Bruce Springsteen – Born in the U.S.A.
The month of October 1984 ended with the release of one of the most important pieces for the music of the 80s in America. The song had actually been written two years before, maybe three, if it’s true that his author, Bruce Springsteen, had already recorded it in January 1982 to be included on his Nebraska album. He finally didn’t include it, and maybe it was better this way, because in those years the spread of pop music grew incredibly, and I would say that in order to launch a song destined to become eternal like this, there was no better time than the period between late 1984 and mid-1985, the famous months that preceded Live Aid.
Hence, Born in the U.S.A. came out at that time as a single, almost six months after Dancing in the Dark, and gave title and cover photo to one of the most famous albums of the Boss, probably the one that made him known to millions and millions of young people around the world.
Born in the U.S.A. it is a song of denunciation in full words, and tells of the unsustainable situation in which veterans of the Vietnam war often found themselves. While the veterans of other wars, mostly victorious, were welcomed triumphantly, covered with honors, and often protected and privileged from a social and working point of view, the veterans of Vietnam had a very different fate. Springsteen sums up this symbolic story in a few lines: the story of a boy who gets involved in a fight in some American town, and is sent to the other side of the world to fight with a rifle in his hand an enemy he doesn’t even know.
He loses a brother in the same war, but at least he comes back alive in the United States. For him, however, after years spent between nightmares and monsters of war, there is no welcome. There is not even a factory or refinery job, and even the veterans administration office has only words of circumstance. Hence the scream of angry denunciation: I was born in the U.S.A.: I did what the United States asked me to do.
The original title of the song was supposed to be “Vietnam”, but when Springsteen heard about a film in the making called Born in the U.S.A., he thought this was the right title for the song. In return he gave the director a song for the film. The song was titled Light of the Day, which later became the new title of the film.
Springsteen does not focus on the traumas experienced by young Americans in Vietnam, or on post-traumatic stress disorders as Paul Hardcastle would do a year later in 19, but on the disappointment of returning, on a welcome back that America never reserved for veterans of Vietnam. As Hardcastle will beautifully summarize, “none of them were received a hero’s welcome”. Springsteen had not been in the military, in fact he was much discussed because he admitted that he dodged the draft: perhaps this is why he did not describe the hell of the war, but he witnessed the hell of the return of the veterans.
Sure, if we listen to or maybe just read the title, it might seem like the song is an ode to American pride, but that’s not the case at all. Yet someone tried to appropriate this song to make it a hymn of pride. And we’re not talking about ordinary people, but Ronald Reagan, evidently not an attentive listener of the Boss records, who tried to use the song and title of Born in the U.S.A. for his presidential campaign. Of course, Bruce Springsteen did not grant the rights of use and effectively turned the tide against Reagan. Also on another occasion Springsteen did not want to grant Chrysler the rights to use the song for an advertising campaign, giving up a good twelve million dollars.
The video is simple but very effective: the scenes taken at the concerts of the Boss alternate with stereotypical scenes of young Americans born in the 60s and raised in the 70s, and many times then sent to Vietnam. In the final part there are the scenes of the return from the war, with people who have suffered damages, people who carry out heavy jobs, people queuing for assistance, and the image that summarizes the whole meaning of the war, the white crosses of the grassy cemetery.
To shoot the scenes for the video, Springsteen dressed the same way during a few consecutive concerts in order to have more scenes available. And perhaps the black headband recalls the iconography of Rambo, the fighter and veteran par excellence. The video opens and closes with two scenes in which the American flag appears, but even here there are important details that could also be random, but we know that in the 80s there was nothing random.
Let’s look at the flag at the beginning of the video: the stars are practically not seen. Of course, it could be an artisanal flag made with simplicity, but it could also be a first act of denunciation towards an America where something is missing, where the best part no longer exists. The image at the end of the record was suggested by the great photographer Annie Leibowitz, who drew the iconic album cover, with the American flag in the background, and Springsteen’s back side in jeans in the foreground. The Boss did not want to use this image at first, fearing that it was somehow perceived as outrageous towards the flag and the homeland. In the video, however, this feeling is dampened by Springsteen’s smile as he turns around.
Born in the U.S.A. it became a real symbol song of the 80s, and maybe of the entire career of one of the greatest American authors and performers, whose career still lasts and who has been able to carry his music and feelings around the world for decades, with the feelings of an evening of music with friends. If you’ve never been to a Bruce Springsteen and E-Street Band concert, remember to put it on your agenda as soon as possible.
One last curiosity: Born in the U.S.A. was the first CD printed in the United States. CBS records had in fact opened the first CD factory in 1984 in Indiana. Before that day, all CDs in America were imported from Japan. And curiously, though, CBS Records was later bought by Sony, so the rights to Born in the U.S.A. are curiously in the hands of the Japanese company today.
Bruce Springsteen on Wikipedia