts into the equation.
Hogberg: In other books you talk about what you call the “cracker culture” among blacks. What is that, and how much does that have to do with the higher crime rates in black areas in the U.S.?
Sowell: It’s many things. It’s a culture that is far more violent. It is far less oriented around education or entrepreneurship. It puts far less emphasis on human capital. Andrew Carnegie once went down to Birmingham and saw iron ore and coal located very close to each other. He wondered why someone hadn’t thought to build a steel mill there. The transportation costs of bringing the coal and iron ore together would be relatively cheap.
But, of course, the people in Alabama were not the same as Andrew Carnegie. And even years later when they did develop a steel industry in the South, the more complicated things that had to been done with steel were still being done in Pittsburgh and Gary, Indiana and other places in the North because they did not have the same skills in the South.
Now, the white population in the American South has had a higher violent crime rate than the white population of the rest of the country. Nor is this unusual. The murder rates in Eastern Europe have for centuries been some multiple of the murder rates in Western Europe. Like so many things that should theoretically be equal, they’re not, and they never have been.
Now, of course, over 90 percent of blacks in the U.S. came out of the South at some point in history. And so it’s not surprising that they bring many of the same cultural attitudes of Southern Whites to the North, East and wherever else they settle.
There is a whole history behind these things. But whatever the history, these groups were culturally different whether they were black or white or whatever.
Hogberg: You have a section on merit versus productivity, and you discuss the difficulties in judging merit in the sense of moral worth. Can you talk about that?
Sowell: Merit is the extent to which outcomes are due to the virtues of the particular individual compared to those circumstances the individual was born into or encountered in the larger world. I find it hard to believe that anyone specifically thinks that he can separate those things out in order to tell who is meritorious. Perhaps a mass murderer would have turned out to be a humanitarian under some other conditions, but we don’t know what those other conditions would be, and we certainly don’t know how to change him from a mass murderer into a humanitarian. And so we have to deal with things as they are.
What we can judge is productivity. We do know that someone will, say, produce a certain amount of a product per hour, while someone else will produce a lot more and someone else will produce a lot less. One of the problems of the political left is that they come up with things that they want to do, but pay very little attention to the key question of can you actually do those things? For example, wealth redistribution.
Those on the political left have no question in their minds that they can determine which rich people are unworthy and thus it is justifiable to confiscate wealth from them, and which poor people are worthy and should be given that wealth. One of the key problems for such schemes is that the source of wealth is human capital—the skills and knowledge about how to generate wealth.
Human capital is inside people’s heads and it can’t be confiscated. You can confiscate money and wealth and all the tangible things that you want to, but those things wear out over time. And unless you have someone there who can generate some more, you are worse off than before.
There are countries that have gone through that process and I mention some of them in the book. Some group in a country is prospering wonderfully and then a political leader says, well they have too much, we’ll take it from them. In some cases, they expel that group and in other cases, those people flee to a different country because they are tired of people taking their wealth.
Hogberg: Let me pose a related question. In Washington, D.C., there is the Trump International Hotel, owned by Donald Trump. People who stay there are certainly lining Donald Trump’s pockets. Now, Trump is certainly not a paragon of virtue. He has not been faithful to his wives for example, and he has at one time or another associated himself with vile people like Roy Cohn. What would you say to people who say it is immoral to book a room at Trump International Hotel?
Sowell: Is it immoral to buy a Volkswagen because Hitler was one of those promoting the Volkswagen? I mean, the Trump Hotel notion is silly beyond words. Perhaps there should be a moral surcharge based on the background of Hilton or some other hotel founder before we book a room at any of them? Again, that is asking people to do something we are not equipped to do.
Hogberg: Toward the end of the book you talk about what we can learn by examining the causes of disparities among different groups, and you write, “We can learn how dangerous it is, to a whole society, to incessantly depict outcome differences as evidence or proof of malevolent actions that need to be counter-attacked or avenged.” Why is that dangerous?
Sowell:  I think we’ve seen a good illustration of why it is dangerous based on what has happened in the U.S. and Britain since the 1960s. Back then, one of the big preoccupations was with countering the fact that some people had more than other people. What the political left sets out to do is one thing; what they’ve actually done is quite another.
