Born In The USA: Independence Day Thoughts
David Brooks put together a solid piece of opinion writing in the New York Times last week. The article’s first 300 words focus on a trip Brooks took to see Bruce Springsteen play on tour in Europe. So, suffice it to say, it wasn’t your typical Times opinion piece.
Describing the tour, Brooks mentioned a powerful scene he witnessed at a concert in Spain:
The oddest moment came midconcert when I looked across the football stadium and saw 56,000 enraptured Spaniards, pumping their fists in the air in fervent unison and bellowing at the top of their lungs, “I was born in the U.S.A.! I was born in the U.S.A.!”
“Did it occur to them at that moment,” Brooks asks, “that they were not born in the U.S.A.?
At first glance, this appears pretty incredible. Just think of it: a packed stadium in Spain bellowing a patriotic American rock anthem. But “Born In The U.S.A.” is not a simple song. In an essay entitled Faith, Fandom and Bruce Springsteen, a former college professor of mine, Jeff Cowie, looks at the song in the following way:
Few songs expose the tension between the power of the America story and its seamy underside better than Springsteen’s biggest, and most misunderstood, hit, “Born in the U.S.A.” Nearly lost in the tidal wave of sound pouring from the thundering guitars and the hoarse, grinding voice chanting the title lyric, is a quiet tale of despair. The story of a Vietnam vet searching for work and dignity amid the declining fortunes of an American dream gone awry is almost completely drowned out in the dominant chorus of patriotism.
That said, one of the beautiful things about the United States is how it can at once be loved and criticized with equal vigor. Yes, things are not perfect, but the belief is that they can be made better and, with persistence, they will.
It’s fitting then that Springsteen would embed his criticism through the lens of optimism. “Born In The U.S.A” is just that- an upbeat and joyous rock anthem with lyrics that say things aren’t great but, taken together, the overall message is that things can get better.
I think that’s an essential attitude for any Democracy. It’s why the lyrics resonate here, and elsewhere. Just something to think of as we approach July 4th.