Certain Songs #142: Bruce Springsteen – “Born in the U.S.A”


Album: Born in the U.S.A.

Year: 1984.

It was weird, loving this album and loving Bruce Springsteen in the mid-1980s. At that time, of course, I was fully ensconced with the alt/indie-rock aesthetic of KFSR, which automatically looked upon anything as massively popular as Springsteen (or Prince) (or Madonna) (or Michael Jackson) as suspicious. I got that: a lot of time what was popular was crap.

On the other hand, it was impossible for me to hate somebody simply because they were popular. That made no fucking sense: quality and popularity are not diametrically opposed. Not everything that is popular is crap. Never has been, never will be. It would be insane to ignore somebody simply because a lot of other folks whom maybe aren’t as snobby as I am like them.

I mean, the fact that The Kinks weren’t as popular as The Rolling Stones in 1969 didn’t mean that The Kinks were great and the Stones sucked, it meant that circumstances and market forces beyond either band’s control meant that Let it Bleed resonated while Arthur didn’t. In an ideal world, of course, both albums (to say nothing of The Velvet Underground) would have been massively popular.

In my ideal word, as a matter of fact, quality and popularity aren’t so much diametrically opposed as they are in lockstep.  Which is, of course, equally insane. But I truly want as many people to hear as much great music as I can foist at them. What I consider great music, of course, heh-heh. Your mileage will vary.

Of course, in the mid-1980s, there was no need whatsoever for me to play Bruce Springsteen on the radio as a DJ at KFSR. At least not anything from Born in the U.S.A., which had seven Top Ten singles, and certainly didn’t need my help. Clearly Bruce had figured out how to take his music to the next level commercially while not sacrificing his artistic soul.

Which was fine: as far as I was concerned, it meant that I could instead play Husker Du and R.E.M. and The Replacements etc. while still totally enjoying Springsteen’s success.  In fact, I even saw him in concert for the second time on that tour – at the Oakland Coliseum with Tim & Larry & Debbie (Tim & I also saw The Church put on a performance for the ages at Wolfgang’s in SF on that road trip) – where he always added extra heft to “Born in the U.S.A. by adding a killer guitar solo at the end.

Not that “Born in the U.S.A.” needed that extra heft. It sounded amazing. I have a simple rule: if a song sounds good enough, I really don’t give a fuck what the lyrics are. So even if the folks who have been willfully mishearing this song for 30 years happened to be correct – and they’re not, as even a cursory look at the verses would confirm – I’d still love it. I’d love it that big dumb beat. I’d love it for the even bigger and dumber keyboard hook. I’d love it for the utter passion that Bruce invests every single shout-sung “Born in the U.S.A.” 

“Born in the U.S.A”. performed live in Paris, 1985

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