Bruce Springsteen discusses the origins of “Born in the U.S.A.” and how it was misconstrued as an overtly patriotic song in a clip from the final episode of his podcast with Barack Obama, Renegades: Born in the USA.
In the clip, Springsteen says he started working on “Born in the U.S.A.” after meeting and befriending two Vietnam veterans, including Ron Kovic, author of Born on the Fourth of July. In a surreal twist of fate, Springsteen says he met Kovic at a motel in Los Angeles a few weeks after reading Born on the Fourth of July. Kovic then took Springsteen to a vet center in Venice, where the musician spent several afternoons listening to other veterans, which is what began to inspire the song.
As for the famous titular hook, that also had an unexpected origin: Screenwriter Paul Schrader had sent Springsteen a script that bore the title, Born in the U.S.A.
“This is a song about the pain, glory, shame of identity and of place,” Springsteen says. “So it’s a complex picture of the country. Our protagonist is someone who has been betrayed by his nation and yet still feels deeply connected to the country that he grew up in.”
After Obama notes how the song was “appropriated as this iconic, patriotic song,” even though that wasn’t necessarily Springsteen’s intention, the musician adds: “But I think why the song is being appropriated, one is because it was so powerful, two is because its imagery was so fundamentally American, but it did demand of you to hold two contradictory ideas in your mind at one time that you can both be very critical of your nation and very prideful of your nation simultaneously. And that is something that you see… argued about to this very day.”
Obama and Springsteen launched Renegades on Spotify back in February. The final episode is set to air on April 5th.