Even in doubt we can be faithful; we can be hopeful; we can be lovers. And we can’t ever forget it.
Brendan and I finally agree on something. As he and I continue to spar over the comparative merits of the new Mumford and Sons album, Babel, Busse its the nail on the head in his last essay (see also my review, which started the exchange). The task of Marcus Mumford is to give us signs of faith, hope, and love that we can never forget. And M&S do that – Marcus’s voice invites us to share in his piercing sentiments of the same.
But I want more. Specifically, I want these sentiments grounded in the events of life. And I get that from Bruce Springsteen. He shows us those signs and invites us to see those signs in what our own lives sets before us. Compare M&S’s “Broken Crown” to this, The Boss’s compelling finale to 1982’s poignant (and acoustic and direct) Nebraska:
Brendan quotes some lovely lyrics from “Broken Crown” that capture the urgency of making hope out of hopelessness.
Crawl on my belly until the sun goes down.
I’ll never wear your broken crown.
I took the road and I fucked it all away.
Now in this twilight, how dare you speak of grace?
Compare this with the third verse of “Reason to Believe”:
Now Mary Lou loved Johnny with a love mean and true
She said ‘Baby I’ll work for you every day and bring my money home to you’
One day he up and left her and ever since that
She waits down at the end of that dirt road for young Johnny to come back
Struck me kinda funny seemed kind of funny sir to me
How at the end of every hard earned day people find some reason to believe
You see, I’ve never crawled ‘till the sunset or worn shiny, broken headgear. I have seen a husband leave a wife. And in that moment, I can see with heartbreaking clarity exactly what it is for a creature to cry out in hopelessness. Mumford’s sentiments might evoke some vague yet powerful sense of being lost. But the look of the a speechless child clinging tight to the denim-clad leg of heartbroken mom? That’s what hopelessness looks like.
Bruce takes the sentiments that Marcus draws from our hearts and connects them in the sights and sounds of real life. He ties earnestness to experience, sentimentality to substance. And because of this, his lyrics acquire a power that Mumford’s cannot. (Just listen to Jon Stewart tell the President how The Boss can redeem our whole lives by tying our experiences to sentiments that Marcus expresses clearly. I’m not embarrassed at all to say this made me cry).
Brendan says this of “Hopeless Wanderer,” my favorite song M&S’s new album: “It’s a song in which Mr. Mumford embraces vulnerability and leaves the safety of the dark woods by choice (“I came out of the woods by choice” he sings).”
Trouble is, long after I forget which woods Marcus Mumford came out of by choice, if I ever knew it to begin with, I’ll remember still remember the The Boss’s image of that unforgettable Jersey gang-banger from his transcendent song “Atlantic City.” What does it look like to share the road with a hopeless wanderer? It’s putting your hair up all pretty and meeting him in AC: