Born In The U.S.A.
Bruce Springsteen
Born In The
U.S.A., 1984
 Words and Music by Bruce Springsteen

This song is about the plight of countless Vietnam Veterans as they struggle to adjust to civilian life while coping with the psychological and physical after-effects of war. Listeners, who focus their attention primarily on the title and chorus of the song, very often misinterpret it's meaning. Springsteen addresses this very issue in his 1998 book Songs,  "In order to understand the song's intent, you needed to invest a certain amount of time and effort to absorb both the music and the words. But that's not the way a lot of people use pop music...I guess the same fate awaited Woody Guthrie's This Land Is Your Land around the campfire. But that didn't make me feel any better."

Springsteen also explained the origin of the title, "In 1981 director Paul Schrader sent me a script called Born in the U.S.A...He wanted me to come up with some music for the film. But the script sat on my writing table until one day I was singing a new song I was writing called Vietnam. I looked over and sang off the top of Paul's cover page, I was born in the U.S.A."

As mentioned above, Woody Guthrie's song, This Land Is Your Land has been misunderstood by many who have interpreted the song as a celebration of America and the ideals of hope and freedom. In fact this song was a critique of American Capitalist society and written in response to Irving Berlin's God Bless America which Guthrie believed was exclusionary and represented extreme nationalism. Musician Steve Earle explained in an interview, "My generation grew up, everybody sang This Land Is Your Land, it's just some of us knew what it was about and others didn't. I happened to grow up knowing what it was about. But all the other kids I grew up with sang it in school the way Ronald Reagan quoted Born in the USA."

In 2004, Incubus's controversial song "Megalomaniac" joined the ranks of misinterpreted songs. The music video for this song, which includes a character that strongly resembles President George W. Bush, was deemed too controversial for prime time, and is rarely seen on MTV. While many have interpreted the message of this song as a direct attack on the Bush Administration and it's policies, lead singer Brandon Boyd explained, ''When we wrote this song and did the video, in no way was it a lash out against George W. Bush...I was thinking specifically, in mind, about a person whose (identity) is inconsequential and, for lack of a better term, inappropriate. But I think that it's a beautiful thing that people have attached their own idea en masse to the song. It will probably go down in history as that anti-Bush rock song."

Regardless of original intent, controversial songs play an important role when they encourage public discourse and help to stimulate meaningful discussion of significant political and social issues. Incubus singer Boyd also warns that our fundamental freedoms will be eroded and diminished when dissenting views are silenced through intimidation and censorship, ''The people who are bashing human beings, American citizens, for their opinions, those are the most un-American people out there...When people start allowing that kind of behavior, that's when we start walking back into the dark ages...and if you're not exercising your basic rights, you're basically just handing them off to somebody else who will probably end up using them against you."
 

Source(s): Springsteen, Bruce, Songs. Avon Books, Inc., New York, 1988.

                Wilkins, Jason Moon, "Incubus Offers No Apologies", The Tennessean 10/02/04, Tennessean.com

                Dansby, Andrew,  "Mountain Man" - Steve Earle Interview,  Rolling Stone, 1999. RollingStone.com
 

Music and Lyric Resources:

brucespringsteen.net: Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen Lyrics

Official Incubus Website

Incubus Online

Official Woody Guthrie Website

Steve Earle

Referenced and Related Works:

This Land Is Your Land

Freedom of Speech

Liberty Quotes

First Amendment

Sedition Act

Harry S. Truman's, "Don't Sign Petitions"

Margaret Chase Smith's, "Declaration of Conscience"

Incubus's "Megalomaniac"

"Incubus offers no apologies" -  10/2/04

"Three Amigo's"  -  El Guapo

Constructed Response Activity

Born In The U.S.A.   (external link)

Woody Guthrie: this man is your myth, this man is my myth   (external link)

Woody Guthrie and the Archive of American Folk Song: Correspondence, 1940-1950   (external link)

YouTube - “Born in the U.S.A.” (external link)

YouTube – “This Land Is Your Land” (external link)

YouTube – “Megalomaniac” (external link)

 
 


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