Happy Fourth of July, LemonWire readers. Today we’ll be looking at a classic American song to help you celebrate the fourth the right way. Our song of the day for this national holiday is none other than Bruce Springsteen’s, “Born in the U.S.A.”
Yesterday we looked at Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World”, a song that many have misunderstood as a patriotic anthem. Our song today is not much different. While Springsteen’s stadium rock hit certainly feels like righteous patriotism at its finest, it’s actually another misunderstood song filled with sharp, anti-American barbs.
But before we get too into the weeds with the lyrics, let’s first take a look at the context and history behind, “Born in the U.S.A.”.
Bruce Springsteen (aka “The Boss”) is an American singer and songwriter who you’re all probably familiar with. Loved by the working class who he connects with through his songs, Springsteen has sold over 135 million records worldwide, and nearly half of them in the States.
While he’s had great success throughout his career, Springsteen is most widely known for his seventh album, “Born in the U.S.A.”, which he released in 1984. The album sold 15 million copies in the U.S., and twice that many worldwide.
Born in the U.S.A.
“Born in the U.S.A.”, the title track single of Springsteen’s seventh album, is one of his best known singles. When it was released, the song peaked at No. 9 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart, and No. 8 on the Top Rock Tracks chart.
Even upon its release, “Born in the U.S.A.” was misinterpreted as nationalistic by politicians and laymen alike, who listened to the chest-pounding chorus over the ironically bitter verses. The song comments strongly on the Vietnam war, along with the treatment of Vietnam war veterans after the war. Told from a first-person perspective, it tells the story of one working man’s life as he’s drafted into the army and sent off to war.
As always, we’ll start off our discussion of the lyrics by looking at the first verse. For all those who still think this is a patriotic anthem, let this serve as proof to the contrary.
“Born down in a dead man’s town
The first kick I took was when I hit the ground
End up like a dog that’s been beat too much
‘Til you spend half your life just covering up”
Here, Springsteen begins by introducing the protagonist of the song, who we can safely assume is a working-class man who’s struggled all his life.
“Got in a little hometown jam
So they put a rifle in my hand
Sent me off to a foreign land
To go and kill the yellow man”
Again, this is pretty self-explanatory. After getting in trouble with the law, the narrator is drafted into the army and sent off to Vietnam. While here we see Springsteen sympathizing with soldiers, it’s not the same as him stating that the war is at all just or ethical. Quite the opposite, actually.
“I had a brother at Khe Sanh fighting off the Viet Cong
They’re still there, he’s all gone
He had a woman he loved in Saigon
I got a picture of him in her arms now”
This close look at one lost soldier’s life represents the experience of so many who went off to fight in Vietnam. The loss of life caused by an unjust war is continually highlighted, which makes the chorus ring out more ironic than ever.
“Down in the shadow of the penitentiary
Out by the gas fires of the refinery
I’m ten years burning down the road
Nowhere to run ain’t got nowhere to go”
The last verse also reflects the experience of countless veterans. After all they gave and lost for their country, they’re given nothing back. After listening to a song like this, and truly understanding what it’s about, it’s nothing short of astounding just how many people either don’t get it, or refuse to believe it.
So Happy Fourth of July to everyone out there blasting Springsteen and celebrating freedom and independence and all that. Hopefully, when you hear this song again, you’ll pass along the message to anyone who didn’t already know.
Well, that about closes up our discussion for today. Be sure to take a load off and relax, if nothing else on this day. We’ll be back next week with another list of song to keep you going.