Born in the USA


“I am a patriot, and I love my country, because my country is all I know.” – S. Van Zandt

In the history of rock and roll, there have been countless instances of misinterpreted song lyrics.  For example, the soaring chorus of Pearl Jam’s “Alive” has led many a casual fan to believe the song is an inspirational, life-afirming Gen X anthem…except that when one listens closely to the verses, one discovers the song is actually about dead biological fathers, incestuous mothers, and a confused teenager who isn’t even sure he wants to be “alive” (although Edward Louis Severson III has admitted that the meaning has changed over the years due to the fans’ interpretation).  At any rate, misinterpreting a song is a common occurrence.  However, I still find it absolutely freaking hilarious that several republican politicians, including El Presidente Ronnie Donnie himself, attempted to use “Born in the U.S.A.” as a campaign song.  Similarly to “Alive”, “Born in the U.S.A.” has the anthemic chorus, but if you listen closely to the verses, it is clearly not a glory, glory, stars and stripes forever sort of song.  Quite the opposite, the song’s protagonist is shipped overseas to fight a war he doesn’t understand and when he comes home he can’t find a job.  Hmm, sounds familiar.  At any rate, the song was intended to be ironic, so I guess I can see how that went right over Ronnie Donnie’s head…

Actually, the entire album is pretty depressing lyrically while being fairly uplifting musically.  It’s certainly quite the contrast.  Bruce does his common man thing, making incendiary social commentaries through the eyes several characters who work long hours for low wages, who try hard to keep their girlfriends and families, and who every so often need a break in the local watering hole.  It’s the everyday reality of small town life, or as my students would say, “the struggle is real.”  Yet, despite the depressing subject matter, the music is mostly upbeat rock and roll, and I have fond memories of this album from the 80s.  I was a pretty young kid back then, and I remember most of the singles from this record having memorable videos on MTV.  I mean, who knew it was actually an actress (Courtney Cox, no less) placed in the front row for Bruce to pull up on stage in the “Dancing in the Dark” video?  Or that the men sitting around the bar in the “Glory Days” video would so closely resemble the Friday night exploits of this particular working class hero?  And despite the over-use of synthesizers (anyone else think that “Born in the U.S.A.” riff would have sounded even better on guitar?), this album has a timelessness to it that I think comes from the fact that it is so unapologetically real.

I guess this album strikes a chord with me because I grew up in a small town.  I got out when I was 18, and honestly, I would not have the life I have today if I had stayed.  So let me get up on my soap box for a moment and talk about the plight of the small town in America…there just is no opportunity for jobs with decent wages/salaries unless you move to the city (maybe this is why the final track on this album, “My Hometown” resonates with me) .  There are no factories in my hometown.  There are some farms, but they mostly hire migrant workers to save money, and really grapes are the only crop that are in demand.  In fact, the wine industry is about the only thing keeping Northeast Ohio afloat.  So what’s left are jobs in chain restaurants and big box stores…except those corporations drain the money out of the community.  How?  By sending their profits far away to their corporate headquarters while returning only minimum-wage salaries to their employees and blackmailing local governments by threatening to leave unless they receive big tax abatements.  So what’s the solution?  Buy local.  Support mom and pop restaurants.  Shop at your local farmer’s markets.  Know where your money goes and keep it in your community. I bought this album locally for $3.99 at the Half Price Books on Lane Avenue (ok, I realize that HPB is a Texas chain, but the Columbus stores at least support the local schools and teachers).  Kk.  Ima get off my soap box now.  Thanks for listening.

Other lists: “Born in the U.S.A.” is #280 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  This album is #6 on the RS list of the 100 Best Albums of the Eighties.

Ch-ch-changes: This album dropped one spot from its original position of #85 due to the addition of CCR’s Chronicle and the rise of Radiohead’s Kid A combined with the drop of the Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle.  Interestingly, the Beatles’ Let It Be was the original #86, but somehow it dropped all the way to #392 on the 2012 edition!

My favorite track: “My Hometown”

Honorable mention: “Glory Days”

Quote: “Now Main Street’s whitewashed windows and vacant stores, seems like there ain’t nobody wants to come down here no more.  They’re closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks, foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain’t coming back to your hometown.”