I’ve got a great memory of playing this on repeat in the car with my kids, driving to a fireworks display somewhere while on a vacation several years ago… the impassioned singalong was good for giggles until maybe the 8th run.
Still, this song. THIS song. It’s more than just a classic. It’s a soldier returning home’s anti-anthem. It’s a human’s wrestling with the gore and the glory that is life. And, it took Bruce a while to get it right.
If you’ve never heard it, check out the original demo (that almost ended up on Nebraska).
Hardly recognizable, right?
After working on it more, he found the hope in the chorus instead of the despair. It’s the old Springsteen formula, where the verses are the day-in-the-life blues but the chorus is the holy holy holy gospel. The magic is in the contrast.
This is the version we all know since 1984, the one I tortured my kids with, the one that makes us think of the range of the America we don’t always love but still love to live in.
Throw it on. Turn it up. Make your kids listen. If they’re old enough, make them really listen. We are, after all, a complicated nation. But, we are still a united nation. Even at the times when it doesn’t feel that way.
Springsteen captured it perfectly. Embrace the contrast, like a colorful explosion across a dark night sky. Happy fourth.