Springsteen to Open Grammys: Bleak or Promising New Song?

Bruce Springsteen will open the Grammys tomorrow night with "We Take Care Of Our Own", a single from his new album "Wrecking Ball." People are wondering whether it is a patriotic sequel to Born in the USA or a critique of America for failing to live up to its ideals? The song's hook (catchy, repetitive refrain) is:

Wherever this flag's flown
We take care of our own

But the somber visages of the everyday working people in the video and the remainder of the lyrics give the opposite message:

There ain't no help, the Cavalry stayed home
There ain't no one hearing the bugle blowin'
...Where's the work that will set my hands, my soul free
Where's the promise from sea to shining sea
Where's the promise from sea to shining sea

So what gives? Is he being ironic or sarcastic? [More...]

Notwithstanding the shift from black and white to color towards the end of the video, I don't see any hope and change in people's faces in the video. And we all know things aren't getting any better, so I think Bruce is just contrasting the promise of America with the unfortunate reality. This also fits with his statement a few months ago that Wrecking Ball was the angriest album he'd ever done.

As for the lyrics printed in big type over the images in the video -- maybe he just wants to make sure no one mistakes it for a rah-rah song based on the refrain. Which, of course is what happened with Born in the USA.

When this song first came out in January, a writer at the LA Times called it "an affirmation of national glory" that was "about the country and hardship, but also about community and pride." Another writer somewhere calls it an "Obama campaign video." I don't see either, even though Obama put it on his latest Spotify list of 2012 campaign songs at Facebook. It's hardly an uplifting song.

Maybe it's also a contrast between what is versus what we were led to expect would be. The images feature a lot of people in groups, but they are all isolated and lost in their own thoughts. Whether crossing the street or leaving the factory, they don't connect with those around them. There's no community here, no joy. Even the pictures of parents with children are sad. The parents look worried, but the children too young to notice anything wrong.

Perhaps the change from black and white to color isn't meant to signify things are getting better, but to bring the magnitude of despair into clearer focus. It may be bright and sunny but people are still worried and alone. Because America is not taking care of its own. No matter how bright the sun shines.

Whether I'm right or wrong, who knows? Either way, it's a clever song and video, that seems simplistic at first listen, but then gets you wondering.

What do you think his message is?

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  • Display: Sort:
    Didn't Reagan use "Born in the USA"... (5.00 / 2) (#1)
    by Dadler on Sat Feb 11, 2012 at 07:59:11 PM EST
    ...during the '84 campaign, believing it a patriotic anthem?  And didn't Springsteen remind him that, no, if you actually listen to it, it's not exactly a "Were #1!" kinda tune?

    Born down in a dead man's town
    The first kick I took was when I hit the ground
    You end up like a dog that's been beat too much
    Till you spend half your life just covering up

    Born in the U.S.A.
    I was born in the U.S.A.
    I was born in the U.S.A.
    Born in the U.S.A.

    Got in a little hometown jam
    So they put a rifle in my hand
    Sent me off to a foreign land
    To go and kill the yellow man

    Born in the U.S.A.
    I was born in the U.S.A.
    I was born in the U.S.A.
    I was born in the U.S.A.
    Born in the U.S.A.

    Come back home to the refinery
    Hiring man says "Son if it was up to me"
    Went down to see my V.A. man
    He said "Son, don't you understand"

    I had a brother at Khe Sahn fighting off the Viet Cong
    They're still there, he's all gone

    He had a woman he loved in Saigon
    I got a picture of him in her arms now

    Down in the shadow of the penitentiary
    Out by the gas fires of the refinery
    I'm ten years burning down the road
    Nowhere to run ain't got nowhere to go

    Born in the U.S.A.
    I was born in the U.S.A.
    Born in the U.S.A.
    I'm a long gone Daddy in the U.S.A.
    Born in the U.S.A.
    Born in the U.S.A.
    Born in the U.S.A.
    I'm a cool rocking Daddy in the U.S.A.

    We take care of our own (5.00 / 2) (#6)
    by Edger on Sat Feb 11, 2012 at 08:53:55 PM EST
    Because no one else does?


    He's always written and sung for the common man and woman?

    Fox sez (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by gyrfalcon on Sat Feb 11, 2012 at 09:01:06 PM EST
    gleefully it's Bruce announcing he's fed up with Obama...

    (Mebbe so, who knows, but he ain't going to be supporting any of Fox's wingnut candidates)

    A song about US society "coming apart" (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by cymro on Sat Feb 11, 2012 at 09:38:54 PM EST
    Is Bruce's song about US society "coming apart" in the sense discussed by Charles Murray in his recent book Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010?

    We are becoming increasingly segregated into groups who "take care of their own" -- but "our own" extends only to include the group in question, not to the US population as a whole. We do NOT take care of those who we do not regard as part of our group.

    And that statement extends to the group that comprises the governing elites, who are not really taking care of people outside their elite circle. As Murray says,

    "The people who run the country have enormous influence over the culture, politics, and the economics of the country. And increasingly, they haven't a clue about how most of America lives. They have never experienced it. They don't watch the same movies, they don't watch the same television shows -- they don't watch television at all, in many cases -- and when that happens, you get some policies that are pretty far out of whack."

    That's the irony in the phrase "we take care of our own", contrasting the platitude with the reality, I think. And I don't doubt it's intentional, coming from Bruce.

