The Catholic Boss – the Catholic undercurrent in Springsteen’s music

Anyone familiar with Bruce Springsteen’s lyrics should not be surprised that he was raised Catholic. In this clip from The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, which popped up in Catholic social media this week, he speaks a bit about his failed career as an altar boy. While that part of the conversation remains at the level of banter and joking, it gets interesting when Springsteen gets to talk about his music. And it is there that we find the more interesting Catholic bits as well.

In the video he quotes a line from Lost in the Flood (released on 1973’s Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.): “Nuns run bald through Vatican halls pregnant, pleadin’ immaculate conception”, admitting “It’s a little overheated, that line”. In the context of the song, the lyrics of which are pretty difficult to figure out, it contributes to an image of desolation and chaos, of glory gone by. That is how Springsteen uses Catholic words and concepts more often, as means to convey something else.  It’s  what an author does with things that are fundamental to his own identity.

An example: In Adam Raised a Cain (from Darkness on the Edge of Town), the opening lines use a description of baptism to outline the relationship between the protagonist and his father:

“In the summer that I was baptized, my father held me to his side
As they put me to the water, he said how on that day I cried
We were prisoners of love, a love in chains
He was standin’ in the door, I was standin’ in the rain
With the same hot blood burning in our veins
Adam raised a Cain”

On a broader scale, though, Springsteen’s lyrics exude a sense of hope, of commitment, care and the duty to provide for either yourself or your loved ones, even in the face of hopelessness. One example are these lines from Born to Run:

“Together, Wendy, we can live with the sadness, I’ll love you with all the madness in my soul
Whoah, someday girl, I don’t know when
We’re gonna get to that place where we really want to go and we’ll walk in the sun
But till then tramps like us, baby we were born to run”

That, too, in my mind, is innate to the Catholic faith. We’re not just here for ourselves, not just to muddle through live to see where we end up. No, there is a reason that we are here, a destiny and purpose to live that we should strive for, even if it seems hopeless. Because that is the paradox in our faith: we look towards something so unimaginably great and glorious, but we do so as human being with all our limitations and faults. We aim high, but we are, or should be, there for others when they fall (hoping that others will be there when we fall and get up again).

Springsteen’s lyrics are incredibly rich, and in my mind he is one of the great storytellers of our time. The Catholic element is often there, sometimes staring you right in the face, at other times well-hidden. It’s there like it is in everyday life.

(There are three more clips available on Youtube as well. They’re bound to show up in the suggested videos after watching the above one).

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I'm a 37-year-old lay Catholic from the diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden. I write about the Catholic Church in the Netherlands. I not only enjoy bringing selected developments to the attention of readers, but I also think that it is sometimes important to allow a wider audience to read about the state of the Church in the Netherlands. That's why a fair number of posts about that topic will be translations of Dutch articles, episcopal writings and whatever else.