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How 'Born in the U.S.A.' threatened to ruin Bruce Springsteen's career

Whilst he is commonly known as ‘The Boss’, this hasn’t stopped Bruce Springsteen from falling foul of those who do not agree with his views. One of the most gregarious musicians out there, Springsteen’s work is imbued with a self-awareness that many of his A-list peers do not possess, and since his breakthrough in the 1970s, he has invariably used his status for good, dedicated to his personal political and social ideals. 

Notably, the most political album he has released is 1984’s Born in the U.S.A., and although the album is brimming with highlights, the most important moment is the title track. Channelling Springsteen’s political awareness and memories of the ’60s when his friends, and many countrymen of his age, were conscripted into the Vietnam War. The song addresses the economic tribulations faced by veterans of the war returning to America and calls out the hypocrisy of glorifying the army but not looking after them. 

Characterised by Springsteen’s sharp commentary and sarcasm, ironically the protest song was misinterpreted as being a nationalistic anthem, meaning that millions of conservative Americans bought into it, including one President Ronald Reagan. At the time, Springsteen was at his commercial peak, and it is certain that playing to thousands of flag-waving fans every night was disconcerting for him, as his pertinent message was being misunderstood, and replaced with a frenetic form of American jingoism that missed the point entirely. 

When touring Born in the U.S.A., Springsteen set up charitable organisations, promoted food banks, and constantly donated to charity. He became one of the most prominent helpers of those on the peripheries of society as well as the Vietnam veterans and was practising what he preached, a rarity for an artist of his size.

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However, his charitable nature would eventually start to irritate people. In the ’00s, he found himself more disillusioned with politics than ever before due to the George Bush administration, and so he opted to do something about it. He began campaigning for John Kerry, who was running against Bush in his bid for a second term. 

This is where ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ comes back into the picture. Droves of Republican fans who had been turned onto ‘The Boss’ by the song, now felt they had been betrayed, and thus started to turn against the New Jersey native. They felt that he should concentrate on his music, and keep his nose out of politics. 

This was an impossible request. Springsteen was a teenager when the counterculture was at its height, and amongst his most cherished heroes are the likes of Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie, meaning that his work has always been infused with political sentiment. He learnt from the best in the business at using their art to advocate for a better world, and he was never going to change. 

Unfortunately for Springsteen, Kerry failed in the race against Bush. What ensued was an increased backlash against the musician for lending his support to the Democrat, and his Republican fans could never forgive him for standing on stage next to Kerry, as they campaigned against the incumbent President Bush. Again, history repeated itself when Springsteen campaigned with President Obama, meaning that even more fans turned their backs on him. 

As is customary for ‘The Boss’, none of this phased him. After all, this was the man who after releasing Born in the U.S.A., which landed him on the cover of Time magazine, released the minimalist Tunnel of Love as its successor, a complete departure from the unrelenting political anthems of his most successful album. He doesn’t care what people think of him, and his music is his own. It’s safe to say that even if Springsteen was an unknown artist, he’d still be writing political music, such is the nature of the man.

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