Loaf vs. Boss

At least in hip hop, things make more sense. Sex, danger, and girth reach an apotheosis in a world that doesn't need an Elvis to get across. Biggie Smalls and Big Pun, even the overweight lover Heavy D, confronted power (and ladies) on their own terms and presented themselves unapologetically as large indeed. When he asked "Who Shot Ya?" the Notorious B.I.G. didn't bother to wear the girdle of social responsibility and reasonableness that Springsteen does.

Is the hardest-workingest aspect of the Boss a substitute for sex? James Brown made sex a machine and worked it out on stage; Barry White simply was sex. His music demanded panty-shedding just like Tom Jones's. Who said it was going to be pretty? The Boss and Meat Loaf are the pale, not-funky version of the same split. If Springsteen can be the heroic Errol Flynn in this Edge of Darkness Town, why can't Meat Loaf be the Alan Hale — a character-actor cop with just enough countercultural glitz to provide a humanizing mirror and still seem errant, even roguish? Maybe because Springsteen's too self-aware to pass for a vapid skinny rocker and too Dylanesque to go the fat man route in middle-age. That's why he positions himself between Big Man Clarence Clemons and skinny weirdo Little Steven Van Zandt every night. The pudgy ghost of Roy Orbison may hover over them all, but it never lands in Springsteen's body to stay.

Nattering chatterbox Timothy Noah, who claims "American Skin" is a crypto-endorsement for Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign, is farther off then even his detractors suppose. When Springsteen introduced his sax player at Madison Square Garden by asking the audience to "forget that joker from Long Island, [here's] the next Senator of the State of New York — Big Man Clarence Clemons," he was nominating rock 'n' roll, the fat rock 'n' roll that stretches back from Clemons to King Curtis, for portly Daniel Patrick Moynihan's Senate seat. The Boss has repeatedly rejected offers to grace the Clinton White House, where a sax-blowin' president, like his Southern soulmate Elvis, wants to be Big Joe Turner, too. The McDonald's hamburgers finally make sense: Bill Clinton, friend to ATF agent and state trooper alike, is preparing for his hunka hunka years just like Elvis was. He should've had Meat Loaf over. Could anyone possibly wonder whether Bill Clinton knows all the words to "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad"? And does that famous shot with the sax remind you of a certain character in a charmingly dated cult movie featuring Susan Sarandon? The off-duty cops and their kin currently turning their backs and giving Bruce the finger as he performs "American Skin" don't get it. They tell reporters they just want Springsteen to look at things from their point-of-view, but he's been doing that for years. Springsteen's proven he can bring a cop's inner torment to life. It's the outer torment, the utility-belt-stretching girth the men in blue must contend with night after night, that the man from Freehold can't grasp.

As much as Springsteen tries to let his inner fat man out, he's still a 50-year-old guy who's in great shape. He's makes his living playing rock 'n' roll, and now he's inadvertently reminded a group of people who loved him that their lives are horribly complicated and compromised. It's classic embarrassment-anger, with an unsightly bulge of group persecution complex. When the musician you loved more than any other reminds you that you've ended up a murderer, you either face it or resent him. And, if you're the head of the New York Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, you call him a fag.

When the fat is repressed it returns in ugly ways. The cops' war on Springsteen is not so far from the original shooting of Diallo, who may have been doomed as much by his ropey, artful-dodger physique as by his skin color. When was the last time you saw the cops shoot a man who looked like Godfrey Cambridge?

By calling Springsteen a floating fag, the fat take their revenge on the skinny in a way no one could've predicted. Meat Loaf never would have let this happen, and in his honor, in all future discussion of "American Skin," let's replace the words "department" and "force" with the word "loaf" whenever they show up in the vicinity of the word "police." (Example: The police arrived in full loaf.) Meat Loaf has always been a better rock star, anyway. He didn't get this much press during his New York run at the Beacon Theater last winter, and he deserved it. What do you have to do in that town to prove yourself? Too bad we can't ask Amadou Diallo.

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