Sunday, June 8, 2014

How the Message of Born in the USA is Lost 30 Years On

It's hard to believe the iconic Bruce Springsteen song Born in the USA is 30 years old. The year was 1984 and I distinctly remember the powerful riff and belting lyrics along with a image of blue jeans and the American flag that seemed to make this a tub thumping, jingoistic song that made me feel distinctly uneasy.



In 1984 female protesters were chaining themselves to the gates of RAF Greenham Common in protest at the arrival of American cruise missiles, while miners were fighting pitched battles in the streets of northern towns as the Conservative government sought to dismantle the mining unions. It was tempting to see everything in terms of black and white and left and right and to believe Britain was on its way to becoming the 51st state of the USA.

Springsteen's song appeared to be more of the same, a none-too-subtle celebration of American triumphalism.



One of the song's biggest fans was George Will, a conservative columnist who hailed it as a "cheerful affirmation" of all of the good things about America. His pal Ronald Reagan who happened to be President at the time was impressed and he referenced Springsteen and his song of hope during his re-election campaign.

In reality Reagan was fooled by the upbeat nature of the song. If you delve into the lyrics, it quickly becomes apparent that Born in the USA is ironic and about the emptiness of the American dream from the perspective of a Vietnam veteran.

Down in the shadow of penitentiary
Out by the gas fires of the refinery
I'm ten years burning down the road
Nowhere to run, ain't nowhere to go
Born in the USA

A BBC article pointed out Springsteen's song isn't the only one to be misinterpreted. You may not want to play Every Breath You Take by the Police at your wedding because it's about the stalkery kind of love. Nor Does REM's The One I Love go down in the annals of top romantic songs as it contains the line: "This one goes out to the one I’ve left behind/A simple prop to occupy my time."



12 comments:

  1. I never understood people wanting that police song played at weddings....it's clearly about stalking. It's creepy as hell. Unless of course you sing it the way my friends and I do: 'every cake you bake, every well done steak, every arm you break, every orgasm you fake, I'll be watching you...' and also, 'oh can't you see, I've got to pee, my poor bladder aches, with every step I take...'

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    1. well that's funny JoJo - your version is definitely better and less stalker-eee

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  2. I like when inappropriate songs are played at weddings. It gives me something to snicker about.

    For the record, I love your version of that song, JoJo. That will be playing in my head all morning now.

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    1. ha I always remember what I danced to at failure weddings - god normally something gushy like that Whitney Houston song the name of which I will not repeat...

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  3. It can't be that long ago.....Oh...my....God...

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  4. I never knew the lyrics, beyond the title, David. Interesting. Well, I appreciate the song more, given its ironic intent.

    This reminds me of one of my favorite songs, Hotel California. People probably think it's a happy-go-lucky jingle about California life. Nah, it's realistically dark and poignant. That's why I love it!

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    1. yes love that Robyn - and it was playing when I visited the Hotel California

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  5. I know I've heard the song, but I can't say I ever paid much attention to the lyrics. Heh. I did know that about Every Breath You Take, though.

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  6. I've always found it funny and bizarre that Every Breath You Take is played at weddings. I love the song but never thought it was romantic!
    I'm a huge Springsteen fan and remember the Reagan flap. I couldn't understand why someone in his inner circle didn't actually read the lyrics before he gave that speech LOL.

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    1. well err he wasn't the brightest Julie lol

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