Springsteen summer in New Jersey

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BRUCE Springsteen is performing this week in New Jersey's Meadowlands, drawing a quarter of a million fans and breaking his own previous New York area record. Springsteen's crowds are indeed huge. Yet administrators at Giants Stadium, where the concerts are being held, have marveled at how exceedingly well behaved these multitudes have been.

It is a very ``American'' quality about his performances -- energetic, hardworking, honest -- that has caught attention.

Springsteen's home state of New Jersey is particularly celebrating the Springsteen success. New Jersey itself has come into its own on the national scene. Socially and politically, the state has been shedding its putdown image. Politicians see it as epitomizing the new political culture. With its think tanks, commuter towns, and factories, New Jersey has become a home of the ``new collars''; that is, of the new service workers emerging between the white- and blue-collar groups.

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Mr. Springsteen has earned a strong identity in the rock world as a man who has kept his ties to his working-class roots while also becoming something of a philanthropist: He has given to funds for Vietnam veterans and met with them across the country. His lyrics reflect social concerns. At times melancholy, his songs are balanced by upbeat arrangements and an exuberant performing style.

Springsteen audiences join in not only the choruses, but on each and every word. His fans are certainly keen on his melodies and an in-concert style that is known as the best in the business -- but the hundreds of thousands who sing along are responding to the problems Mr. Springsteen addresses.

And they're free of the rowdiness and unruliness that sometimes mar rock events.

At a time when the nation's youth is often singled out for self-centered thinking, the size and nature of Bruce Springsteen's following should give encouraging pause.

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