It’s not a recent album, but Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” seems to make more sense these days than any other release of the past two weeks. In this classic album, Springsteen creates an America that is all his own, yet also serves as a universal touchstone for Americans everywhere, a source for hope, sorrow, inspiration and regret.
His is a powerful voice infused with the heart of a poet. The E Street Band provides the final component to an album that has weathered the test of time and remains as moving today as it was 16 years ago.
No, the songs aren’t blatantly patriotic in the way that the album title suggests. They are, however, patriotic in the sense that they depict an America of people who have fallen on hard times but still haven’t lost hope. Springsteen’s characters have had to fight to get where they are, and they aren’t anywhere you’d brag about being. But there’s something — maybe in the beat or in the guitar — that picks you up and dusts you off.
Each song has its own story. The title song depicts a man sent to war. He comes home to no work and no hope, but the pounding drum and blaring guitar belie the darkness of the song and make it glorious in the face of its narrative.
“Downbound Train” is perhaps the saddest song of the album, describing a relationship with a woman that has dissolved. Springsteen captures in one sentence the sorrow of loss: “She just said, ‘Joe, I gotta go, we had it once, we ain’t got it anymore.'” Springsteen encapsulates a lost relationship, lost love, and lost innocence all in one line of dialogue.
It is this ability to capture the essence of many things in a moment that makes “Born in the USA” an album worth returning to. The characters and stories have become a part of our cultural heritage for a reason.
We all have known the high-school baseball player who can’t move on. And everyone knows something about skipping a responsibility to be free with friends to whom you promise to always remain faithful.
Springsteen himself feels like an old friend who knows all of your secrets, hopes and fears. Now is the perfect time to pick up “Born in the USA,” whether it’s for the first time, or the 50th.