The Upshot of Economic Hardship: Passion, Values, and Innovation

Born down in a dead man’s townAmerican Flag, imagery, financial crisis
The first kick I took was when I hit the ground
You end up like a dog that’s been beat too much
Till you spend half your life just covering up

Born in the U.S.A.
I was born in the U.S.A.
I was born in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A.

-Bruce Springsteen, opening verse to “Born in the U.S.A.”

You would be hard pressed to find Bruce Springsteen in anything but blue jeans. An everlasting iconic symbol of the working class, “The Boss” is blue collared through and through.  His music speaks to, and for, everyday American men and women, their struggles, their dreams, and their courage and valor to overcome economic hardship.  “Born in the U.S.A.” was originally written in 1981 for the much darker Nebraska album, but the beat didn’t fit (so the story goes), and the song was held over and released in 1984 as the title track of his transitional multi-platinum Born in the U.S.A. album.

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At the time, The Boss was providing a representative voice for the many Americans that struggled through a 10-15 year period of war and economic frustration and hardship.  His unique, raspy voice and driving, relentless beats played well with lyrics that didn’t quit… nor allow room for quitters.  The album represented a shift in social mood across America from disappointment and disillusionment to hope, optimism, and belief.  Songs like “Glory Days,” “My Hometown,” “I’m on Fire,” and “Dancing in the Dark” also shot up the charts and firmly placed the album in the hearts and homes of the American people.

80’s politics aside, the song (Born in the USA) speaks to the fallibility of people and leaders, the imperfections, the hurt, and the hypocrisy at times when the bar is set too high.  It speaks for the many Vietnam war vets that didn’t have a mouthpiece for their needs and frustrations.  The album itself is about the American Dream and the fact that it is this dream that drives our passion during tough times.  It is also ironic, yet emblematic, that in spite of all his personal passions and empathy for the displaced, he is achieving the American Dream by channeling and championing the feelings of the working class through his own passion for music and belief in freedom of speech.

The preceding period of the late 60’s to early 80’s was a time where many were disillusioned by economic hardship and war.  Many entered the service to find a home and self worth, and ultimately ended up fighting in a war that many didn’t believe in… and a war in which many families lost loved ones (literally and figuratively).  Many veterans returned home to more of the same.  No hero’s welcome, no job, and very tough war memories and experiences to work through.  Commodity prices were through the roof and oil shocks were standard procedure.  Joblessness was very high (see charts below), and, might I add, mortgage rates were in the double digits.  But out of this period came a spirit of innovation and the seedlings of a technological age that, now in bloom, has changed the way we communicate and do business.

crude oil historical chart

For The Big Picture chart link, click here.

Unemployment Rate_BLS

Data sourced from Bureau of Labor Statistics.

While the economic/political issues and stumbling blocks are somewhat different, the resulting economic hardship and shift in social mood is very similar to today.  And, although we may be in the midst of a longer term slowdown, we must fight through the tendency to see black and white.  Fight through the wanted desire to take the easy way out.  It is time to reinvent ourselves.  And, yes, we have to work at it.  Work hard at making America better every day.  “Born in the USA” debuted just as America was taking flight again economically.  Read Springsteen’s lyrics and let them remind you of today, but also let the beat inspire you for tomorrow.  We are a passionate people – let our passion and vision carry the day.

And a special thank you to those that serve our country in uniform each and every day.

Have a great weekend.

Previously published as a blog by Minyanville.


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Any opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author, and do not in any way represent the views or opinions of his employer or any other person or entity.