Who knows where the time goes...

Yesterday, as I was getting ready for my quiet time at the end of a full evening, I came across a note that marked the 25th anniversary of Bruce Springsteen's classic album: Born in the USA. How could that be? Yes, my children were tiny back then - that summer we went to see "Ghostbusters" over and over - and my life has deepened and changed personally and professionally in ways too numerous to count: but twenty five years ago? As Sandy Denny and Fairport Convention asked so sweetly 41 years ago, "who knows where the time goes?

I can remember like it was last week buying that Springsteen album on the cusp of summer in Michigan - I had already been grooving to the single, "Dancing in the Dark" for most of the spring - but everything changed with "Born in the USA." It was like the Beatles on Ed Sullivan back in February 1964: the heavens rattled and opened, the earth stood still and I felt part of my soul come alive. A few months later I saw his tour at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit - and my life continued to awaken -for it was part revival, part rock'n'roll Pentecost, part emotional catharsis and part wild man drum circle with 30,000 other brothers and sisters.

Discarded dreams and spiritual breakdown haunts this album. Springsteen had been mining this vein for a while. You saw it's beginning on "The River" and felt it throughout "Darkness on the Edge of Town." After reading Joe Klein's, Woody Guthrie: A Biography, Springsteen reworked "This Land Is Your Land" into a lament for the economic collapse wounding industrial America in the 80s. His writing continued to ripen with "Nebraska" - a sort of Phil Ochs meets Flannery O'Connor on acoustic guitar and harmonica - but all subtltety was put on the shelf for this new recording. (In fact, on the dance groove LP version of "Dancing in the Dark," Springsteen told the hired gun producer from the dance club world to "abandon ALL subtlety on this one: let's kick some ass!")

The opening cut, "Born in the USA" is all drums crashing, synthesizers and guitars wailing as his voice screamed a tortured testimonial that also opened every concert: "Born down in a dead man's town, the first step I took was when I hit the ground - end up like a dog that's been beat too much 'til you spend half your life just covering up: I was born in the USA..." This is what it sounds like in the middle of a collapsing economy to a young Vietnam vet in the heart of the Rust Belt.

It had originally been recorded during the "Nebraska" sessions - and tried out with the whole band for a while - but nobody thought it worked. Manager Jon Landau said about the demo: "on acoustic guitar, it didn't seem like a particularly good song. It was a real odd thing... unlike anything I'd ever heard from Bruce. It sounded alien." Springsteen had ripped the title off from the movie director, Paul Schrader, who was working on a rock and roll film about post-industrial Cleveland. "I owe you one," the Boss told him - and wrote "Light of Day" as a gift for stealing the title. And because nobody liked the new tune, Springsteen sat on it for three years - traveled with it through another round of live concerts - and kept it hidden during the making of another new album.

But one night, after trying to make another cluster of new songs come alive - and failing - the first thing Bruce called for was another shot at "Born in the USA." This shocked everyone and nobody in the band recalled ever practicing it: the producers couldn't find tape copies, Landau had forgotten that the song ever existed and the whole studio felt almost sick at giving this dog another shot. Writer Dave Marsh wrote in Glory Days:

"We just kinda did it off the cuff, said Springsteen. "I went in and said, 'Roy, get this riff.' And he just pulled out that sound, played the riff on the synthesizer. We played it two times and our second take is on the record. That's why the guys are really on the edge. You can hear Max (the drummer) who to me was right up there with the best of them on that song. There was no arrangement. I said, 'When I stop, keep the drums going.' That thing in the end with all the drums just kinda happened... They started to play this thing and I know for everybody there to this day that was the most exciting thing that ever happened in a recording studio."

It was the Holy Spirit at work bringing order out of chaos - it was creativity, shape and form coming to an unfocused rant - raw power and heart to a discarded, broken down blue collar blues - and it is freakin' genius.

There have been two other recorded versions: the original acoustic try on Tracks - which has it's own odd power - as well as the 12 string guitar version on Live in New York City. Both share another point of view - but Max Weinberg was right: the original magic of Springsteen's passionate improvisation in 1984 brings this song to life and remains the essence.

I love this song and everything it stands for. It keeps getting better and better - but nothing beats hearing it for the first time. Nothing...


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