Last week, Eric Grandy reported that he'd spent his Fourth of July grilling meat and debating whether or not Bruce Springsteen's blockbuster Born in the USA hadn't been sequenced backwards, and that perhaps Side A works better on the flip side. In response, Jenn Pellerin chimed in, saying: "Since this was my BBQ, I feel entitled to write you a goddamn essay." And she did. Here it is:
I'm going to play devil's advocate and say that the record is perfect as-is. HERE IS MY LOGIC, see if you can pick up what I'm putting down.
On the first side, you've got the title track, which sets the tone for the whole record:
"Born down in a dead man's town
The first kick I took was when I hit the ground
You end up like a dog that's been beat too much
'Til you spend half your life just covering up"
Most of the song is about dudes going to Vietnam and coming back to nothing. It isn't a patriotic arena anthem, it's a song about being born poor and coming of age during two decades of war that really fucked things up for everyone around you. The record as a whole is about growing up, trying your whole life to fight your way out of the shit and ultimately failing, or at best settling and getting all zen about your situation.
The rest of the songs on the first half are narratives about being young, looking for work, trying to make it, and they generally have a hopeful, positive tone. Cover Me is--appropriately--one of the most youthful songs on the record. It's sung by a dude who recognizes that the world is hard and tough but still thinks he can hide away from it all and love will be enough to "blind him" and get him through.
I totally disagree that Darlington County and Working on the Highway are filler. They sound upbeat and jangly and kind of irreverent because they're channeling the upbeat hopeful irreverence of being young and sure that someday soon you're going to "make it out". That hopeful tone mellows out on Downbound Train and I'm On Fire, but both of those songs are still coming from a wistful, youthful kind of place. Downbound Train is all about losing your job and your first real big love and feeling romantically dramatically dejected and I'm On Fire is the cry of a dude who's young and has troubles and just wants to feel something.
Side B is coming from a place that's way less youthful. He does sing more about being a kid on this side, but it's the musing of an older man looking back at where he came from and wondering what happened to all the dreams he used to have. No Surrender is about the promises you make to yourself and your friends when you're a kid, when you think that anything's possible and some day you're going to go out and kick the world's ass. But the second and third verse of the song bring it back to the present where "young faces grow sad and old" and "walls are closing in and there's a war outside still raging".
Bobby Jean is about regret, and wondering what's become of the girl who used to live down the road, I'm Going Down is about the reality of relationships and love not being the magical electric thing it was when you were young, Glory Days is about getting older and obsessing over your past, Dancing In the Dark is an appropriate partner for I'm On Fire in that it has the same "I'm troubled and I just want to feel something" theme but Dancing In the Dark is WAY more desperate and manic and sad to me. He doesn't just want to escape his troubles, he wants to escape from himself entirely.
The final track is a perfect bookend. He touches on being a kid in his hometown, and all the promise he felt in the world, and how that was slowly eroded by two decades of war and general shittiness. Now he's an older dude, just trying to make the most of what he's got with a kid of his own.
In short: Side A is all the uncynical fierceness of youth and believing you can make it out. Side B is the cynical musings of an older man letting go of the idea that there is anywhere to "make it" to and desperately auditing his life, trying to make peace with where he's at.
Tah dah! That's my two thousand cents. The point is, I think he got it totally, perfectly right.
PERFECT RECORD. TEN OUT OF TEN. FREEDOM!!!!