Theologian sees Augustine in Springsteen

Rachel Glogowski

Although he performed at Villanova in 1973, Bruce Springsteen is connected to the Villanova community in another way.

Dr. Paul Contino, Director of Great Books and Associate Director of the Center for Faith and Learning at Pepperdine University, discussed his view of the “Christological dimension” to Springsteen’s songs that echoes some of the themes presented in Augustine’s “Confessions” in Driscoll Hall on Oct. 29.

“Augustine writes for fellow pilgrims who are on the way with him,” Contino said. “There’s a sense of this in Bruce.”

“To produce meaningful results, artists have to go down to the nitty-gritty for what it means to be human,” Contino said.

“[Christ] embraces the finite, which is an utter paradox for the divine,” he said.

Contino first became interested in Springsteen when he purchased the “Born to Run” album in 1975.

“It became part of the fiber of my being,” he said.

When he was a junior in college, he was a resident assistant and felt he should stop playing rock music.

“That didn’t last long,” he said, laughing.

Although he liked the music, he did not immediately see the religious aspect of it.

“I think I had some sense of that spiritual potential, [but] I wouldn’t have put it that way as a junior in college,” said Contino.

He said that he saw Springsteen’s transformation around the time that the “Tunnel of Love” album came out, “when the first marriage broke up and he broke up the E Street Band.” The concerts also indicate the prevalence of religious themes in his work.

“His concerts actually have this ascent and descent arc,” Contino said. “He often says he wants to take the audience on a journey.”

During his concerts, Contino said he gives “mini-sermons” to the audience. They participate in the show, demonstrating the sense of community that his work conveys.

“By the end of it, you’re feeling jubilant,” he said.

He said that idea was similar to Augustine’s belief in the significance of community. “One of the things that Augustine gives us is a sense of charity.”

Contino said he wishes he could ask Springsteen, “To what extent does Catholic faith form your work?”

“Sometimes, he says, he goes to church, and sometimes he doesn’t,” Contino said.

Nonetheless, religious imagery plays a large role in his songs.

“Bruce turns to these images and they seem important to him,” he said.

To prove that water is a recurring image in Bruce’s work, he cited the song “Spare Parts.” In the song, a woman considers drowning her baby when her fiancé leaves her but decides against it.

“In this story, especially, you get Christological ascent and descent,” Contino said. According to him, her visit to the river “proves baptismal rather than murderous.”

Contino also played one of his favorite songs, “Girls in Their Summer Clothes.” In this song, he said Springsteen treasures the small things.

“There’s something salvific of the whole thing,” he said.

When asked to speak about Springsteen in relation to Augustine’s work, Contino said he was skeptical of the interest in the older artist. However, the lecture had a turnout of over 200 people.

“I thought it was really cool,” said freshman Lauren Yap. “Linking Bruce’s music to something we all learn about was interesting.”