Friday, January 22, 2010

No Retreat, Baby, No Surrender

"I can’t do it, Jon.” Bruce was clearly agitated as he burst into his manager’s office.

“Can’t do what Bruce?” Jon Landau raised his head from his cluttered desk. He had been looking at promotional material for the new album – ad copy, mockups of covers. He liked the look, the giant American flag as a backdrop. He just couldn’t decide whether he preferred Springsteen’s back to the audience or the action shot with Bruce’s right arm suspended in the air, about to drop a Pete Townshend-like windmill on his guitar.

Nervously, Bruce rubbed his hands on his faded black jeans. He would have used his sleeves, but management had liked him in sleeveless shirts. After they encouraged him to work out, they wanted him to show off his newly toned body.

“It’s not right to release the record.”

“Bruce, we talked about this. Putting these songs out with synthesizers in a modern setting will help to grow your audience and get the word out. You agreed to that.”

“I know I did, but I was talking to Bob Dylan and…“

"Oh shit. Why were you talking to Dylan?”

“Yeah, well, you know, Bob means a lot to me. I wanted his advice.”

"What the fuck? I mean, Dylan was great in his day, but what can he tell you now? I hate when you talk to him, you get like a little kid.” Landau took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes.

“He knows, man. He made me feel irresponsible if I let out an album I was unhappy about. He’s right you know.”

“Don’t you want better sales? Don’t you want to be huge?”

“I know this - I don’t want to sell myself short, that’s the worst thing I can do. This record’s not what I thought it would be. Bob said, "Jesus said ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven.’ He’s right.”

“Who, Bob or Jesus?” Landau said mockingly.

“Both actually. I don’t need bigger sales. Didn’t Nebraska sell well? Plus, it was the simple truth, tunes about real life, real people. I’m not Boy George, you know. I don’t need to be a hit factory.”

“Boy George? Who said you’re Boy George? I never said you were like Culture Club.”

Bruce laughed, remembering. “Bob said something about ‘Church of the Poisoned Mind.’ I didn’t even think he knew the new stuff, but he’s amazing, he knows everything. Bob said-"

“Bob said, Bob said. I don’t give a shit what Bob said. Listen to what I’m saying. Have I ever steered you wrong. Didn’t “Hungry Heart” go Top Ten after I sped up your vocals?”

“It did but I sounded like Mickey Mouse. I hate that record and the fact that people paid money for it made me feel worse.” Bruce scratched his head, pulling off his purplish bandanna. “And I hate wearing these fuckin’ headbands!”

“OK, what’s really the matter here?” Landau suspected there was more to it than just Bob fucking Dylan telling Bruce some born again crap to make him change his mind.

“I’ll tell you. I’m really worried that these songs will be misunderstood if the words are surrounded by pop music. At first I was on board, but now I’m not so sure. You think ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ is going to work? A song about this guy, fought in ‘Nam, his brother died, he has no hope, no more faith in the American Dream, nothing. With that chorus, man, you’re gonna get the kind of people who voted for those bastard Republicans and Ronald Reagan and they’re gonna make it some patriotic anthem. I don’t want that.”

Landau raked his hands over his balding head. What the fuck? It was all planned out, this record was going to explode, a balls out rock album after that Nebraska mess. Hell, that album made you want to kill yourself! It totally sucked the air out of the momentum that we got from The River. But it’s Bruce’s call, right, that’s how it’s always been. What can you do?

“Are you sure this is what you want to do Bruce?” Landau asked one last time, hopefully.

“Yeah, it’s got to be that way. Man, I’d go crazy if it came out as a rocker. It’s got to be simple, stripped down. That’s how I want it.”

“OK, OK. You’re the Boss, right?”

“Sure, Jon, I’m the Boss. You’ll take care of it?”

“I got it, I got it,” Jon answered with a wave.

Bruce left the office. Landau looked down at the covers. Oh well, I guess we’ll go back to depressing black and white.

Jon picked up the phone to call the record company. They weren’t going to like this one bit. With the dial tone in his air, Landau swept aside all the red, white and blue pictures and put his head down on his desk, waiting for the screaming to start.

Sprung from songs created during the 1982 recording of the spare Nebraska, Born in the U.S.A., was released on June 4, 1984. Though Springsteen and Landau agreed on a contemporary sound, Springsteen was concerned that the messages in the songs would be misunderstood in a modern musical setting. He was right. After attending a September 14 Springsteen show, conservative columnist George Will wrote a column citing Bruce’s “elemental American values.” Soon, Reagan himself was adhering to what he called, Springsteen’s “message of hope and making dreams come true.” Ten years earlier, with Blood on the Tracks on the verge of release, and original pressings already housed in their covers, Bob Dylan pulled the disc and re-recorded it to his satisfaction. Born in the U.S.A. sold over 20 million copies.


  1. Amazing how many people misinterpret the lyrics in Born In The U.S.A. Tis not a patriotic anthem what so ever. Good stuff Jeff! Love your work.

  2. Thanks mbartus. It's only in the stripped down versions that you can feel the pain of the song.

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