The left has polarized whole societies. They have set the sexes against each other, the races against each other, the classes against each other. They have delegitimized moral principles, they have delegitimized law and order, and the consequences can be seen almost daily. For example, the homicide rate among black males fell by 18 percent in the 1940s and by 22 percent in the 1950s. In the 1960s, it rose by dozens of percentage points—I don’t recall the exact number. [The homicide rate among black males per 100,000 population rose about 83 percent from 1960 to 1970—Ed.]
Steven Pinker’s book on violence internationally shows that this trend in homicide rates is something that happened across the Western world at the same time. There were declines in homicide rates until 1960, and then in the 1960s homicide rates did a U-turn. They shot up to levels that hadn’t been seen since the 19th century. It was quite a coincidence. Indeed, there were many such “coincidences” of trends that were getting better and then suddenly turned around and started getting worse in the 1960s.
Now the academics who study the history of that era aren’t likely to see it since they are often too busy celebrating the 1960s. Thus, the bad ideas and their consequence are not the sorts of things academics are going to put into their books.   
Hogberg: What changed in the 1960s that caused all of that?
Sowell:  It is what I call the “Social Justice” vision. That is, if there are disparities, it proves that somebody was wronged by somebody else. It’s one of those things that you don’t need one speck of evidence for. It sounds so good that many people will easily buy into it.
And many people around the world have paid with their lives for that vision. Especially in communist countries where communists came to power to supposedly correct such disparities. And once the communists are in power they create problems that make the problems that came before seem like nothing.
But that’s true of the left in general. They judge their actions by the wonderful things they are trying to do and are often oblivious to the actual harm they visibly doing to society.
Hogberg: Related to that, did you follow the controversy surrounding the actor Jussie Smollett? And what impact do hate-crime hoaxes have on fomenting racial hatred? 
Sowell: I’ve tried not to, but it is hard to escape. The impact certainly isn’t good. What’s amazing is how impervious some people are to evidence that the charges are hoaxes. I think back to the Duke-Lacrosse case, where people were just hell-bent on believing that this terrible crime had been committed. And counter evidence didn’t stop the prosecution or the public. Some people, activists especially, are primed to believe certain things and when they see an opportunity they run with it, facts be damned.
Hogberg: We have an epidemic of hate crime hoaxes in the nation, going back at least ten years. Do you think that has a lot to do with the social justice vision?
Sowell:  Yes. Especially given that these claims are so readily believed and rewarded.  You can turn in the grievances for benefits just like they were airline miles.
Hogberg: And what makes it even worse is that Smollett got off with a slap on the wrist, apparently because he is connected to someone close to former President Obama.
Sowell: Yes. And that’s one of the deadly costs of all this stuff. You eventually erode the faith people have in the law. And once people no longer have faith in the law, you cannot hire enough police officers to maintain law. When the lawbreakers are a small group, the cops can keep that under control. But once the idea that the law is just a racket becomes pervasive then society is in a very dangerous situation.
Hogberg: You write that our society has a taboo “against discussing anything that might be considered negative in the individual behavior or social culture of lagging groups” and that is “counterproductive.” Why is that taboo counter-productive?
Sowell: It is counterproductive because human beings of every conceivable background are so imperfect that to exempt anybody from criticism is not a benefit but a curse. Think of the proverbial mother who dotes on her child and makes excuses for everything he does wrong. That child is going to have some hard time in our society. The reason is that not everybody is going to be making up excuses for him. And he could even end up behind bars for a long time because he didn’t realize that people other than his mother wouldn’t make excuses for him.
Hogberg: Finally, you’ve now released a revised edition of “Discrimination and Disparities,” a book that challenges this widely held notion that most if not all disparities are due to discrimination such as racism and sexism. And yet, outside of conservative media, this book doesn’t seem to be getting any attention. Why is that?
Sowell: I think back to a time when my books were reviewed not only by The New York Times but also the New York Review of Books. These days that doesn’t happen. I can’t say definitively, but I think people find that their best strategy is to pretend my books don’t exist if they can’t answer the arguments in them. And it’s not just with my writing but also other writers who challenge the prevailing vision. Their books are not going to get reviewed because the reviewers who believe in the prevailing vision don’t have a very effective answer to that challenge.
David Hogberg is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research. He is author of Medicare’s Victims: How the U.S. Government’s Largest Health Care Programs Harms Patients and Impairs Physicians.

