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Springsteen makes political statement

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Monday, May 29, 2006

Mansfield (Reuters): Branching off from his rock'n' roll roots, Bruce Springsteen kicked off his summer US tour with songs made famous by folk musician and activist Pete Seeger and strong political overtones. Backed by a raucous 18-piece band, Springsteen yesterday played folk tunes including ''We Shall Overcome,'' an anthem of the US civil rights movement and ''Bring Them Home,'' an anti-war song dating to the Vietnam War era. During a break between songs, he offered harsh words for the administration of President George W Bush and its handling of last year's devastating Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, which killed more than 1,500 people in Louisiana alone.

''I've never seen anything like it in any American city,'' Springsteen said of the flooding and destruction. Referring to Bush, whom he called ''President Bystander'' in a performance in New Orleans last month, Springsteen added, ''He managed to gut the only agency, through political cronyism, that could help people at a time like this.'' Many of the fans at an arena in Mansfield, about 30 miles south of Boston, said they were happy to hear his thoughts on politics, although they were not sure if he had changed many minds.

''If it gets people informed about the issues, I think that's good,'' said Julie Tambascio, 39, of Boston. Several said they were more interested in hearing the lineup of folk songs, as well as Springsteen tunes including ''Cadillac Ranch'' and ''Ramrod'' that were jazzed up with fiddle and tuba solos-a break from the rock sound the singer called ''The Boss'' is best known for.

''People will sort of endure Bruce's politics because they just love the music,'' said Tamara Conniff, executive editor and associate publisher of Billboard magazine, in a telephone interview before the concert. ''I think any artist outside of Bruce who would take such a strong political stance would probably see a lot more dissent, and he really hasn't,'' Conniff said. His 1984 hit ''Born in the USA,'' about a troubled Vietnam veteran, has often been played as a patriotic anthem.

Springsteen's work also often discusses the woes of the American working class. Since the 2002 release of ''The Rising,'' an album that focused on the aftermath of the September. 11 attacks, Springsteen has taken a more overtly political tone. He performed at rallies for Senator. John Kerry in the Massachusetts Democrat's 2004 presidential race against Bush. The political tone of the latest album, called ''We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions,'' did not appear to have hurt sales, Conniff said. It debuted at No 3 on the Billboard 200 chart on May 3. Fans noted that Springsteen's views fit in in the heavily Democratic state that is home to the Kennedy political family.

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