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Ward Sutton on "Born in the U.S.A."

Posted by Christopher Shea  October 28, 2009 10:51 AM

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bornintheusa.jpg
An album (and posterior) whose politics were misunderstood

Looks like I'm not the only one within the Globe's orbit who appreciates the illustrator Ward Sutton. Last week I praised his review of "Where the Wild Things Are" as reimagined by Dave Eggers. This week he's got a savvy take, at Boston.com, on the reception of the song "Born in the U.S.A.," a dark tune whose anthemic tone led to numerous misreadings. ("Born in the U.S.A," the album, is a quarter-century old this year, but the song itself is older, as Sutton discusses.)

George Will, among others, proved himself to be no Greil Marcus when it came to interpreting lyrics: "I have not a clue about his politics … but flags get waved at his concerts … punctuated by a grand, cheerful affirmation: 'Born in the U.S.A.!'" Cheerful?

Though I agree with Sutton that the album's lyrics are, for the most part, undermined by the happy-synth treatment, the song "Born in the U.S.A." never sounds anything but bleak to me, the chorus the very definition of double-edged. And listen to how raw the vocals are in the verses. But Sutton's overall argument that Springsteen deserves blame for the album's confused reception is pretty hard to dispute.

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