Bruce Springsteen – Born in the U.S.A. (1984): Deep Cuts

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I’d just gotten out of college when Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. became a soundtrack for my first summer of true adulthood. (Read: lots of barbecues, beer and time at the pool.) Released this week in 1984, the album and its singles received massive amounts of radio play. Combined with the reach of MTV, it served to transform Springsteen a sweeping cultural presence.

These days, you might just hear the title track anywhere, from your car to the Musak-driven speakers at the grocery store. There was this one day that I had to attend an offsite meeting (a “team-building” session … ugh, just typing that makes me cringe). During one of the many speeches, I heard somebody in the next function room playing the main riff on a piano. A lot of thoughts went through my head at that particular moment. I wondered why anybody would choose to install carpet that was this hideous. I wondered how many more of these awful meetings I’d be forced to endure during my career. I also wondered if the person playing that snippet on the piano thought about Bruce Springsteen the same way that I did.

The answer to that last question is of course, no. Music serves a different purpose for every individual. I can’t really remember if I felt an odd kinship with that piano player in the next room, or if I just felt temporary relief at being transported out of that uncomfortable room for a few seconds. The latter feeling was something that would grow in importance as I got older, but I didn’t know that yet.

Here are a handful of other personal memories, focusing on songs from Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ that were a little less ubiquitous …

“DARLINGTON COUNTY”: Road trip! My summer of ’84 officially kicked off during the first listen to “Darlington Country.” And yeah, while we might have been more reserved on our road trips (nobody ended up in state trooper’s handcuffs), there was always plenty of music “blasting off the T-top.”

When I hear this now — the chiming guitars, the sha-la-la’s, Bruce Springsteen calling out Clarence Clemons to let that sax roar … it’s hard to not let more than a little bit of that nostalgia take over. Let’s face it, age and adulthood have put a lot of distance between a responsibility-free romp down the highway and the ever-present now.

“DOWNBOUND TRAIN”: Peter Ames Carlin’s (excellent) Bruce Springsteen bio drew a line from the Castiles’ tune “That’s What You Get” all the way to “Downbound Train,” with the point of overlap being the line “I fall down on my knees and I cry.” No, the line isn’t an exact match, but the sentiment is the same.

And while the circumstances weren’t the same, “Downbound Train” kind of makes me think of Bruce’s dad, with the multiple jobs and how things just never quite worked out for him.

When people go off on that “How can Springsteen talk about the working man?” tirade, you might think that songs like this — or more to the point: the history behind them — would provide ample evidence. But you know, some folks are just more comfortable wrapping themselves in their version of the “truth,” no matter how divorced from reality it is.

“NO SURRENDER”: We learned more from a three-minute record baby, than we ever learned in school. Yes, words to live by. And I’ve kind of felt that way for most of my life.

Don’t get me wrong. I never busted out of class (Well, OK…I did once, but I got a detention for it. Proof of my lack of rebel stature.) or anything like that. Heck, I even went to college. Damn, what an elitist! I followed along the well-marked trail that I was supposed to follow. School. Marriage. Career.

But none of that ever meant as much to me as a clanging guitar making its way through a three-chord rock and roll song. For years I’ve been waiting for this situation to reverse itself, for that successfully executed Microsoft Excel macro to light up the sky. Only then would I be an adult, fully embracing the “real” world.

I guess it’s just not meant to be. I’ve got plenty of responsibilities in this life, but none of them can diminish the power that music can unleash. Does this make me immature? I guess I can live with that.

“BOBBY JEAN”: I honestly can’t remember if I was aware that Steve Van Zandt had left the E Street Band. Certainly my constant consumption of the usual rock rags must have exposed me to the Little Steven/Nils Lofgren switch. Still, the hugeness of the whole Born in the U.S.A. phenomenon probably pushed aside this important change.

As for Bruce Springsteen’s “Bobby Jean,” I was far too young at the time to really understand the emotion of that kind of separation. I was just out of college, still trying to figure out which way was up, so to speak. Still trying to piece together how to live “like an adult.” That was a foreign concept to me, since most of the adults that I knew didn’t seem to care all that much about stuff like buying records, reading books, and going to concerts. That particular brand of adulthood still remains outside of my circle of understanding.

Whether this song is truly about Steve leaving the band is kind of beside the point for me. I do remember wondering what it would feel like to have someone taken away from me in that way, but for the most part I just enjoyed the chiming E Street sound and Clarence Clemons’ driving solo. Bigger concerns would have to wait.

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he originated several of our weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Mark Saleski
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