Behind The Lyrics: Bruce Springsteen says he learned to live with the misunderstanding of his hit song Born in the USA

If you were compiling a list of some of the biggest rock anthems of all time, Born in the USA would have to be on it.

Considered one of the greatest songs of all time, it became a hit soon after its release in 1984, and brought Bruce Springsteen, then in his mid-30s, a new generation of fans.

While many considered it a right-wing political song about patriotism, Springsteen said it was never meant to be construed that way.

READ MORE: Dolly Parton thank the woman behind single ‘Jolene’

Springsteen was born in the US state of New Jersey on September 23, 1949.

When he was 19, Springsteen was drafted into the US army to fight in the Vietnam War but failed his physical examination due to a previous concussion and the fact he ”acted crazy” at the induction.

However, the experiences of the more than 2.5 million Americans who fought in the war inspired his hit song two decades later.

In his memoir, Born to Run, Springsteen said he convinced his mother to take him to a store to rent his first guitar after seeing Elvis Presley on TV.

READ MORE: Did Taylor Swift diss Kim Kardashian in song?

After a few lessons he almost gave up, before saving to afford to buy a second-hand guitar for $US18.

He performed both alone and with bands in the late 60s and early 70s, and began writing his own songs before signing a record deal in 1972.

His first album, Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ, was released in 1973 and drew acclaim, as did his next album, The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle, released just nine months later.

His third album, Born to Run, released in 1975, was considered Springsteen’s breakthrough album.

LOS ANGELES - APRIL 1980:  Bruce Springsteen poses for a portrait in New York, N.Y., 1980.(Photo by Aaron Rapoport/Corbis/Getty Images)

Over the next years, he toured extensively across the US and released three more albums.

In 1981, Springsteen wrote Born in the USA for a film of that name that was being considered.

During the 2021 Renegades: Born in the USA podcast featuring Springsteen and former US president Barack Obama, he spoke about how the song came about.

Springsteen met anti-war activist Ron Kovic, who was paralysed after being injured in the war and later wrote the book, Born on the Fourth of July, at an LA motel.

Bruce Springsteen

He later accompanied Kovic to a war veterans centre and said he was inspired to write the song after hearing the veterans’ stories.

He borrowed the title from the movie that the screenwriter Paul Schrader was working on.

The lyrics told the story of a Vietnam vet’s difficult childhood, troubled adolescence, wartime experience and the all too well known fate that awaited veterans when they returned to the US, struggling to reintergrate into society.

“This is a song about the pain, glory, shame of identity and of place,” Springsteen said during the podcast.

“So it’s a complex picture of the country. Our protagonist is someone who has been betrayed by his nation and yet still feels deeply connected to the country that he grew up in.”

Born in the U.S.A. by Bruce Springsteen

Springsteen first recorded home demos of the song in the early ’80s, including an acoustic version that did not make it on to earlier albums.

Springsteen’s E Street Band later recorded a new version of the song, with many of the musical arrangements made up on the spot.

It was two more years before the song finally made it onto a Springsteen album, and even then, it was the third single released from 1984’s Born in the USA.

Born in the USA was of course a massive hit, but America’s right-wing movement soon hijacked the song, starting with US Republican President Ronald Reagan during his 1984 re-election campaign.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band perform in Barcelona, Spain, on May 14, 2016

Springsteen himself said on the podcast that the song’s complex themes had at times been misunderstood, while Obama said the song was “appropriated” as a patriotic song, which distorted its true meaning.

This ‘appropriation’ continued when Donald Trump and the Republican Party began playing the song at his rallies during his presidency and outside the Walter Reed Army Medical Centre when he was being treated for COVID.

At the time, Springsteen said while he wasn’t thrilled with this use of the song, he had come to accept its use outside its intention.

He told The New York Times, “That is my lot in life and I have learned to live with it with a smile.

Bruce Springsteen kicks off his Australian tour at a concert at the Perth Arena in Perth, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2013 2

“I mean, I do believe that as much as it is the writer’s job to write well, it is the listener’s job to listen well.

“But to understand that piece of music you need to do what adults are capable of doing, which is to hold two contradictory ideas of one thing in your mind at one time.

“How something can be prideful and at the same time call to account the nation that you’re writing about. That was just a part of that piece of music.

“It’s a song that’s not necessarily what it appears to be.”

Bruce Springsteen

Now 40 years after its release, the song has found a new audience, having been downloaded by Spotify listeners more than 457 million times.

Springsteen, now 74, still performs the song today, and is in the midst of a world tour.