Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A Little Hometown Jam

Born in the USA was released 29 years ago today.  Here's my assessment of the album, three decades in the making:

First, my complaints. Born in the USA took Bruce out of Jersey and made him an international phenomenon, which isn't bad in and of itself (depending on your view), but it did distance him from his core audience; the album instantly produced a massive crop of bandanna-wearin' musclehead fans who willfully misunderstood the title track (and still do); Bruce went from scrawny, soulful street tough to calculated fitness buff (in the "Dancing in the Dark" video Bruce looks, as Bobcat Goldthwait said at the time, like a member of Up With People); "Glory Days" was a dopey song; it was suddenly even harder in the NY/NJ area to get concert tickets; Steve Van Zandt left the band to make screechy political albums (before returning to earth in time to give us Silvio Dante); Bruce dated (and married) a supermodel; "Downbound Train" is just plain stupid; and finally, for the first time, Bruce lip-synched in videos. (This list may be some people's highlights, rather than complaints, and if so then you may go in peace.)

On the positive side:
I spent two summers seeing him at the Meadowlands again and again, which was great once you got past the whole football stadium atmosphere; there was an explosion of fantastic live and studio bootlegs that jump-started not only my already-intense fannishness but greatly inspired my own singing and performing at the time; certain girls suddenly found me that much more interesting because I knew all things Bruce and could play almost all his songs; if you were a fan you wanted Bruce to succeed so he could sustain a career, and clearly he did; and Bruce's own reaction to the fame and the failed supermodel marriage informed  Tunnel of Love, which remains for me his finest album and one of the greatest collections of songs about love and marriage ever recorded. So there's that.

And finally, if you hear it right, the title track is the most powerful song about American combat vets in the history of pop music. I wish we had all heeded it better, since there are  modern vets currently living out almost every word.


  1. I'm with you on Tunnel of Love--arguably my favorite album by Bruce and it came out when I was in the middle of an ugly and painful divorce from Carla, so it really resonated with me. But I actually think Glory Days is a good song and not close to stupid. To me, it expressed a similar sentiment to that in Ricky Nelson's Garden Party. Ricky talked about people asking him to play all the old songs and said "If memories were all I sang, I'd rather drive a truck". I think the sentiment there is similar to what Bruce was saying in Glory Days--you can't live in the past. I think he was correctly observing that people tend to get stuck in the time of their formative years and by spending their life in their past (glories or otherwise), they miss out on living today. That's my takeaway from those songs in any case. Ciao brother. David M

  2. Dave, great comment. This is one of those instances I think where I am unable to completely discern whether my judgment of "Glory Days" is based upon an objective reading of the song or on 30 years of being sick to death of it. Possibly, it's a combination of both. I think at the time I resented the song because it was deliberately designed to appeal to a blue collar sensibility that he had touched on so brilliantly with songs like "Factory" but calculatedly exploits here. That may very well be a wild misreading of his intent and of the quality of the song, so if it seems that way it's probably correct. I will say, I don't think it has held up well over the years and sounds to me pretty dated and corny now.