Preaching The Bruce Springsteen Gospel When Jeffrey Symynkywicz preaches at his Unitarian Universalist church, he's often accompanied by the music of Bruce Springsteen. He's now managed to combine his theological training with his lifelong love of Springsteen's music.

Preaching The Bruce Springsteen Gospel

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When Jeffrey Symynkywicz preaches at his Unitarian Universalist church, he's often accompanied by music, but it's not the music you would expect.

(Soundbite of song "Born to Run")

HANSEN: The minister has been a fan of Bruce Springsteen since the beginning of The Boss' career.

(Soundbite of song "Born to Run")

Mr. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) In the day we sweat it out on the streets of a runaway American dream...

HANSEN: But now, Jeffrey Symynkywicz has managed to combine his theological training with his love of Springsteen's music. His new book is, "The Gospel According to Bruce Springsteen." And Jeffrey Symynkywicz joins us from the studios of WGBH in Boston, Massachusetts. Welcome to the program.

Mr. JEFFREY SYMYNKYWICZ (Author, "The Gospel According to Bruce Springsteen: Rock and Redemption from Asbury Park to Magic"): Well, good morning and I'm glad to be here. Thank you for having me.

HANSEN: Was there an "ahah" moment when you realized that Springsteen's music offered more than just good rock and roll?

Mr. SYMYNKYWICZ: There have been numerous ones over the course of 35 years now, almost. Probably from the first time I heard him, which was at my wife's senior prom, he's always had this amazing ability to be there when I needed a song to get me through a particular milestone in my life.

HANSEN: Let's start with his "Born to Run" recording. And in particular, the last moments of the last song on the album, and that's "Jungle Land." I want to ask you, first of all, what's the spiritual theme in the song? And what about that scream at the end?

(Soundbite of song "Jungle Land")

Mr. SYMYNKYWICZ: That scream is something. I always wonder why I wrote the book and why I don't just tell people, go out and listen to Springsteen, because that would probably be enough. The significance of "Jungle Land," I think, is that it's really an epic song. In the end, in "Jungle Land," the good guys lose and that scream is like the exhaustion and the pain of just living life in this world sometimes, which really gets us down and which is really painful and exhausting.

HANSEN: What is it about his music, then, that you think blends itself to theological interpretation? I mean, did you end up going through the whole discography(ph) and parsing the lyrics that could...

Mr. SYMYNKYWICZ: I do a lot of parsing all the time. And he's easy to parse because he'll throw in a song that just looks like a little love ditty. Some place he'll have a line about redemption, or faith, hope and love and they'll just happen to be faith, hope and love together, and you know it's not an accident if he puts three of them together like that.

HANSEN: Did you find one theme that appears over and over again in his music?

Mr. SYMYNKYWICZ: I think there are several. I think hope is never far from the surface in this music. And it's not pie in the sky, Pollyanna-kind of easy optimism hope. He presents life as it is, life in all its grit and all its pain and all its complication and dirtiness, really. But despair is never given the last word. There's always hope at the end of the song.

HANSEN: But given the theme of celebrating life, hope for the future, do you think...

Mr. SYMYNKYWICZ: Absolutely.

HANSEN: "Promised Land" from his album, "Darkness on the Edge of Town," would be a good example of that?

Mr. SYMYNKYWICZ: "Promised Land" is a wonderful idea. It just - it could be an any-man kind of song.

(Soundbite of song "Promised Land")

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Blow away the dreams that break your heart. Blow away the lies that leave you nothing but lost and brokenhearted.

Mr. SYMYNKYWICZ: Another thing I think Springsteen does is he reminds us that we all have stories. All of us in the course of our lives in this world live in epic. A full - we live the full five acts. I think Springsteen just helps us to be better people.

HANSEN: In your book you write about how Springsteen's music creates community, similar in the way that religion creates community. What do you mean by that?

Mr. SYMYNKYWICZ: There's a wonderful Springsteen community. It's like any family or like any religion, any church. It doesn't always get along with one another and people don't always agree with one another. His music is a bond for many of us. And I mean, going to a Springsteen concert is more like going to church than any church really is because it just - it enlivens the whole body and the whole soul, as well as just having somebody, like, talk at you all the time and whatever happens in church.