    I should perhaps point out that my use of "we" here is a generalization, in the sense used in statistics and social science. Obviously there are exceptions to these trends among individuals and small groups.

    It is a multi-layered lyric (none / 0) (#13)
    by ruffian on Sun Feb 12, 2012 at 11:34:52 AM EST
    I think you have captured it well.

    Bruce's maint heme throughout his career is the contrast between the dream of what America could be, and what it is.  Glad to see he has not stopped pointing it out.


    We have always been (none / 0) (#17)
    by Rojas on Sun Feb 12, 2012 at 10:47:10 PM EST
    a country of immigrants.
    What changed in our investment strategy? Why? Was that racial?
    Honestly, do you have a clue?
    White America, what are you trying to hide, or hide behind?

    We're still a country of immigrants. (none / 0) (#18)
    by MyLeftMind on Tue Feb 14, 2012 at 03:01:08 PM EST
    It's illegal immigration and abuse of the system that many people deplore.

    A "patriotic sequel"? (5.00 / 2) (#9)
    by Romberry on Sat Feb 11, 2012 at 10:07:23 PM EST
    I'm not sure why "Born in the USA" would have a "patriotic sequel."  Springsteen's Born in the USA had some very catchy tunes but the lyrics (and their meaning) behind those tunes often seem to escape notice much as happened with John Mellencamp's "Little Pink Houses."

    Dadler already did the "Born in the USA" lyrics upthread. Patriotism? No, a lament...with a catchy tune. Let's look at excerpts of the lyrics of a few more tracks...

    From "My Hometown":

    Now main streets whitewashed windows and vacant stores
    Seems like there aint nobody wants to come down here no more
    They're closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks
    Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they aint coming back to
    Your hometown, your hometown, your hometown, your hometown...

    From "Glory Days":

    My old man worked 20 years on the line
    and they let him go
    Now everywhere he goes out looking for work
    they just tell him that he's too old
    I was 9 nine years old and he was working at the
    Metuchen Ford plant assembly line
    Now he just sits on a stool down at the Legion hall
    but I can tell what's on his mind

    Glory days yeah goin back
    Glory days aw he ain't never had
    Glory days, glory days

    From "Downbound Train":

    I had a job, I had a girl
    I had something going mister in this world
    I got laid off down at the lumber yard
    Our love went bad, times got hard
    Now I work down at the carwash
    Where all it ever does is rain
    Don't you feel like you're a rider on a downbound train ...

    I could go on, but the point is that "Born in the USA" wasn't exactly patriotic. It was more a look at life for the working man as it is, and a lament for what it's not. A few of the lyrics from "Cover Me" sum it up pretty well:

    The times are tough now, just getting tougher
    This old world is rough, it's just getting rougher
    Cover me, come on baby, cover me


    Outside's the rain, the driving snow
    I can hear the wild wind blowing
    Turn out the light, bolt the door
    I ain't going out there no more

    This whole world is out there just trying to score
    I've seen enough I don't want to see any more,
    Cover me, come on and cover me

    no one here is arguing with you (none / 0) (#11)
    by Jeralyn on Sun Feb 12, 2012 at 12:29:58 AM EST
    the point is others have taken Born to Run that way and failed to notice the only thing patriotic about it was the "hook": Born in the USA. I think I made that clear in my post:

    People are wondering whether it is a patriotic sequel to Born in the USA or a critique of America for failing to live up to its ideals?

    ...As for the lyrics printed [on We Take Care Of Our Own] in big type over the images in the video -- maybe he just wants to make sure no one mistakes it for a rah-rah song based on the refrain. Which, of course is what happened with Born in the USA.

    No one was arguing with you either (none / 0) (#14)
    by Romberry on Sun Feb 12, 2012 at 06:23:47 PM EST
    I have no idea what the point of your reply was.

    I thought you were (none / 0) (#15)
    by Jeralyn on Sun Feb 12, 2012 at 08:21:03 PM EST
    referring to me as the one who thought it was a "patriotic sequel." Sorry.

    Seems perfect (5.00 / 2) (#10)
    by lentinel on Sat Feb 11, 2012 at 10:21:42 PM EST
    for our time.

    A song that seems to have meaning.
    But no one knows what it means.

    Obama thinks it's a song for him.
    Fox News thinks it's a song for them.

    The slogans we are being swamped with - and the tide is still out - are vacant.

    I harken to 2008's doozys like "we're the ones we've been waiting for", and "change you can believe in".

    We're still waiting for us.
    First Base.

    wow! so complicated! a bunch of fracking lies (5.00 / 1) (#12)
    by seabos84 on Sun Feb 12, 2012 at 10:31:14 AM EST
    are what we live in!

    the dilettante cla$$ better close its eyes some more, and get ready to justify some MORE sell outs!

    what I find MOST interesting is the use of the word "sarcastic" as a possible description -

    "sarcastic" is a great label - it is used by the upper middle cla$$ salon dilettantes to marginalize people who are trying to figure the details out, directly and bluntly. The dilettantes who have lives that are about swishing Chardonnay while chatting in This Old House and Martha Stewart speak - the dilettantes who do NOT have to figure the details out cuz they pay others to figure the details out - the others -  

    those negative, angry, sarcastic, little detail people.  

    go bruce.