With judge's ruling, Obama gets his lakefront Temple of Love
June 12, 2019

Obama Library

Barack Obama points out features of his proposed presidential center in Chicago, May 3, 2017.(Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Now that a federal judge has decreed that Chicago’s great temple to Barack Obama can be built without delay — you can almost hear Obama himself say the words, “Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair!” — there remains a nagging question:
Did Obama truly help Chicago, the city of his political birth, by taking care of the Daleys and installing Rahm Emanuel as mayor?
Or did Obama turn his back on Chicago once he became president, worrying more about his March Madness brackets than the constant slaughter by the street gangs that continues to this day?
It’s probably best that we leave that to the historians.
Let’s hope they fight it out, perhaps even to the death on the roof of the gigantic Obama Temple of Love and Fealty.
Best they fight before a giant stone carved head of Obama, the head gliding on a series of cunningly placed ball bearings, so that it might swivel this way and that to fix its glowing green eyes upon evil.
Chicago is beset by unending violence, unending political corruption and unyielding public workers pension debt, and lags far behind other cities in economic development for poor neighborhoods.
But at least Chicago will have the $500 million Obama Temple. Politicians can hold fundraisers there. Chicago will be the envy of the world.
I can’t wait till they name some of the meeting and entertainment areas. My preferences? The Kim Foxx Recusal Room, the Fast and Furious Ante Room, and the Jussie Smollett Lounge of Justice.
All that may or may not happen — probably not. But it might, you just never know.
What we do know for certain is that U.S. District Court Judge John Blakey on Tuesday tossed out a federal lawsuit filed by a group called Protect Our Parks that would have stopped construction of the Obama center.
Judge Blakey, who had the good fortune to have been made a federal judge by President Obama, said there “should be no delay” in construction, adding with a flourish, “this case is dismissed.”
The protect the parks group said it would appeal.
Who does Protect Our Parks think they are, anyway?
They had the audacity to believe that Chicago officials really meant it back in 1836 when they designated the lakefront as “Public Ground — A Common to Remain Forever Open, Clear and Free of any Buildings, or other Obstruction Whatever.”
The “Forever Open, Clear and Free” line was used to stop the Lucas (aka Star Wars) Museum, which could have been nice if our politicians dressed up in furry Ewok costumes and re-enacted thrilling action scenes from the space opera.
And “Forever Open, Clear and Free” was also used to stop a lakefront park land grab by the politically influential Chicago’s Children’s Museum, whose top cheerleader was the then-Mayor Richard M. Daley.
But “Forever Open, Clear and Free” had no chance against the Obama Temple of Love and Fealty, because, well, it’s Barack Obama, and he has superpowers.
“I would like to see us get to a point where we can get this resolved,” said Mayor Lori Lightfoot. “It’s a great honor for our city that the Obamas have chosen Chicago for their presidential center, but I also understand the concerns of people in the neighborhood in particular who are worried about what this huge megadevelopment is going to mean for their lives.”
Technically the huge building on the lakefront is being called the Obama Presidential Center, not the Obama Presidential Library, since a presidential library holds presidential papers for historians, and that’s not what’s planned in Chicago. They probably think we can’t read.
If it’s going to be just a pretentious temple of secular worship, couldn’t they at least call it a Presidential Centre?
But Chicago will at least get a place to quietly contemplate the awesomeness of Obama, while the city goes broke, and it’ll only cost about $500 million, with another $200 million or so from taxpayers for street construction. Maybe more. Who knows?
I heard a rumor that the Pritzkers, who are pushing this thing, have a few bucks, maybe more than a few?
If they want an Obama Temple, why don’t they buy the land and build it in, say, South Chicago, where Obama was once a community organizer?
They could plop down this political love temple at 87th and Commercial rather than building it in a once inviolate lakefront park. Come on, rich Pritzkers, where do you think you are, ancient Rome?
Just a few years or so ago, most people agreed that the lakefront should be left alone. Other cities defiled their lakefronts, but Chicago didn’t.
But Obama wants his temple of love, fealty and adoration.
And what Obama wants, Obama gets, no matter who pays.
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Friday, June 14, 2019

Bruce Springsteen review, Western Stars: Sumptuous, cinematic album is nothing short of a late-period masterpiece

