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Boss Borders

Bruce Springsteen’s global appeal has everything to do with his local focus, writes David Brooks in The New York Times (6/26/12). David came to this conclusion while following The Boss on tour in Spain and France, and watching in amazement as “56,000 enraptured Spaniards” pumped “their fists in the air and in fervent unison” while “bellowing at the top of their lungs, ‘I was born in the U.S.A.! I was born in the U.S.A!‘ … How was it that so many people in such a faraway place can be so personally committed to the deindustrializing landscape from New Jersey to Nebraska, the world Springsteen sings about?”

David’s theory is that the phenomenon has its roots in “paracosms,” the “detailed imaginary worlds” that children create, “sometimes complete with beasts, heroes and laws.” Paracosms “help us orient ourselves in reality,” he writes. “They are structured mental communities that help us understand the wider world … We carry this need for paracosms into adulthood,” David continues, adding: “It’s a paradox that the artists who have the widest global purchase are also the ones who have created the most local and distinctive story landscapes.”

This would apply to Bruce Springsteen, who has made a career of digging into a paracosm “of tramps, factory closings, tortured Catholic overtones and moments of rapturous escape.” This speaks to “the tremendous power of particularity,” of an identity “formed by hard boundaries … from a specific place.” It’s the idea that “if your concerns are expressed through a specific paracosm, you are going to have more depth and definition” and greater power to connect. David suggests there’s a lesson here for politicians and business leaders: “Don’t try to be citizens of some artificial globalized community,” he suggests. “Call more upon the geography of your own past … People will come.”