As time moves on, what was once existential is now history. History suggests that the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War has not aged well. Indeed, the American government has not come out well regarding Vietnam; a belly full of disgusting lies and deceitfulness that produced countless body bags and damaged so many human beings. Not one of our countries proudest moments. An utter embarrassment.
In all the muck and mire that is the Vietnam War, Bruce Springsteen and his fans can be thankful for at least one thing. Ron Kovic survived his combat duties and was Born on the Fourth of July.
Before Mr. Kovic’s story hit the big screen, with a top of his form Tom Cruise portraying the Vietnam Veteran, Born on the Fourth of July was a best-selling book that caught the eye of a young rocker-songwriter born in Freehold, New Jersey. Kovic’s book caught Springsteen’s eye and captured his heart. As a result, he penned the classic anti-war song, Born in the USA.
Bruce’s tale of how Born in the USA came to be has been well documented. In his smash Broadway run, Springsteen on Broadway, the retelling of his avoidance of being drafted for Vietnam is one of the best segments of the show. Bruce gets into even more detail than what is seen on Netflix, including a comical tale of the Bart Haynes’ inability to play wipeout, told in a serious tone, yet with a comical delivery that only Springsteen could pull off.
Written during the Nebraska recordings, Born in the USA was a holdover, and subsequent title of his 1984 smash album. With that release, Born in the USA became one of the most misunderstood pop songs of all time. Part of the reason why was that in 1984, Ronald Reagan and his ‘morning in America’ moniker had the majority of the country feeling grand about themselves. Indeed, the decade of excess was in full swing, and a popular rocker chanting his birthright, accompanied with a bombastic sound, could only mean positivity. Right?
Another reason why this anti-war song was probably so misunderstood was that the rest of the content on USA was disproportionate with the anti-war message of the title song. Not one track on the rest of the album contains the same theme as the title song. For that, Bruce has to take some responsibility. And Springsteen has indeed expressed mixed feelings about this album because of the fact it is all over the place, in terms of the subject matter. The pop nature and sound production indicate that perhaps Bruce himself got caught up in the Morning in America/excess nonsense. Just a little bit. A behavior he cannot be proud of
But the title song is fascinating and deserves its recognition. So powerful, a whole book can be written about it if someone is so inclined to do so.
Bruce is spot on with the chorus’ declaration of birthright. The story told in the lyrics is right in keeping with Kovic’s story. Perhaps not verbatim, but it captures its soul. And not just Ron Kovic, the lyrics capture the heart and soul of most Vietnam veterans. Men who were given a raw deal in a shit town were all that was certain was a swift kick in the ass from a rigged system. The American Dream you were not a part of.
Indeed, such a man during the time of the Vietnam war would find themselves in a predicament where going off to kill the yellow man was their future. If you were lucky enough to survive such an ordeal, what did you come home to? No job or any prospects for a meaningful future that your birthright was supposed to guarantee. Indeed, this is dense and complicated subject matter was going to be lost upon the conservatives and yuppies, who were so happy with grabbing with both hands, while waving the flag in their teeth, during the Reagan years.
Having said that, Bruce Springsteen is an intense artist and he was not going to let this misinterpretation of Born in the USA go down without a fight. Bruce has been very vocal about the misinterpretation of the song and wrote about it extensively in his autobiography.
This powerful story all began with Ron Kovic’s book, a tale that might not have had as much panache if Mr. Kovic’s birthright did not begin on the Fourth of July.
Thank you, Mr. Kovic, you are a true American hero.