Mark Beaumont
12 June 2019

He strapped his hands ’cross the engines of suicide machines with the small-town teenage runaways in the Seventies. He swung pickaxes into the blacktop with the blue-collar highway workers in the Eighties. He’s swigged whiskey at night with the weary and grit-dusted ever since.
Bruce Springsteen seems to have told almost every tale in the grand old storybook of American mythologies, except perhaps one: a wide-eyed Californian dreamer finds the Golden State turns sour and flees back east, to some romantic speck of a town, to pine and rehabilitate. It’s the classic pop plotline of Bacharach and David’s “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?”, and it’s a tale Springsteen taps repeatedly here, on his sumptuous, cinematic 19th album, which is nothing short of a late-period masterpiece.
The Western Stars are the broken, ex-addict stuntman hobbling through “Drive Fast (The Stuntman)” and the washed-up cowboy actor trawling the Hollywood gutter bar scene on the title track, reliving the time he took an onscreen bullet from John Wayne shot by shot, for shots. But Springsteen’s faded stars include anyone that’s been beaten down by California: both “Chasin’ Wild Horses” and “Tucson Train” concern heartbroken lovers hitting the inland road to rebuild their lives in some far-away town.
In further tribute to Bacharach, rather than pluck these stories from a keening guitar, Bruce lavishes them with opulent strings and Sixties easy listening horns, as if overseeing a catalogue of west coast devastation from some Malibu beach house commanding a view from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Bellagio fountains.
Having restated his rock’n’roll credentials on 2012’s Wrecking Ball, here Springsteen channels a Sixties crooner, and the album is as sleekly delivered as any Dionne Warwick TV special. “There Goes My Miracle” is pure euphoric orchestral pop, and there are parts of barfly lament “Sundown” where you’d swear The Boss has been possessed by the spirit of Gene Pitney, singing into a microphone that looks like a lollipop with his shirt collar down to his knees.
Yet, beneath the John Williams-style crescendos and Pacific Palisades twinkles, Springsteen’s sublime portraiture of the American struggle – his protagonists walking with him through the ages of life as he goes – endures. “Hitch Hikin’” and “The Wayfarer” are both charmed odes to the lost and rootless. “Sleepy Joe’s Café” is jubilant Latin pop, a remake of “Glory Days” tracing a weekend in the life of the hottest desert party bar in the state. A stark, dream-like subtlety suits Springsteen best here, as on the regretful “Stones” – a husband admitting to the marital lies that choke him daily – or the final “Moonlight Motel”, in which a ruined soul haunts the car park of the shut-down motel where long-snuffed passions ran riot.
Where most rock superstars sink into trad tedium by 69, Springsteen is still crafting sophisticated paeans of depth and illumination, a rock grandmaster worthy of the accolade. A must-have for anyone who has a heart.

Review: Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Western Stars’ has a new sound but familiar lyrical themes
June 12, 2019

