There Was Nothing You Could Do

Bruce Springsteen’s “Born In The U.S.A.” and the End of the Heartland


By Steven Hyden

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A thought-provoking exploration of Bruce Springsteen’s iconic album, Born in the U.S.A.—a record that both chronicled and foreshadowed the changing tides of modern America

On June 4, 1984, Columbia Records issued what would become one of the best-selling and most impactful rock albums of all time. An instant classic, 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.  

In There Was Nothing You Could Do, veteran rock critic Steven Hyden shows exactly how this record became such a pivotal part of the American tapestry. Alternating between insightful criticism, meticulous journalism, and personal anecdotes, Hyden delves into the songs that made—and didn’t make—the final cut, including the tracks that wound up on its sister album, 1982’s Nebraska. He also investigates the myriad reasons why Springsteen ran from and then embraced the success of his most popular (and most misunderstood) LP, as he carefully toed the line between balancing his commercial ambitions and being co-opted by the machine.

But the book doesn’t stop there. Beyond Springsteen’s own career, Hyden explores the role the album played in a greater historical context, documenting not just where the country was in the tumultuous aftermath of Vietnam and Watergate, but offering a dream of what it might become—and a perceptive forecast of what it turned into decades later. As Springsteen himself reluctantly conceded, many of the working-class middle American progressives Springsteen wrote about in 1984 had turned into resentful and scorned Trump voters by the 2010s. And though it wasn’t the future he dreamed of, the cautionary warnings tucked within Springsteen’s heartfelt lyrics prove that the chaotic turmoil of our current moment has been a long time coming.

How did we lose Springsteen’s heartland? And what can listening to this prescient album teach us about the decline of our country? In There Was Nothing You Could Do, Hyden takes readers on a journey to find out.

  • "The best music writing can make you hear an album you’ve listened to hundreds (or thousands) of times in a new way. Steven Hyden has done just that with There Was Nothing You Could Do, his exhaustive and highly entertaining deep dive into Bruce Springsteen’s massive and often misunderstood commercial peak, Born in the U.S.A. Well-researched and thought-provoking, the book also uses that landmark album and its fallout to examine the changes we have undergone as a culture, and the price we’ve paid as a people and a country. Highly recommended."
    Patterson Hood of Drive-By Truckers
  • “An instant classic from Steven Hyden. Definitive and elegant and essential. Hyden shows how Born in the U.S.A. changed Springsteen and us—and at what cost.”
    Seth Wickersham, ESPN writer and New York Times bestselling author of It’s Better to Be Feared
  • “This book offers you the rare possibility—you can listen to Bruce Springsteen and feel like you are in his brain as he makes the music. Steven not only gets under the hood of creativity, but he separates Bruce from his contemporaries by better understanding them. It makes you want to listen to Bruce again with fresh ears. I love it!”
    Benny Safdie, director and writer of Uncut Gems
  • “Steven Hyden could write about my least favorite band and I'd gobble it up because he's just so good at writing about music. But when he tackles one of my favorite living artists, The Boss, he sends me to heaven. This book is such a gift: Hyden contextualizes one of Bruce's biggest and least understood records by taking us back to the ’80s and into the heartland and Bruce's headspace. This isn't a ‘making of’ book, it's a meditation on who we thought we were and how we may have lost that identity, all told through Hyden's experience with the record. It's entertaining, heartbreaking, and makes a great case for Bruce Springsteen as one the great artists of our time.”
    Tim Heidecker, comedian, writer, and musician
  • “Steven Hyden’s There Was Nothing You Could Do honors and understands Bruce Springsteen and his music. It’s for Springsteen fans, but even better, it’s about Springsteen fans: Why he matters to us, what he represents, how every person can feel like his songs were written individually for them. Hyden’s writing makes you want to tap the steering wheel right along with him and The Boss.”
    Will Leitch, author of How Lucky and The Time Has Come
  • “Hyden scores good points …Fans of the Boss will find arguable interpretations on every page, but definitely a book worth their attention.” 
  • “Balancing a fan’s enthusiasm with a critic’s attention to detail, Hyden sheds light on Springsteen’s legacy and the political moment that allowed him to occupy the cultural ‘center of American life.’ Fans of the Boss will want to add this to their bookshelves.” 
    Publishers Weekly
  • "A damn fun read."
  • "But with the passion of a lifelong fan who first heard the cassette in a very-Springsteen way... and the keen mind of a music journalist, Hyden’s book is about far more than a dozen tunes produced in the mid-‘80s. And it’s a very welcome addition to the Boss Bookshelf."
    Houston Press
  • “Even longtime Springsteen fans will learn a thing or two from Hyden’s entertaining examination of the man and his music.”
  • “[Hyden] is an imaginative cultural omnivore…[the book] is an astute and briskly written look at the circumstances and legacy of an album whose outsize popularity has made it paradoxically divisive among Tramps Like Us.”
    Washington Post
  • “Fascinating…A very well written, wise, and insightful book.”
    Washington Examiner
  • "Steven Hyden writes about Bruce Springsteen’s monumental 1984 record as a watershed moment—for American culture, for Springsteen, and for the author himself. Hyden... mixes memoir, sociological observation, and good old-fashioned journalism to explore how this blockbuster album defined a decade and created—and in some ways ended—the Bruce Springsteen persona."
    AV Club
  • There Was Nothing You Could Do explores how the album channeled our hopes for common ground while foreshadowing today’s extreme political polarization. It uses classic songs like 'Dancing in the Dark' to dissect the arc of Springsteen, rock culture and politics with an amusing blend of cultural criticism, music journalism and personal vignettes."
    Wall Street Journal
  • “Hyden’s thoughtful… deep dive explores how the Boss and his 'ass-cheeks' triumphed and yet proved the last time heartland rock could convincingly champion an ameliorative account of the American way. Four stars!”

On Sale
May 28, 2024
Page Count
272 pages
Hachette Books

Steven Hyden

About the Author

Steven Hyden is the author of Long RoadThis Isn’t HappeningTwilight of the GodsYour Favorite Band Is Killing Me, and (with Steve Gorman) Hard to Handle. His writing has appeared in the New York Times MagazineWashington Post, Billboard, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, Grantland, The A.V. Club, Slate, and Salon. He is currently the cultural critic at UPROXX. He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and two children.

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