Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born in the USA’ is an archetypal flag-waving Americana anthem, one which was released on October 30th, 1984 and is viewed as being an emotional love-letter by The Boss to his country—which couldn’t be further from the truth.
Springsteen wrote this song from a place of anguish, a time when he was hugely disappointed and aggrieved about the issues Vietnam veterans encountered when they returned home after valiantly serving their country. The Boss was adamant that veterans deserved a hero’s welcome for putting their body on the line for the country when, in reality, the actuality was anything but. As Vietnam was the first war the US didn’t emerge from victoriously, those who fought in Vietnam were mostly ignored when they returned to their homeland and this made Springsteen feel disheartened with a nation that he thought he knew.
As a result, ‘Born in the USA’ has become one of the most misinterpreted songs in existence, with people taking the track on the surface and believe it as an ode from The Boss to his country. It’s an easy mistake to make, without digging deeper the song does appear to be about American pride, which is the antithesis of the song’s true meaning. Springsteen still believes that it is one of his best songs, but the fact that it is so often misinterpreted does irritate him and that his reasoning for writing the anthem is lost on so many.
Perhaps the most high-profile misinterpretation came when Ronald Reagan was campaigning in New Jersey in 1984 and used the song as a political tool in Bruce’s home state. “America’s future rests in a thousand dreams inside your hearts,” the former President said in his speech. “It rests in the message of hope in songs so many young Americans admire: New Jersey’s own Bruce Springsteen. And helping you make those dreams come true is what this job of mine is all about.”
Springsteen opened up about this in a 2005 interview with National Public Radio, “This was when the Republicans first mastered the art of co-opting anything and everything that seemed fundamentally American,” The Boss furiously said. “And if you were on the other side, you were somehow unpatriotic. I make American music, and I write about the place I live and who I am in my lifetime. Those are the things I’m going to struggle for and fight for.
“In my songs, the spiritual part, the hope part is in the choruses. The blues, and your daily realities are in the details of the verses. The spiritual comes out in the choruses, which I got from gospel music and the church,” Springsteen continued.
The legacy of the song is one that has been somewhat tarnished by the misinterpretation which has made people view Springsteen as an all-American icon and, even though he certainly is, he’s an American hero for entirely different reasons.