Come Home, AmericarnRock and Roll in Middle Agernby Bill KauffmanrnUnanesthetized amputation cannot be more painful thanrnenduring—no, “endurin”‘—a Bruce Springsteen monologuernabout “growin’ up.” Stopping a concert dead in itsrntracks, he’ll mumble and stammer and “uh, like” his wayrnthrough a tortured and tortuous tale peopled with Wild Billyrnand Sloppy Sue and, best of all, “there was this guy.” Hernshoots for Jack Kerouac describing Dean Moriarty but soundsrnmore like a 13-year-old from North Jersey imagining the livesrnof the freaks he saw in Greenwich Village on a school trip lastrnfall.rnBut sometimes he gets it right, as at a show in Greensboro,rnNorth Garolina, some years back. “I used to think that once Irngot out of my hometown [Freehold, New Jersey], I was neverrngoin’ to come back. But as I got older, I’d come home off thernroad and get in my car and drive back into town…. I realizedrnthat I would always carry a part of that town with me.” He thenrnlit into “My Hometown,” an aching ballad about a young couplerncontemplating a move from their decaying Northeasternrncity to the Sunbelt.rnBruce Springsteen, the next Dylan in the 70’s, the oversoldrnAmerican avatar in the 80’s, has fallen fast and hard as rockand-rnroll stars do. The double album he released in 1992 afterrna five-year silence sunk to the nether regions of the charts. Itrnyielded one lame single, “Human Touch,” which never brokernthrough the rap-dominated ice. Critics, heretofore adoring,rnhave turned on Springsteen with bile and condescension, likernthe high-school geek made good who pulls into a service stationrnBill Kauffman is author of a novel. Every Man a King, and arntravel book, Country Towns of New York.rnand gloats as the broken-down quarterback washes his windshield.rn(Never underestimate the lingering effect of highschoolrnslights. The witty buffoon David Lee Roth, former leadrnsinger of Van Halen, once said that the reason most rock criticsrnlike the angry poindexter Elvis Costello is that most rockrncritics look like Elvis Costello.)rnThe most common complaint, aired by the most commonrnof critics, the compulsively unreadable Jon Pareles in the NewrnYork Times, was that “for Springsteen the only communityrnthat is left is his family.” He’d constructed “a fortress for a familyrnman, a defense against. . . rootlessness and moral ambiguity.”rnThe man who declared, on his breakthrough album Bornrnto Run, “it’s a town full of losers and I’m pullin’ out of here tornwin” had withdrawn to a fastness impervious even to the greatrngod television, which, “in the blessed name of Elvis,” he’drnblasted to bits with a .44 magnum in “57 Channels (AndrnNothin’On).”rnSpringsteen’s America, which once stretched from the Jerseyrnturnpike to “a rattlesnake speedway in the Utah desert,” hasrncontracted to a dimension the size of his household. He has arnwife and kids, and the rest of the world can go to hell. This isrntrue of all the best aging mainstream singer-songwriters: JohnrnMellencamp, Bob Seger, Don Henley. “Lather was 30 years oldrntoday; they took away all his toys,” trilled Grace Slick of the 60’srnpsychedelic rockers Jefferson Airplane, and though Gracie herselfrnkeeps singing into her fifth decade, Lather’s parents had arnpoint.rnRock and roll is music of the open road (though Kerouacrnhimself much preferred jazz); ears rank second only to girlsrnas the poet’s [sic] muse. This is the Whitman/ThomasrnAPRIL 1994/31rnrnrn