By Steven Hyden
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On June 4, 1984, Columbia Records issued what would become one of the best-selling and most impactful rock albums of all time. Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. would prove itself to be a landmark not only for the man who made it, but rock music in general and even the larger American culture over the next 40 years. Because this record ended up being much more than just an album—it is a document of what this country was in its moment, a dream of what it might become, and a prescient forecast of what it actually turned into decades later.
In There Was Nothing You Could Do, veteran rock critic Steven Hyden explores the essential questions that explain this classic album — what it means, why it was made, and how it changed the world. By mixing up his signature blend of personal memoir, criticism, and journalism, Hyden digs deep into the songs that made Born In The U.S.A. as well as the scores of tunes that didn’t, including the tracks that make up the album’s sister release, 1982’s Nebraska. He investigates how the records before Born In The U.S.A. set the table for the album’s tremendous success, following Springsteen as he tries to balance his commercial ambitions with his fear of losing artistic control and being co-opted by the machine. Hyden also takes a closer look how Springsteen’s work after Born In The U.S.A. reacted to that album, discussing how “The Boss” initially ran away from his most popular (and most misunderstood) LP until he learned to once again accept his role as a kind of living national monument.
But the book doesn’t stop there. Hyden also looks beyond Springsteen’s career, placing Born In The U.S.A. in a larger context in terms of how it affected rock music as well as America. Though he aspired to be as big as Elvis and as profound as Dylan, he was equally aware of his heroes’ shortcomings and eager to avoid their mistakes—all while navigating the tumultuous aftermath of Vietnam and Watergate, a time when America was coming apart at the seams. Born In The U.S.A. simultaneously chronicles that coming apart and pushes for a more united future, a duality that made him a hero to a younger generation of bands — from Arcade Fire to The Killers to The War On Drugs — who openly emulated the sound of Born In The U.S.A. in the hopes of somehow, in their own way, achieving a measure of that album’s impact in the 21st century. By the aughts, when Springsteen fan (and future podcast partner) Barack Obama entered the White House, it appeared that the hopeful promise of Born In The U.S.A. might be realized. But the election of Donald Trump seemed to confirm an opposite truth that was closer to the darkness of songs like “My Hometown” and “Born In The U.S.A.” than Springsteen’s revival-like shows. As Springsteen himself reluctantly conceded, the working-class middle American progressives he wrote about in 1984 had turned into the resentful and scored Trump voters of the 2010s.
How did we lose Springsteen’s heartland? And what can listening to these songs teach us about the American decline that Born In The U.S.A. forecasted? In There Was Nothing You Could Do, Hyden takes readers on a journey to find out.
- On Sale
- May 28, 2024
- Page Count
- 288 pages
- Hachette Books