Are rock stars worthy of scholarly study? It might be tough to write a master’s thesis about Motley Crue singer Vince Neil, but Bruce Springsteen? No problem.
Just ask Newton native Jonathan Cohen, who’s launched BOSS: The Biannual Online-journal of Springsteen Studies, an academic journal focusing on Bruce. The 23-year-old Cohen, an alum of Gann Academy in Waltham, is a PhD candidate at the University of Virginia. His master’s thesis examines “deindustrialization and working-class memory” in Freehold, N.J., which happens to be Springsteen’s hometown.
“I got into Bruce as a fan before I was into him as an academic,” Cohen told us Monday. “The two merged at some point.”
Did they ever. Cohen, whose father, Shaye Cohen, teaches ancient Jewish history at Harvard, has enlisted Roxanne Harde, a professor at the University of Alberta, Augustana, and Irwin Streight, a professor at Royal Military College of Canada — both of them Bruce fans and scholars — to serve as editors of the online journal. The debut issue was posted Friday and includes contributed articles about the authenticity of Springsteen’s live performances; another analyzing Springsteen’s influence on fans in Australia; and a third, written by DePaul assistant professor Jason Schneider, about the hit “Born in the U.S.A.” (Schneider says the lyrics describe “multiple anxieties, pains, joys and perhaps even impossibilities” in people’s relationships with their governments and communities.)
While scholars have been writing about Bob Dylan since the 1960s — academics gathered for a conference devoted to him at Stanford in 1998 — Cohen says intellectuals are increasingly interested in Springsteen.
So what’s Cohen’s favorite Springsteen record?
“Like everyone, I guess, ‘Born to Run’ was my entry point,” he says. “It’s too hard to pick one favorite. ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ was super formative for me throughout my maturation process. If I had to pick one, I guess that’d be the one.”
Cohen is now soliciting articles for the second issue.