Image result for bruce springsteen western stars

In his 2016 autobiography “Born to Run,” Bruce Springsteen wrote about his fondness for hitchhiking, and the fact that he did it often, as a young man in the ’60s.
“Every sort of rube, redneck, responsible citizen and hell-raiser the Jersey Shore had to offer, I rode with ’em,” he wrote. “I loved hitchhiking and meeting people. I miss it today.”
Western Stars, Springsteen’s new album — which will be released on June 14 – starts with a song, “Hitch Hikin’,” that evokes that enthusiasm, and the carefree days (“I follow the weather and the wind”) that are long behind him now. I don’t think it’s an accident that one of the cars mentioned in the song is a “souped-up ’72”: Springsteen was discovered and signed to Columbia Records in 1972, so that was a big coming-of-age year for him. In a sense, ’72 was his last year of innocence.
The gorgeous, consistently absorbing and only rarely innocent-sounding Western Stars is populated by the types of rubes, rednecks, responsible citizens and hell-raiser a hitchhiker might meet, in the course of a lifetime. It’s one of the most character-driven albums of Springsteen’s career, and pretty much devoid of anything resembling a rock anthem. Springsteen’s vocal delivery tends to be dry and deliberate, though it occasionally builds to a heartfelt croon.
It’s a musically cohesive album, with its rich, orchestral arrangements evoking ’60s and ’70s hits by Glen Campbell, Harry Nilsson, Burt Bacharach, Roy Orbison and others. It sounds, in other words, unlike any other Springsteen album (though there have been hints of this sound in songs such as”Girls in Their Summer Clothes,” “Secret Garden” and “Queen of the Supermarket”).
Lyrically, though, it very much continues themes that Springsteen has been developing throughout his 46 years as a recording artist. Some of the characters are born to run. Others are feeling the pulls of the ties that bind. Some are trying to find a balance between these two traits that coexist within themselves.
Springsteen signals that he knows he’s visited this thematic territory before by singing, on “The Wayfarer”:
Same sad story, love and glory goin’ ’round and ’round
Same old cliché, a wanderer on his way, slippin’ from town to town
Some find peace here on the sweet streets, the sweet streets of home
Where kindness falls and your heart calls for a permanent place of your own
Regrets? These characters have had a few. Or, as Springsteen sings in “Chasin’ Wild Horses”:
Guess it was somethin’ I shouldn’t have done
Guess I regret it now
Ever since I was a kid
Tryin’ to keep my temper down is like
Chasin’ wild horses
The album’s title has a double meaning, referring not only to celestial bodies but also, in the title track, to an actor in western movies, grown older now and living, to some extent, in the past. He is making ends meet by appearing in commercials, and enjoying the fact that people will buy him drinks because he was once killed by John Wayne in a movie. (In other words, he’s like the ex-high school baseball player in “Glory Days”).
Similarly, the resilient central character in “Drive Fast (The Stuntman)” has the scars to show for the physical chances he took in his profession. But even though he’s got a steel rod in his leg, he shrugs, “it walks me home.”
Not surprisingly, some of the most accessible songs already have been released. “Tucson Train” is a crisp, catchy song about starting over again. And “There Goes My Miracle” swells with larger-than-life emotion in a way that most of this generally understated album doesn’t.
It will be interesting to see what Springsteen does with these songs live, since they often sound more like something you’d hear on a movie soundtrack than at an arena-rock show. My guess is he’ll rearrange some of them rather than trying to reproduce them, note for note. But that’s really a question for another day. For now (or, I guess I should say, once the album comes out), just set aside some time so you can really focus on the music, maybe via headphones — so you can hear every small detail — and enjoy it.
I tend to view Springsteen’s recording career as two acts: 1973-1987 and 1992-2019 (nothing much came out between ’88 and ’91). Act I represents one of the most stunning creative surges in rock history; little in Act II comes close to the best songs and albums of Act I.
Yet Springsteen has had some moments of greatness in 1992-2019, too, and Western Stars, I believe, should be regarded as one of his best albums of that time period. And let me remind you, now, that Springsteen is 69 years old: I can’t think of another artist who has, at that age, released an album that has been so solid in its songwriting as well as such a big departure from the artist’s sonic norm.
To order the album, visit

Bruce Springsteen, Western Stars, review: born to run, destined to stick around
13 June 2019

Bruce Springsteen Western Stars
(Danny Clinch)

When Bruce Springsteen started out, he was a young man, frustrated at small-town life, roaring that he was born to run. In some ways he didn’t get very far, as he pointed out in recent one-man show Springsteen On Broadway. Over 40 years later, he still lives 10 minutes from his hometown of Freemantle, New Jersey.

Springsteen turns 70 this year. He rose to stardom exploring the drudgery, sacrifice and rewards of working-class life while expressing a profound yearning for escape. The open road looms large in his songs, and in the mythology of America, but there is a very bittersweet tang to Springsteen’s latest road trip.

“It’s the same old cliché/ Wanderer on his way/ Slipping from town to town,” Springsteen sings on The Wayfarer, acknowledging the itinerant leitmotif of his art. Even as the melody rises in a glorious rush of strings, the mood is tinged with regret. “Where are you now?” calls the wayfarer, thoughts stuck on someone left behind.

Nostalgia has always been a core part of Springsteen’s oeuvre. The souped-up Seventies sound he created with the E Street Band was never particularly progressive, amalgamating blues, folk and rock ’n’ roll with the gossamer magic of pre-Beatles pop melodies and Phil Spector-style Wall of Sound production.

