Born in the U.S.A.by Geoffrey Himes Published 19 Aug 2005
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When Bruce Springsteen went back on the road in 1984, he opened every show by shouting out, "one, two, one, two, three, four," followed by the droning synth chords of "Born in the U.S.A." Max Weinberg hit his drums with a two-fisted physicality that cut through the swelling chords. With a rolled-up red kerchief around his head and heavy black boots under his faded jeans, Springsteen looked like the character of the song, and from the very first line ("Born down in a dead man's town") he sang with the throat-scraping desperation of a man with his back against the wall. When he reached the crucial lines, though, the guitars and bass dropped out and Weinberg switched to just the hi-hat. Springsteen's voice grew a bit more private and reluctant as he sang, "Nowhere to run. Nowhere to go." It was as if he weren't sure if this were an admission of defeat or the drawing of a line in the sand. But when the band came crashing back at full strength--building a crescendo that fell apart in the cacophony of Springsteen's and Weinberg's wild soloing, paused and then came together again in the determined, marching riff--it was clear that the singer was ready to make a stand.
"Born in the U.S.A." Reviews
This book is very good for anyone who hasn't read about and doesn't care for Bruce Springsteen. Most of his assertions are strictly speculative, often contradicting well documented and aged aspects of Springsteen's mentality and style. Himes spends an exceptional amount of the book trashing on Springsteen's 70s discography, which only furthers a general perception that the reader is not particularly caring or interested in Springsteen. Of all the books I've read about Springsteen, this is the only one I wish I hadn't.
I am a casual Springsteen fan and thus an anomaly of sorts. I've seen him in concert (The Rising tour so way late to the party). This album saturated the radio and MTV my senior year in high school to the point that I kept it at arm's length. "Pink Cadillac" was good for a listen but that was about it for me.
I've tried to read more about Springsteen but get so bogged down in the mythology. I do like these 33 1/3 books, so it seemed the perfect chance to try again. Himes is definitely on the opposite end of the fan spectrum than myself. He has done the research and opened my eyes to the voluminous outpouring of songs by Springsteen at this time. I still have the Gary US Bonds single he wrote somewhere in the collection. The way he fretted over album material, song placement, etc. was fascinating. The book as a whole served its purpose. I came away with a better understanding of an artist and his process during this one sliver of time and a slightly better appreciation of this album.
One nit is the error in referring to the guitarist for Black Sabbath as "Tommy" Iommi rather than Tony. Himes is a music guy and should've caught that.
An excellent, brief, introduction to Born In The USA. I wasn't convinced by the author's claim that it's Bruce's best album, but it makes sense that this was written by somebody suitably enthusiastic. I haven't really listened to Springsteen for a couple years (personal reasons, long story), and this helped remind me how important his music has been to me. Since I started the book, I've been going through his albums pretty much non-stop, and for that I can't thank Geoffrey Himes enough!
One of the better entries in the 33 1/3 series. It is not, I think, a coincidence that it's written by an experienced music journalist, who relies on research, and not just superfan, 'This album changed my life' gushing (this trope, once refreshing, has now become predictable and repetitive). Indeed, one of Himes's arguments for the greatness of the album's storytelling is its willingness to reach beyond the shallow insights of autobiography.
For the uninitiated, the 33 1/3 series is an ever-growing collection of tiny books (they're slightly smaller than a Blu-Ray disc case), each one dedicated to the creation of a particular album from the past six decades of music.
Geoffrey Himes' contribution to the collection is about Springsteen's most well-known record, his mid-1980s classic Born In The USA. He argues that, with its equal combination of humour and angst, it is the perfect Springsteen album.. and his supporting evidence is very persuasive. By examining the writing techniques used by Springsteen to record early demos for the album and putting them into context with the earlier Springsteen LPs, the fascinating story of this record begins to build.
Did you know that the song "Born In The USA" was originally recorded in a much different style on the same cassette demo tape that contained nine solo songs released as the Nebraska LP? Did you know that there was an extra verse in "Glory Days" that Springsteen wisely cut out so as not to spoil the humour of the other verses? Or how about "My Hometown", that began life as "Your Hometown", an upbeat Dave Edmunds-styled rockabilly number with the same lyrics but none of the same feelings of decay and despair as the final album version?
Himes talks about these embryonic forms of the songs and other songs intended to make the album, the strengths and weaknesses of Springsteen's approach to albums, and virtually everything else that anyone who has listened to and loved this record might wish to know about it, and its place in the wider context of rock and roll music. He uses quotes from published interviews with Springsteen to elaborate where necessary, and also reasons that Springsteen's growing enjoyment of film and literature in the late 70s and early 80s sharpened up and focused his songwriting techniques.
At just over 120 pages, Himes' critique of the record is compelling and direct, and never overstays its welcome. He is obviously a big fan of The Boss but doesn't shy away from pointing out the faults as he sees them, and his honesty is refreshing. (Although he doesn't have much time for the song "Bobby Jean" - what's with that?)
Though Himes doesn't mention any "bootleg" recordings in circulation containing the unreleased versions of the songs, fans would do well to check out a set called "Unsatisfied Heart - Remastered Born In The USA Outtakes" to hear for themselves everything that the album could have been. After they've read this book from cover to cover, of course.
The 33 1/3 books come in many forms - and Himes' book is one of the entries that focuses primarily on an album's lyrics.
I've always dismissed Springsteen's 1984 release for its 80s' production. Because of this focus, I never thought deeply about Bruce's lyrics. But after reading Himes' book, which doesn't concentrate on the downsides (and there are plenty) of 80s-syle production, I have a new appreciation for the lyrical breadth of Springsteen's words on USA.
Himes argues that Springsteen's lyrics cover everything from comedy to blatant sexual desire to politics. As such, USA covers the most terrain, according to Himes, in the shortest amount of time. He also says The River is a masterpiece for similar reasons, but USA is greater because of its conciseness.
Himes also indicates that Springsteen reaches a new level of maturity on Born in the USA because he no longer offers the "adolescent" dichotomy of a nihilistic acceptance of one's condition and a willingness to escape one's condition by up and leaving the situation behind.
I need to re-evaluate the record, thanks to Himes.
My complaint about the book is that it just isn't as good as some of the later entries in the series. Its focus is too narrow. In just discussing the album and its place in Springsteen's career, Himes misses an opportunity to discuss the social relevance of the record. Later 33 1/3 books do this.