Sunday, December 11, 2005

"Born in the U.S.A."

I've mentioned this song elsewhere as the great example of how misunderstood a song can be. But for anyone who doesn't remember or wasn't there, this song came out in the middle of the Reagan presidency in the US and was immediately co-opted by all sorts of companies, causes and interests. Even a large part of the general public in America took this song to their hearts as some sort of statement that "We're Number One" - you know, the my-country-right-or-wrong crowd, who stick the finger up to the rest of the world and continue to confuse France with Australia on world maps.
This song is as angry as any I can remember hearing. It was the first really sharp look at the downside of life in the Promised Land: "I got in a little hometown jam/So they put a rifle in my hands/Sent me off to a foreign land/To go and kill the yellow man." So far, this is a story that's been told many times before, but the next verse goes somewhere totally new: "Come back home to the refinery/Hiring man says "Son, if it was up to me"/I go down to see the VA man/He said "Son, don't you understand?" To anyone who remembers how America reacted to Vietnam, there's confusion, pain, heartache, rejection, anger and bewilderment in them there words.
Right there, Springsteen draws a knife along the scar that split America for so many years, and draws a picture of the abandonment of an entire generation. His chorus of "Born in the USA" is ironic, sure, but it's also a cry of pain from the men and women who came home and were rejected by their country: "Down in the shadow of the penitentiary/Out by the gas fires of the refinery/I'm ten years down the road/Nowhere to run, ain't got nowhere to go." We were born here, they're saying, we were just doing our duty. To this day, some Vietnam veterans have never been able to come to terms with being insulted, spat on and abandoned.
And the wicked cynicism of the political class that tried to adopt this song as a statement of pride, as a badge of values, should never be forgotten. Nor, for that matter, should the blind ignorance of those individuals who did the same.

1 comment:

Natsthename said...

So true. I still feel like puking when I see the old clips of Reagan referring to Bruce Springsteen, as if he'd heard any of his music. Such a load of crap!