On Western Stars, he follows an alternative thread of Sixties pop, evoking the orchestral baroque country of Jimmy Webb and Glen Campbell. Orchestras are woven into songs at source, with lush strings, booming timpani and flourishes of horns, while pedal steel guitars and tremolo effects add electric resonances. Springsteen drives proceedings with acoustic strumming, the rough tones of his voice rooting the symphonic gorgeousness in gritty reality. It stands comparison with his very best solo albums.

Lyrics offer character sketches, lives caught with a few deft lines and evocative melodies. The title track pictures a washed-up Hollywood actor advertising Viagra, Drive Fast portrays a lonely, broken-down stuntman and Somewhere North of Nashville gives us an embittered songwriter who traded love for “a melody and time to kill”.

The narrative is far from remorselessly bleak, however, lifted by the music and by Springsteen’s compassion for his characters. He has acknowledged lifelong struggles with depression, but the soaring Hello Sunshine chooses connection over the defeatist romance of isolation. It is a reminder that Springsteen’s own life as a touring musician has been grounded in family and domesticity (he has been married to his E Street bandmate Patti Scialfa since 1991).

With its tension between escapism and responsibility, Western Stars is an album about reaching the end of the road, and what you might find there.

Today's Tune: Bruce Springsteen - Western Stars (Official Video)

All He Wanted Was To Be Free: Where Bruce Springsteen's 'Western Stars' Came From

By Ann Powers
June 13, 2019

(Danny Clinch)

In 1981, after reading the paraplegic veteran Ron Kovic's memoir Born on the Fourth of July, Bruce Springsteen staged a concert to benefit the advocacy group Vietnam Veterans of America. For the encore, he played a song he hadn't performed before and hasn't since. Roger McGuinn's "The Ballad of Easy Rider" is a slow-rolling meditation on freedom's attractions and its costs that McGuinn wrote after Bob Dylan offered him one couplet scrawled on a napkin: "The river flows, it flows to the sea/wherever that river goes, that's where I want to be." The song soundtracks an idyllic early scene in Dennis Hopper's hugely influential 1969 road movie Easy Rider, as he and his co-star Peter Fonda (playing drug-dealing hippie outlaws named Billy and Wyatt) ride their motorcycles through a magical Southwestern landscape. It plays again over the closing credits, after Billy and Wyatt have been shot dead on a Louisiana back road by a passing redneck. Springsteen's cover, according to his biographer Dave Marsh, was a nod to veterans' love for the song, with its undercurrents of social exile and personal loss. Reworking it in concert, the Boss also paid tribute to a type of hit he often emulated on his own albums: the big, highly produced existential rock ballad, whose rise dates from around the time Easy Rider redefined the road movie as an expression of young people's confusion and weariness as the 1960s ended and the Nixon era began.

It's possible to trace the path taken by Springsteen's new, highly orchestrated solo album, Western Stars, all the way back to his decision to cover "The Ballad of Easy Rider" thirty years ago. McGuinn's rendition in the film is relatively spare, but his band The Byrds released a version featuring a string section, added by producer Terry Melcher, to up its odds of becoming a Top 40 hit in the style of popular crooners like Glen Campbell. In Springsteen's take (findable on YouTube) Danny Federici's trickling piano lines fill in for the strings, echoing their presence in a ghostly but convincing way. Now, all this time later, Springsteen has found his way to those strings.

Springsteen's embrace of what became known around 1966 as "orchestral pop" has struck many who've heard Western Stars as a major turn, one perhaps inspired by his recent time spent on Broadway, the home of show tunes. But Western Stars is not the Boss's West Side Story. Instead, it connects to a different sensibility altogether, one closer to Easy Rider and other cinematic landmarks of the imploding 1960s cultural revolution. More pointedly, Western Stars connects to a certain stream of pop balladry that emerged in tandem with Hollywood's turn toward hippie antiheroes – songs that ask a question similar to the one haphazardly posed by Easy Rider: Who gets hurt when people, especially men, try to be free? "All he wanted was to be free, and that's the way it turned out to be," McGuinn sings in "Easy Rider," contemplating the crash on the highway where Wyatt and Billy lay.

