Bruce Springsteen reflected on the misunderstood, “complex” themes of “Born in the U.S.A.” in a new clip promoting his Spotify podcast with Barack Obama.
The singer-songwriter also broke down the song’s trajectory in the segment, a preview from the final installment of Renegades: Born in the USA, saying he started work on “U.S.A.” after befriending a pair of Vietnam veterans.
Springsteen said he coincidentally met Ron Kovic, author of 1976’s Born on the Fourth of July, at a Los Angeles motel shortly after reading the book. They later traveled to a vet center, and the veterans’ stories inspired the foundation of a new track. The title, meanwhile, was borrowed from a script Springsteen received from screenwriter Paul Schrader.
“This is a song about the pain, glory, shame of identity and of place,” Springsteen said. “So it’s a complex picture of the country. Our protagonist is someone who has been betrayed by his nation and yet still feels deeply connected to the country that he grew up in.”
You can listen below.
Obama noted that “Born in the U.S.A.,” the title track from Springsteen’s 1984 LP, had been “appropriated” as an “iconic, patriotic song” — distorting its true meaning. And the songwriter agreed.
“I think why the song has been appropriated: One is because it was so powerful; two is because its imagery was so fundamentally American,” he said. “But it did demand of you to hold two contradictory ideas in your mind at one time: that you could both be very critical of your nation and very prideful of your nation simultaneously. And that is something that you see argued about to this very day.”
Springsteen has often mused about these patriotic misinterpretations. “That particularly song fell into a certain social context,” he recalled in a video interview. “The country had veered to the right, and the Republicans at the time were basically attempting to co-opt anything American. ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ was a song of rebellion.”