Saturday, November 24, 2012

Born In The USA: Lyric Review

By JccKeith

Born in the U.S.A. is a song written and performed by Bruce Springsteen in 1984.  Everyone knows this song, the radio stations used to play it like it was our national anthem or something.  Actually, I take that back, I don't think I have ever heard any radio station play our national anthem. So let me rephrase, radio stations play this song a lot.  

Anyone who knows a bit about this song knows Reagan used it in his campaign.  You probably also know most people don't listen to the lyrics.  They only hear the chorus where Springsteen emphatically sings, "I was born in the U.S.A."  And of course you are familiar with the fact that the lyrics are a far cry from patriotism.

In the way of opening up the chance for other viewpoints on the matter, I'll include here what Wikipedia said a couple of people said about the song in American Quarterly.  Be forewarned, you'll need boots to wade through it, 

"Two scholars writing in the journal American Quarterly explored the song as a lament for the embattled working-class identity.  Structurally, they noted that "the anthemic chorus contrasted with the verses' desperate narrative," a tension which informs an understanding of the song's overall meaning: the nationalist chorus continuously overwhelms the desperation and sacrifice relayed in the verses.  They point out that the imagery of the Vietnam War could be read as metaphor for "the social and economic siege of American blue-collar communities" at large, and that lyrics discussing economic devastation are likely symbolic for the effect of blind nationalism upon the working class.  The song as a whole, they felt, laments the destabilization of the economics and politics protecting the "industrial working class" in the 1970s and early 1980s, leaving only "a deafening but hollow national pride." 

  • For those of you out there who read that and thought, wait... what?  Or if you were like me and only read a few words here and there and thought, this is awfully complicated, then here's your chance to read a less wordy explanation. 

The lyrics by Bruce Springsteen:

Born down in a dead man's town [I was born in a crappy nowhere town] 

The first kick I took was when I hit the ground [Life has just been one problem after another] 

You end up like a dog that's been beat too much [I've lost all hope, I've given up] 

Until you spend half your life just covering up [I just realized half my pathetic life is already gone] 

Born in the U.S.A, I was born in the U.S.A. [Guess where he was born?]

I was born in the U.S.A., born in the U.S.A. [Yeah that's right, the United States of America]  

Got in a little hometown jam [Got into a little problem in my hometown] 

So they put a rifle in my hand [So they drafted him, put him into the military] 

Sent me off to a foreign land [Sent him to Vietnam - it's this whole other country]

To go and kill the yellow man [Fight in the Vietnam War - Asians were at one time referred to as yellow men due to the color of their skin]

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. 

Come back home to the refinery  [Refinery here is meant to symbolize how in small towns there is usually only one big business/warehouse/manufacturing company and that company is where most people in the area are employed - basically, it's the only job in town]  

Hiring man said, "Son, if it was up to me" [The guy who does the hiring gives him the old "It's not me, it's them" crap when he turns him down.  Hiring guy doesn't want to take responsibility for saying no;  The reason the hiring guy says no is implied by the rest of the song to be because the character singing is a Vietnam vet.  Many Americans saw returning vets as "baby killers" due to publicized atrocities committed by a select few soldiers during the war.  Vietnam vets were scorned by a large percentage of the American people despite the fact that they had been drafted to go fight and had no choice.]  

Went down to see my V.A. man [ V.A. is veterans affairs.  Character has to resort to going and pleading for help from the V.A.]

He said, "Son, don't you understand" [V.A. guy tells the character that Vietnam vets are just S.O.L.  It's not their fault, it's just that the American public has turned against them.  There isn't anything the V.A. guy can do.  So basically, the vet is told, sorry about your luck, your country has turned against you - even the people of your hometown.] 

I had a brother at Khe Sanh [His brother fought in the Battle of Khe Sanh in Vietnam] 

Fighting off the Viet Cong [To be technical, the Viet Cong were actually the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam.  The Battle of Khe Sanh was fought against the North Vietnamese Army not the Viet Cong.  However, in many movies and in popular culture, many Americans don't know the difference between the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army, they simply refer to all enemies in Vietnam as Viet Cong so that may be why Springsteen used the term Viet Cong.  He most likely chose the Battle of Khe Sanh because it was a long bloody battle that America did eventually win.  Shortly after winning, Americans then abandoned Khe Sanh.  It is a media symbol of the futility of the entire Vietnam War.]  

They're still there, he's all gone [Further emphasizing how futile and deadly the Vietnam War was, Springsteen says here that the enemy is still there but his brother is dead.  So if the enemy is still there, why did we fight the war in the first place?  Why did we send so many to their death?] 

He had a woman he loved in Siagon [His brother fell in love with a Vietnamese woman, many American soldiers did fall in love with women there] 

I got a picture of him in her arms now [All he has now is a picture of the woman with his brother's son - there may be some reference here to the fact of how difficult it was for soldiers who fell in love and wanted to bring their woman home to the U.S. The U.S. public had a low opinion of the Vietnamese - another reference to futility, why fight a war to save people Americans didn't even like?]  

Down in the shadow of the penitentiary [He is still living in his crappy nowhere hometown.  There is the imagery of how his life is crappy and he's going nowhere and could very well end up in prison.  Some vets did end up in there when they resorted to lives of crime since they couldn't make a living honestly.  Also, when people go to prison, they are separated from society, much as he, the vet, has been separated from society due to what he has been through in Vietnam] Out by the gas fires of the refinery [The refinery is where everyone in the area works and yet he couldn't get a job there, so he stands outside the refinery and again is outside of everyone else in town - separated  from them] 

I'm then years burnin down the road [It's been ten years since he got back from Vietnam]

Nowhere to run, ain't got nowhere to go [He can't escape what he's been through, can't run away from what happened in Vietnam or what has happened to him since he came back home.  He has no help anywhere, he has nowhere to go.  The idea is that America sends its kids to war and then turns its back on them when they get back home.] 

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. 

There you have it.  This song everyone loves to sing along to is nothing more than an anti-war anthem.  It sounds all patriotic but isn't what it seems.  It is Bruce Springsteen speaking up for the scorned Vietnam War vets.  Now you know.  But hey, keep on singing along, the Boss won't mind.  He's had almost thirty years to come to terms with the fact that a large portion of his audience have no idea what he is singing.

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