Writing in 1975, the film theorist Thomas Elsaesser coined the term "the pathos of failure" to describe the feeling movies like Easy Rider captured — the poignancy of modern masculinity's fatalistic drift. In Fonda's Wyatt, an American flag patch affixed to his motorcycle jacket, he saw a new kind of antihero. Leather-clad and slim, this "unmotivated hero" wanders the landscape not looking for anything in particular, but not really escaping either, just spinning wheels. His psychic exhaustion has no room for the driven energy earlier road-bound heroes possessed, whether they were the Wild West's cowboys or the nervous escapees of film noir. Those characters usually met gruesome ends but still believed in themselves, or in trying, at least. The unmotivated hero has no hope, and no feeling that it matters whether he does or not. This attitude resonated at the turn of the 1970s, as a would-be cultural revolution gave way to the square realities of mainstream life: Nixonian politics, suburban sprawl, what Elsaesser called "stunned moments of inconsequentiality." On Western Stars, in songs that aren't particularly attached to a historical moment, Springsteen pursues a similar mood of anomie.

Masculine damage is one of Springsteen's great topics, and it's not at all surprising that he revisits it throughout Western Stars. Over the decades he has written hundreds of humbly nihilistic lines like the one that opens the album's symphonic yet still somehow modest-feeling title track: "I wake up in the morning, just glad my boots are on." Continuing his long line of unreliable narrators, the voices in these songs mostly belong to older inhabitants of unstable professions – the movie industry, songwriting, shift and contract work – who pine for more stable lives with the women upon whom they rely, but are convinced they can't return to them. These characters are more seasoned versions of the petty street criminals of Springsteen's early and mid-period work, kin to the broken soldiers and immigrant drug runners of his 1980s and 1990s albums, and also to the "I" he inhabited on his more autobiographical solo albums, expressing various states of mental unrest.

Springsteen often uses the ballad form to tell the stories of these unstable characters, and he's challenged himself to keep the music fresh. On 1982's Nebraska he recorded at home, by himself, producing a sound that some considered "folk" but which was closer to the work of edgy singer-songwriters like Townes Van Zandt. 1995's The Ghost of Tom Joad conscientiously connected to folk traditions. More recently, he's worked with pop-savvy studio men like Brendan O'Brien and Ron Aniello, who's also behindWestern Stars, dipping more than a toe in the classic pop sound he's now fully embraced. Two of his best songs from this century, "The Wrestler" and "Girls in Their Summer Clothes," could have easily appeared on Western Stars, with their stories of alluring ramblers who are starting to fade into the cultural background, set within sumptuous arrangements. This album feels like an extension of that work. His characters here voice a hard-won maturity, though most remain unfulfilled. Sometimes, as on the sanguine early single "Hello Sunshine," they even are able to compromise their dreams and settle for a kind of happiness. They represent the imagined afterlives of the unmotivated heroes of Easy Rider, trying to figure out what their unexpectedly longer lives mean.

To find inspiration for stories like these, Springsteen looked not to the movies of his young adulthood, which usually ended in fiery explosions or shootouts or sudden cuts to black, but to the songs that brought the unmotivated hero's voice to the radio in the same cultural moment. Early reviews of Western Stars note the sources: the songbooks of rock and soul-inspired 1960s and 1970s hitmakers like Jimmy Webb, Harry Nilsson and the team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Their songs don't sound like they belong to outsiders: awash in violins and woodwinds, they claim none of the raucousness of rock and roll. But they express loss, and the state of being lost, as effectively as Easy Rider did in its more unhinged and violent way. "Everybody's Talkin'," written by Fred Neil and covered by Harry Nilsson in a version that became the theme for another key film of 1969, Midnight Cowboy, is a prime example. Neil's original version was spare, but Nilsson's adds strings, and they almost constitute a drone, creating an undertow that propels the guitar and lightly brushed drum and Nilsson's slippery vocals down the river toward oblivion. "Everybody's talkin' at me," he complains. "I can't hear a word they're sayin', only the echoes of my mind." The song is an expression of paranoia as much as it is a declaration of independence; it's about pushing off, but never landing.

