In 1985 Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The USA was the top selling album in the U.S. It was the heart of the Reagan years and coming to terms with Vietnam was one of the concerns of corporate culture (Rambo:First Blood Part II grossed 150 million!). The verse lyrics of the title track on the Springsteen album express the sad story of many U.S. veterans: grown up working-class poor, sent to a “foreign land/ to go and kill the yellow man,” and then returned home where it’s tough to get a job and tough to think about the other soldiers that didn’t make it back. It’s sad. And it’s blown away by the chorus that people filled Giants Stadium waving flags singing along with pride to: “I was BORN IN THE U.S.A.!” Good ole’ terrifying America.
Dead Kennedys released Frankenchrist in ’85 which included the great non-hit single “Chicken Farm.” If Jello Biafra is to punk as The Boss is to major-label rock then “Chicken Farm” is his “Born in the USA.” “Chicken Farm” is about life after the Vietnam War too but without all the romanticizing of the American working-class: “Napalm rains no more / But the war goes on / Little brother died playing at the dump today / He found a new toy and held it up proud / Then it blew him to bits.” And there’s no “cool rocking daddy” at the chicken farm. This side of the war was considerably less popular with the public and instead of touring stadiums Dead Kennedys faced charges of “distribution of harmful matter to minors” in California after the release of Frankenchrist.
For further Bruce/DK pairings check out Glory Days/Jock-O-Rama (Invasion of the Beef Patrol) and I’m on Fire/Too Drunk to Fuck!
Arlo Quint is the author of Drawn In (Fewer & Further Press), Hospitality in the Forest (Rust Buckle Books), Photogenic Memory (Lame House), and Days on End (Open 24 Hours). He helps edit Brawling Pigeon and The Recluse. His book Death to Explosions is forthcoming from Skysill.
Questions, compliments, (hopefully not) complaints?
Contact Jackie Clark: jackie [at] coldfrontmag [dot] com.
See all Songs of the Week here.