Springsteening is a word I coined (and use only in my own head) that I define as- writing a song that you know will be misinterpreted, and then acting surprised when it is.
The most famous example of Springsteening is this:
It’s a sad tale of a Vietnam veteran who, frustrated at his treatment upon return to the USA turns to domestic terrorism. Not your usual hit material, but if you put a chorus like BORRRRRN IN THE USA on it you’re pretty much assured of being played at Fourth of July events. Which it was. And The Boss tried to act indignant when Ronald Reagan publicly praised him for writing the song. But come on, Bruce. The song has a long fade out which you know was tacked on there just for fireworks finales. Plus I’m a cool rockin daddy in the USA? A cool rockin dude who lights oil refineries on fire I guess.
I’ve just been thinking about this because I do this in my own songs- write something that’s lyrically sad or somewhat depressing, but pair it with an upbeat sound. Because there are enough bummer songs out there, but bummer lyrics are easier to write. And of course, writing a happy song that isn’t supremely annoying like, say, Walking on Sunshine is fucking hard to do. Obviously the music you pair lyrics to has a lot to do with how a song will be interpreted and how people will feel about it. If Born in the USA had been recorded on a four track in his living room like his Nebraska album it would have been a totally different song. Probably wouldn’t have been a hit either.
Do I think that The Boss cynically engineered a huge hit because his previous attempt at writing the Great American Song- Born to Run– didn’t really become the Great American Song? Maybe. Was the song just a Trojan Horse that he created to sneak a message about our imperfect nation onto the radio? Maybe. I don’t know him personally so I don’t know what his motives were.
I read a biography of Iggy Pop and he was trying to claim that I Wanna Be Your Dog was a cute ode to curling up in his girlfriend’s lap and that any reference to bestiality were purely coincidental.
Uh huh. It could have been, but adding that menacing guitar sound and singing in that weary, snotty voice kind of undercuts his point a little.