Steven Van Zandt: “Born in the USA” Was Misconstrued by Ronald Reagan

Reagan tried to use and reference the song during his reelection campaign

Steven Van Zandt
Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt perform onstage at the 29th Annual Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. (Kevin Kane/ Rock and Roll Hall of Fame)
Kevin Kane

When Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band released Born in the USA on June 4, 1984, the album’s title song had already been through a major sound change. As bandmate and co-producer Steven Van Zandt recently told Yahoo, the song was initially supposed to be a somber ode to soldiers who returned to the States from the Vietnam War — not the uptempo, electric jam we know today.

Regardless of this change in beat, the wildly popular song still has earnest lyrics reminiscent of the 1970s when the war was over and thousands of young men became veterans thanks to a draft system that left them with no choice. Those words, however, seem to have been lost on one prominent American in particular — Ronald Reagan, who tried to use and reference the song during his reelection campaign.

“Bruce’s people called Reagan’s people and said, ‘Listen, stop using this song’ at some point, because it was becoming embarrassing — for them,” Van Zandt said. “Because if you actually read the lyrics, you know. Sometimes misunderstandings pay off, is the bottom line. I think people get it now. All you have to do is read the lyrics, it’s not like it’s some kind of secret code or anything!”

Born in the USA has since sold 30 million copies worldwide — 15 million in the U.S. — making it one of the biggest albums of all time, according to Yahoo.

Van Zandt added that despite the misunderstanding surrounding the song, he and Springsteen are still patriots but in the true sense of the word.

“We share the political philosophy of being patriotic Americans,” he said. “How we define that is the way our founding fathers defined it, which is questioning the government at all times to make sure we are adhering to the ideals that our country was founded on.

“The spirit of the founding fathers has to do with equality and democracy and freedom and all the wonderful things we think about this country,” Van Zandt continued. “But having this attitude of ‘whatever the government says, we believe,’ that ended certainly with Vietnam, if not before that. And ever since, the healthier position is to question the government and make sure we do the right thing. We share that kind of patriotism, true patriotism — which is not nationalism, very different than nationalism.”

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