#86: Bruce Springsteen, "Born in the U.S.A." (1984)

86 Born in the USA.jpg

Bruce Springsteen on the choice of cover art for Born in the USA: “We took a lot of different types of pictures, and in the end, the picture of my ass looked better than the picture of my face, that's what went on the cover. I didn't have any secret message. I don't do that very much."

Born in the USA

Dad never fought in a war. No one sent him to kill anybody. They sent his father, and his father’s father, but he wasn’t offered a war. He never had a woman in Saigon hold him in her arms—so how could I expect him to tell me what it felt like? He couldn’t reminisce about her stroking his hair while he thought about fighting off the Viet Cong. He didn’t know the skin on the inside of her arm as it rubbed against his cheek, his head lazy in her lap.

Cover Me

Mom is so scared of me becoming a man in America. She doesn’t want me to grow a beard and keeps shaving it in my sleep. She doesn’t want me to marry a woman or make a woman pregnant with baby boys. When my hands get bigger and my knuckles grow hair like Bruce Springsteen’s knuckles, she would like me to shave the hair off and pretend my hands are still small and incapable of violence.

Men came to our house and they wanted to take me. They wanted me to join them, to run around the streets like wild dogs. They wanted to cover me in blood and honey and roll me around in gravel so that small pebbles stuck to my skin. My mom locked the door and kept the lights off. She told me that it would all be okay.

Darlington County

My sisters run fast enough on their own. But there are two of them, so they’d be able to move much faster if one tosses the other forward. How often has someone sha la la, sha la la la la’d them since they left our father’s home?

They need to open their eyes and run faster. God is coming. God is coming to scoop them up. His hands are splitting the sky. The angels are in his palms, running down his fingers. They’re gaining on my sisters; their angel breath is making goose bumps all along the back of my sisters’ necks.

There is too much glory. God is in America. God has come to carry my sisters away. I don’t know what he wants with them, or where he’ll leave you when he’s done, or if he’ll sha la la, sha la la la la.

Working on the Highway

I don’t know if Bruce Springsteen ever worked on a highway. He became so famous so young. Sometimes I think he’s the closest thing to a moral conscience America has.

Downbound Train

Your lungs exploded. They ripped through your chest. Why did you hold your breath so long? Remember, like I taught you: in-out-in-out-in-out. I blame myself. It’s my job to remind you, no one else will. There is no one else.

I crafted new lungs for you out of balloons. I borrowed the balloons from your room. They were in the shapes of animals: giraffes, elephants, monkeys. I un-animaled them and turned them into lungs. Lay still, I’ll stuff them where the old ones used to be. And I’ll tie this ribbon around your chest so they’ll stay in place.

I’m on Fire

Honey, baby, is loving me like a knife? Is it like a knife cutting you up inside? Am I like a knife, loving you, cutting your outsides and your insides and scrambling them? Is being loved like a knife? Are the two of us both knives, sharpening each other until the tips get too sharp and cut us through?

Maybe you’ll be comforted knowing that I dream about being around more often than I am. In my dreams I run laps around our house trying to find a door. I’m a sweaty mess, and I’m panting. Eventually—I love you so much—eventually, I cut a new door in the side of the house and crawl through it.

I crawl like those raccoons that lived under our deck. We could hear them in the wall when we lay in bed together. And we heard their nest of babies when the babies were born. And we heard the angry mother when she ran into the trap and it cut her like a knife. All she wanted was a place to keep her babies safe.

No Surrender

Close your eyes and go to sleep. I’ll make sure that no cars come this way. I’m sorry it’s not more comfortable. You don’t need to worry. I’m your best friend.

We’re not that different. You and I are a lot alike. Keep your eyes closed. We’re the wildest boys, you and I. When we look at the world we see all the same things. When you see a tree, I see the tree. What you call green, I call green. This town is the same to you as it is to me. This America is your America and mine.

It is rare to find someone who sees things with the same eyes. Keep yours closed, I’ll look at everything for the both of us. I’ll tell you what I see, and you can trust it.

I’m Goin Down

I asked if we’d met before and you said, “No, keep your voice down.”

But it felt like we had.

Now, when I pull you down and we kiss, your lips don’t trust mine. They’re full of doubt and unbelief. They don’t trust that my lips will be there. It’s as if your lips are falling down a very deep well.

We smoked cigarettes in the car with the windows down. It was too cold to smoke cigarettes with the windows down. We drove eighteen hours down to Texas. Six hours into the trip our car broke down. Smoke was billowing from the hood. We stayed in a hotel that night, pulled down the window in our room, and stepped out onto the rooftop. There was one chair and we took turns sitting down, smoking our cigarettes, and letting the ashes scatter around our feet.

Glory Days

I swear I left. You say it was only a few days, but it was longer. And now I’m back, and nothing has changed. I’m back with my daughter and she keeps winking at me. We share a secret, she and I, and it’s this town. This town is a secret imparted to children.

I really did leave, it was almost two years. It was long enough to learn that every town has a secret. I can only contain so many secrets, there is a limit. And I feel time ripping away the few secrets I have stored away. Thankfully my daughter’s mind is young, its capacity for secrets is expansive, and when I forget she can remind me.

Dancing in the Dark

Sometimes when I look at the people I love they are a mirror. And in the mirror I am building a fire. The fire won’t start, so I dance around it in a circle, begging some god, some spirit, some spark to descend and light it for me. I dance until I am sweating and unable to breath and the fire is roaring. There is enough light, then, to look into the faces of the people I love and see myself clearly. Seeing my face lit by the fire I could not start I realize how tired and bored with myself I am. I realize that I need to change my clothes, my hair, my face.

My Hometown

If we pack our bags we can take County Road 950 E out of town. Or, if we prefer, County Road 500 S. We could get out of bed right now—we don’t need the sleep—wake our daughter and hit the road. Why pack? We can buy new things. She’s not even old enough to remember the place.

We’ll leave. She’ll grow older. We’ll be somewhere new and full of life. I’ll sit her on my lap, let her hold the wheel of the car, and I’ll lie to her. I’ll say, “Honey, take a good look around, this is your hometown.”

—Stephen Mortland