When Bruce Springsteen performs Sunday night at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley may or may not be there (“I need to find some tickets,” he said), but his Springsteen fandom bona fides will remain intact whatever happens.
“This guy has been the soundtrack of my life,” said the 49-year-old O’Malley, who’s seen more than a dozen Springsteen shows. “It was not unusual when he would play the Capital Centre for me to go to two shows during a stretch … when I was in high school.” (O’Malley was ready for his interview with POLITICO, having teed up Springsteen’s latest album, Wrecking Ball, on his office’s Bose CD player when we walked in). “I would always go out and get whatever his new thing was.”
Favorite album? Born to Run. Favorite song? That’s a little more complicated. “When I was in high school, I suppose maybe ‘Thunder Road’ might have been my favorite song. As a young adult, ‘No Surrender.’ More middle age, [‘Land of Hope and Dreams’].”
He’s never met Springsteen, but O’Malley knows a thing or two about music. He fronts the Celtic rock band O’Malley’s March and keeps an acoustic guitar in his office in the Maryland State House in Annapolis. Although his band has done a cover of Springsteen’s “Reason to Believe” (off The Boss’s 1982 album, “Nebraska”), he grew bashful when we asked for a performance.
“I don’t think that would be politically advisable,” O’Malley chuckled.
Both as a musician and politician, O’Malley has continued to draw inspiration from Springsteen. From time to time, the Democratic governor has quoted Springsteen lyrics in his political speeches.
For politicians, Springsteen is a rare thing: something that everyone can agree on. Although Springsteen’s own politics align somewhat closer with the Democratic Party (he supported Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign), lawmakers of all stripes embrace The Boss.
“Bruce Springsteen is somebody that Chris Christie and I both can applaud for,” O’Malley said. “When he says things like, ‘The country we carry in our hearts is waiting,’ that speaks to us at a level that is deeper than politics. It speaks to our individual souls and our soul as a country. And so, I think for that reason, even in this time when politics is very polarized and divided and clearly there are, I think, some stark differences in the choices offered by the two parties and by candidates of those parties, but even so, at the end of the day, I think all of us want the same things for our kids really.”
Given Springsteen’s near-universal popularity — and his keen interest in politics (O’Malley said, “This is not a man who is a casual headline skimmer. I mean, he is a person in the classic Greek sense of that word who is a citizen.”) — it’s surprising that public office hasn’t been a draw. O’Malley thinks Bruce has what it takes.
“I think he’d actually make a very good governor. Part of the discipline and the practice of governing is surrounding yourself with very talented people and knowing what song to call next,” said O’Malley, who actually distributed some Springsteen pearls of wisdom to his colleagues in the statehouse recently.
“The reason I think he would make a very good governor is because he has that clarity of purpose, that clarity of vision. He has the humility to surround himself with people that one would hope would be much more expert in their given area, whether it was public safety or public health or public education. And I think that’s much of the challenge of leadership in these times, is clarity of principle and clarity of purpose and communicating that broadly with a respect for the dignity of every individual, and I think that’s what he does very well in music. It’d be fun to see him try it in governing.”
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