“Born In The U.S.A.” (2. analysis)

 

BornInTheUSAsinglecover

“Born in the U.S.A.” was to be the title of a Paul Schrader movie talking about a rock band struggling with life and religion and Springsteen was asked to write its title song. He came up with a song whose original title was “Vietnam” and renamed it.
In the end, the movie was retitled “Light of Day,” and Springsteen was asked to provide another song: “Born in The U.S.A.” was too associated with his previous song.

Springsteen wrote it about the problems Vietnam veterans met when they returned home. Vietnam was the first war the US didn’t win, and while veterans of other wars received a hero’s welcome, those who fought in Vietnam were mostly ignored on their return to the States. Therefore, Springsteen decided to pay tribute to these soldiers – some of them were his friends and many did not return from the conflict – and to protest the hardships Vietnam veterans had to face when they came back from the war.

He said that this song is about “a working-class man in the midst of a spiritual crisis, in which man is left lost…It’s like he has nothing left to tie him into society anymore. He’s isolated from the government. Isolated from his family…to the point where nothing makes sense”.

A superficial listener might think it is a song of praise or triumph for America, but, actually, it is an ironic and caustic commentary on the hypocrisy of patriotism and on how America treated its Vietnam veterans This is one of the most misinterpreted songs ever.
With its lively rhythm, enthusiastic chorus, and patriotic album cover, it is easy to think this has more to do with American pride than Vietnam shame.
The seemingly patriotic slogan in the chorus – the only lyrics most fans ever learned – are contrasted with desperate narrative in the verses, representing the emptiness of the American dream, and the grief for the working-class identity. Yet, the nationalist chorus continuously overwhelms the desperation and sacrifice of a poor man who, after being inducted into the armed forces, returns to the States just to feel disillusioned, lost and isolated.

This song is often misunderstood as a patriotic anthem and in 1984 Ronald Reagan used it as his campaign song, but Springsteen promptly asked the campaign to stop. He never let his music be used in ads to sell products: he even turned down $12 million dollars from Chrysler.

Verse 1

Born down in a dead man’s town
The first kick I took was when I hit the ground
You end up like a dog that’s been beat too much
Till you spend half your life just covering up

Despite the title and the tune, from the very beginning we realize this isn’t a happy, patriotic song.
The singer, who was born in a dead man’s town, has been kicked all his life: he has been beaten so often that he has to spend his life healing his wounds

Chorus

Born in the U.S.A.
I was born in the U.S.A.
I was born in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A.

Despite the previous absolute despair, the chorus sounds ironically triumphant.
On the contrary, it is an exclamation of frustration, pain, and suffering from someone who fought for the USA, was born there, but now it’s not home to him anymore

Verse 2

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

Now he tells his story and explains why he became a soldier: he had committed something illegal and was forced to enlist in the Army in order not to be sent to prison.

Verse 3

Come back home to the refinery
Hiring man says “Son if it was up to me”
Went down to see my V.A. man
He said “Son, don’t you understand”

Once back home, he goes to a refinery to look for work, but he is rejected by the hiring man who seems to attribute blame for the circumstances to someone else. Even the Veterans Affairs don’t support him.

Verse 4

I had a brother at Khe Sahn 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

Here he deals with his soldier experience: he mentions one of the battles in the Vietnam War, where he says he had a literal or figurative “brother”, who died in vain.
This man, like many others, had fallen in love with a local woman, but now the only souvenir he has left is a photo in which he is in her arms, as if it were a corpse in the arms of a sorrowful woman (as in the statue of Michelangelo’s Pietà)

Verse 5

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 protagonist feels that without that refinery job, like many others he might have ended up in jail (Some reports say that a quarter of the American prison population consisted of vets) and that he has spent the years since the end of the war as if he were trapped in a situation without any way out
 The song was first recorded in 1982 and released in 1984, a little less than ten years after the end of the Vietnam War, which lasted until 1975.

Final chorus

Born in the U.S.A.
I was born in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A.
I’m a long gone Daddy in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A.
I’m a cool rocking Daddy in the U.S.A.

“I’m a Long Gone Daddy” is the quotation of a country song written and recorded by American singer-songwriter Hank Williams, while “Cool rocking Daddy” is bitterly sarcastic, because, unlike the Boss, the protagonist of the song is unknown and forgotten by his country. He’s older now, that’s why he’s called a daddy

As “Born in the U.S.A.” became a massive commercial success, Springsteen expressed his thoughts on his growing fame in a 1984 interview: “Yeah, there’s a change [in me]. [Being a rich man] doesn’t make living easier, but it does make certain aspects of your life easier. You don’t have to worry about rent, you can buy things for your folks and help out your friends, and you can have a good time, you know? There were moments where it was very confusing. (…) I don’t really think [money] does change you. It’s an inanimate thing, a tool, a convenience. (…) Money was kind of part of the dream when I started. I don’t think…I never felt like I ever played a note for the money (…)”

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