Born down in a dead man’s town
The first kick I took was when I hit the ground
End up like a dog that’s been beat too much
‘Til you spend half your life just covering up
When I first heard Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA,” I was 13 years old. Life was complete sh*t and most of my thoughts for over two years had been of how I was going to end it.
Before Springsteen, music was nice, and maybe would inspire me to write a story or two. After Springsteen, music was a lifeline. It was proof that I was not alone. He was, to use a quote from the film Blinded by the Light, “…a direct line to all that’s true in this sh*tty world.”
A lot of people like music for the same reason. It is a way of publicly expressing our feelings and dealing with the mess around us without violating all the social norms that demand you sit down and shut up when the pain is so great you don’t know how you will live through it. Because of this, Bruce’s music, though it was often mainstream and top 40, is as rebellious as any punk song ever written.
I really don’t know what would have happened to me if I hadn’t heard Springsteen. No one else was writing what he was writing, or had written what he’d written. At least nothing that was available to me at the time. I did end up listening to punk eventually, but, I’ll be honest, it always sounded as if it was written by me, and for me. Springsteen’s music impacted me, partly, because it was written by someone who should not understand me, someone I should have “othered” and who should have “othered” me. It was written by someone in my parents’ generation, a Baby Boomer, the generation I mistrusted more than any other. Springsteen is a guy, and from Jersey, and how could he know?
I learned from Sprinsteen’s music that humanity, when we allow ourselves to embrace it, is cross-cultural. It doesn’t matter if we are from different generations, or genders, or races, or classes, humanity is something we have in common. The world tries to tell us we are only a part of some small group: white, female, poor, abused, Gen X, tomboy. People want to pigeon-hole us for their benefit, so they don’t have to think of us as anything more than a pre-conceived stereotype. It makes it easier for them.
And, to be honest, I have nothing in common with most people. I have been told several times to find a support group. Where do you find a support group for a 50 year old, trauma victim, divorced mom, with five kids, all of whom have some health issue, one of whom the American government is trying to define out of existence, who has short hair, is good at English and Math, etc, etc, etc. It doesn’t exist.
–As an aside, this is one of the things that bothers me about “support groups.” Generally, they get very niche and exclusive. While there can be good things about them, ie my daughter goes to one for trans youth because she is not able to find acceptance among her peers where we live, my experience has been that it’s just another place that if you don’t meet all the requirements of the group, you are persona non grata. —
I know I won’t ever fit in with most people. I am too vocal about social ills to have many local friends. People where I live are perfectly content to be miserable and to allow that misery to continue around them. I live in one of those hopeless, blighted places that Bruce’s music highlights. “Luton sucks,” so does the Inland Empire, and in the same way.
When I listen to certain music, however, I know I’m not the only one. I know that, somewhere, someone else feels exactly as I do. Their life may not look exactly like mine, they might not go through exactly what I do, but we are all human and, if we allow ourselves, we can see that our humanity, our shared feelings, not just exact experiences, is what actually connects us to each other.
It doesn’t matter that you are from a different country, or speak a different language, or any of those things that our societies tell us must separate us. What matters is we all share in humanity. That shared humanity music draws out can help us see the people around us with compassion, help us see them as human as we want others to see ourselves.