Monday, June 2, 2014

Song Spotlight - "Born In The U.S.A."

Key Live Performance

Well, here we are folks, with the song that started it all.  And, as with most Bruce songs, it is difficult to find just one "key" live performance.  However, I've decided to spotlight one performance from the not-to-distant past.  For the last 30 years, "Born In The U.S.A." has had quite a history, from being played too much, then being banished from all live shows, then to showing up only in more somber arrangements.  Now, it seems the song is getting its proper due: it has been played at roughly a third of his shows this year.  Seeing how this song was ranked 33rd on the top 100 Springsteen songs, I feel that's an appropriate amount of play.  It is good to see that, after 30 years, that Bruce can still perform with the same raw passion that inspired the song.

Key Lyrics

"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."

I always enjoyed the slant rhyming that is used throughout the song.  It's subtle but consistent; from the opening rhyme of "town" with "ground" to finishing with "road" and "go".  I may be reading too much into it (but god knows I wouldn't be the first to do that with this song), but the slant rhyming could be seen as trying to fit things together that don't quite work, which is how the Vietnam soldiers would feel returning to their home lives.

The spotlighted lyrics above are the closest thing that this songs has to a "bridge" section.  All the verses until this point were written with two sets of couplets, but here, lines begin to disappear.  The first part misses one line, and the next section removes yet another.  By shortening the verses, Bruce heightens the drama of the song.  At first listen, the "missing" lines may create curiosity to go back and listen to the song again.  On further listens, we truly realize the emotional weight being carried here, as the "missing" lines aren't missing at all, but are moments of silence.


While it may not be Springsteen's best song, "Born In The U.S.A." is easily his most famous song.  It has been discussed and dissected from every possible angle (heck, there's even a delightful spoken word version of it by Glenn Beck).  Personally, it's a song that I "re-discover" every few years; most of the time, I never want to listen it, but every once in a while, it'll come up on my iPod and realize how fantastic it is.  The lyrics are powerful enough to work with slower versions and not sound corny.  The music, admittedly, sounds incredibly 80s with the preeminent synthesizer, but the hook is catchy enough to keep the song stuck in your head.  While it's unfortunate that "Born In The U.S.A." may be the only Springsteen song many people can name, it is still a good representation of the themes of Springsteen's music.

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