HANSEN: I want to play an excerpt from one song that appears on his recording, "The Rising." It's called "Mary's Place."

(Soundbite of song "Mary's Place")

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain. Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain, let it rain. Meet me at Mary's place, we're going to have a party...

HANSEN: That's probably the most rocking song on the album, "The Rising." And I...

Mr. SYMYNKYWICZ: Certainly, on "The Rising."

HANSEN: Yeah. And I have to admit, when I heard it - because sometimes I would hear religious references in some of his songs. I thought that perhaps "Mary's Place" was a metaphor for heaven.

Mr. SYMYNKYWICZ: That's a wonderful possibility, certainly. I see there's a metaphor for the church or the community of faith. You know, with the furniture out on the front porch and the shout from the crowd. But I spend a lot of time in churches, which is - it could be why I saw a church imagery there.

HANSEN: "The Rising" was released after the tragedies of September 11th. And the title tune, "The Rising," you refer to it as an Easter song. So can I assume the theme here is resurrection?

Mr. SYMYNKYWICZ: When I've heard Springsteen sing "The Rising" more recently, it started to sound more and more like a song of insurrection rather than a song of resurrection.

(Soundbite of song "The Rising")

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Left the house this morning. Bells ringing filled the air. I was wearin' the cross of my calling. On wheels of fire I come rollin' down here. Come on up for the rising. Come on up, lay your hands in mine.

HANSEN: The story that's being told is a firefighter and he's praying as he stands before his own judgment. And after that, there's like a chorus. You write it out as li, li, li.

(Soundbite of song "The Rising")

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Li,li, li,li,li,li,li,li,li

Mr. SYMYNKYWICZ: The li, li, lis that come out, I think, in "The Rising," is that song of life, that hallelujah in the face of even this terrible - if we can picture somebody going into the World Trade Center and just, you know, knowing he's going to die when he sees the havoc and all the terror and the fire and the blood and all that awful scene. Yet in spite of it, what he hears at that point, then, is the li, li, lis, he hears the hallelujahs of a life that never ends.

(Soundbite of song "The Rising")

HANSEN: I want to just move to his most recent recording, "Magic." And this is the tune that begins the album.

(Soundbite of song "Radio Nowhere")

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) I was tryin' to find my way home.

HANSEN: "Radio Nowhere."

Mr. SYMYNKYWICZ: That's right.

HANSEN: What's the message here?

Mr. SYMYNKYWICZ: He wants real life burgeoning forth. He wants just a genuine kind of explosion of creativity, a genuine explosion of music.

(Soundbite of song "Radio Nowhere")

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Is there anybody alive out there? This is radio nowhere, is there anybody alive out there? I was spinnin' 'round a dead dial. Just another lost number in a file.

HANSEN: You're not preaching this summer. You will resume in the fall. But are there Boss tunes you plan to use in your sermons in the future?

Mr. SYMYNKYWICZ: I do a lot of Springsteen in my sermon - I probably do too much Springsteen in my sermons, and I've said it before, numerous times, I think my congregation, my little congregation in Stoughton, Massachusetts is overjoyed that I wrote this book because I have other people to talk to now about this particular subject.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SYMYNKYWICZ: Because they've sort of gotten Springteened out over the last 15 years. I'll wait until a new album comes out and then we'll deal with it then, and they'll have something to look forward to.

HANSEN: Jeffrey Symynkyvicz is a Unitarian Universalist minister. His new book is called, "The Gospel According to Bruce Springsteen: Rock and Redemption from Asbury Park to Magic." He joined us from the studios of WGBH in Boston. Thank you so much.

Mr. SYMYNKYWICZ: Oh, thank you. I've enjoyed it. Thanks very much.

(Soundbite of song "Radio Nowhere")

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) This is radio nowhere, is there anybody alive out there? This is radio nowhere, is there anybody alive out there?

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