How did songs like this, so obviously about trouble and defeat, find a home at the heart of mainstream pop? Making losers beautiful, they poetically reinforced the anxieties many people were feeling about the costs of freedom. Vietnam was coming to its ugly end, and the kids who'd hoped to change the world were starting to feel the damage their more reckless moments had wrought. A beautiful arrangement could hold the dark emotions of those times in a comforting embrace. This paradoxical combination is still what resonates about these songs. It's what brings the tears when we listen to the best songs by Jimmy Webb, like the soldier's anguished self-elegy "Galveston" or the workingman's crisis of faith "Wichita Lineman." The pathos of this music resides in its blend of musical sophistication and lyrical rawness. This is what Springsteen finds on Western Stars. Maybe it felt like a chance to take a path he'd avoided as a young rocker more intrigued by soul music and then punk; maybe he also recognized an echo that resonates today — a comforting musical palette that offered room to ruminate at a historical juncture, like our own, imbued with anxiety. "Make it easy on me just for a little while," Nilsson sings in "Don't Forget Me," another song that Springsteen might have spun while writing these. He's begging a lover he's probably wronged to put up with his pathetic ways, or at least his memory, for a little while; but he's also defining what his song does for the listener, creating a velvet cushion upon which to rest while pondering rough realities.

It's easy to make a playlist full of tracks like this from the 1960s and 1970, any of which might have been inspiration for Springsteen as he crafted Western Stars. (I've done so; the original article link above to find it) Start with "Early Morning Rain," written and recorded in 1966 by Gordon Lightfoot, one of the key figures in the mainstream folk revival, which embraced new sonic approaches – including string-kissed, Beatles-inspired arrangements – to render the sounds and stories of traditional music more accessible. The key line in Lightfoot's song — "You can't jump a jet plane like you can a freight train" – brings folk into the aerospace age, replacing the Woody Guthrie-era image of the wandering hobo with a less romantic one, of a traveler stranded by his own limitations within the cold confines of city life. Here, the drifter becomes modern. Folk rock offered many memorable takes on this figure over the years: the more sanguine one in Tom Rush's "No Regrets"; the beautifully bitter "Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues," by Danny O'Keefe; the drugged-out version in John Phillips's "Holland Tunnel"; Jackson Browne's road dog considering his lot in "The Load Out." This is the easy rider who makes it long enough to feel washed up. He shows up a few times on Western Stars: He's the songwriter who didn't make it in "Somewhere North of Nashville," and the stunt man who's feeling the pain of his injuries in "Drive Fast."

Country music is another prime conduit for exquisitely rendered existential angst. In tandem with the blues, it developed as music's repository of fully adult stories: It's where divorce, parenting, aging and other complex topics are tackled, and where subjects age, too, facing the consequences they've generated. In the 1960s, as it intersected with folk and, more subtly, rock, country also explored the tension generated when unvarnished emotions met ornate orchestration. Stars like Kris Kristofferson, Glen Campbell, Charlie Rich, Ronnie Milsap, Bobbie Gentry and even Elvis Presley made powerful songs at this crossroads. So did Nashville-influenced rockers like Bob Dylan and Neil Young, whose "A Man Needs A Maid," from 1972, is one the most vulnerable and disturbing musical expressions of the pathos of failure ever recorded. The lyric's deeply vulnerable (and paternalistic) expression of masculinity's emotional shortcomings – Young literally cries for a woman to help feed and clothe him, but then go away — gains its pathos from a grand orchestral arrangement. It's a lot like what Springsteen reaches for on Western Stars – long-cultivated loneliness turned into high drama.

The crisis Young expresses in "A Man Needs a Maid," like the one Springsteen's faithless lover faces in "Stones," doesn't immediately seem like a political one; and yet it is a reckoning with masculinity, an expression of how clinging to its privileges can destroy intimacy and make a man feel lost. The legacy Western Stars taps traveled similar ground when artists like Bill Withers or Marvin Gaye carried it into soul. "Gotta keep movin'," Gaye sings in "Trouble Man," exuding machismo but also deep disquiet. The song's sumptuous groove soothes but the voice at its core unsettles. A trouble man is a troubled man.

Western Stars sends this message, too, from a different point in time. The antiheroes Springsteen brings to life are not young men playing fast and loose with their destinies; they're not Easy Rider's Wyatt and Billy, nor are they his own earlier takes on those same characters, the Spanish Johnnys and Eddies and ragamuffin gunners he created in the 1970s. The men who populate Western Stars have sought freedom and know its edges in an unfree world. He knows these men well; on some level, they are him. Honoring a musical legacy he loves, Springsteen finds new life in familiar stories. "All he wanted was to be free, and that's the way it turned out to be," McGuinn wrote in the song Springsteen shared so long ago. Western Stars finds new places where that line can lead.