Born in the USA: The Most Misunderstood Americana Song Ever

Born in the USA: The Most Misunderstood Americana Song Ever

Bruce Springsteen’s 1984 hit is often used as a patriotic ballad — but the song is actually critiquing the US.

If you’ve been living in America in the last 31 years, you’re all too familiar with the opening chords of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA.” Iconic in their own right, those chords lead into one of the most misunderstood songs of all time, a song that, when listened to beyond its chorus, actually addresses the harmful and neglectful treatment of Vietnam War veterans by the government and American society at large.


Born down in a dead man's town

The first kick I took was when I hit the ground

End up like a dog that's been beat too much

Till you spend half your life just covering up


Born in the USA, I was born in the USA

I was born in the USA, born in the USA


Born in the USA, the album of the same title, wasn’t much of a thematic departure for Springsteen as an aural one. Following his darker album, Nebraska, Born in the USA packaged Springsteen’s political storytelling into a heavy, crowd-pleasing rock and roll sound. Packaged in an equally iconic and parodied Annie Leibovitz-photographed cover, Born in the USA became one of the best-selling albums of 1984, the best-selling album of Springsteen’s career, and actually, one of the best-selling albums of all time. Every single on the album hit into the Top Ten. Springsteen is, after all, The Boss.

Springsteen's butt (via IG—bram_elstak) #BornInTheUSA #BruceSpringsteen #Springsteen #Lyrics #Music #PlayItAgain

Got in a little hometown jam

So they put a rifle in my hand

Sent me off to a foreign land

To go and kill the yellow man


Born in the USA, I was born in the USA

Born in the USA, born in the USA


Come back home to the refinery

Hiring man said "son if it was up to me"

Went down to see my V.A. man

He said "son, don't you understand"


Of course, the chorus being scream-sung at a rally of any kind is thrilling. But the rest of the meaning gets lost on those listening through huge speakers, in stadium seating, while they wait for a candidate or public figure to come on stage. Fist pumping delight makes sense — if you don’t understand what’s being conveyed. The real Springsteen die-hards get this, and tattoos dedicated to this particular hit are actually few and far between. There are, however, tons of homages to the Boss himself, and “Born to Run” and “Thunder Road” tattoos from the 1975 Born to Run album.


I 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

Down in the shadow of the penitentiary

Out by the gas fires of the refinery

I'm ten years burning down the road

Nowhere to run ain't got nowhere to go


In case you needed any more convincing that “Born in the USA” is the most misunderstood song of all American time, Ronald Reagan was famously quoted at a campaign stop in Virginia in 1984, “America's future rests in a thousand dreams inside your hearts; 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.” This is why we stay on script, and also read the liner notes in the albums we admire.


Born in the USA, I was born in the USA

Born in the USA, I'm a long gone daddy in the USA

Born in the USA, born in the USA

Born in the USA, I'm a cool rocking daddy in the USA

The Boss (via IG—stan_fromrebeltotwindad) #BornInTheUSA #BruceSpringsteen #Springsteen #Lyrics #Music #PlayItAgain
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