The Celebration Rock podcast’s eight-part series on the first part of Bruce Springsteen’s career, 20th Century Boss, continues today with parts five and six, covering the two best albums he released in the ’80s.
In 1982, Springsteen released Nebraska, a stark collection of acoustic songs recorded at home on a four-track in one marathon session. It’s an album about criminals and economic hardship and flawed father figures, with lots of spooky echo and heavy shadows. While it was considered at the time his least accessible record, Nebraska now stands as one of Springsteen’s popular releases, particularly with younger audiences raised on indie rock. To discuss Nebraska, I wanted to talk to someone who grew up in a world where the album already existed as a well-established landmark in music history, almost as a genre unto itself. So I called up Phoebe Bridgers, an exciting 23-year-old singer-songwriter from Los Angeles. In 2017, she put out a very good debut album, Stranger In The Alps. Nebraska had already been out for 20 years when Bridgers heard it for the first time, but she was still able to find something personal in this iconic record.
A few years later, Springsteen went in the opposite direction for Born In The USA, one of the most popular rock albums ever made.
Springsteen was so popular at this time that he was inevitably commodified and turned into a caricature. As much as Born In The USA made him beloved, it also instilled overwhelming dislike in his detractors. Whenever Springsteen fans and the media deified him as an American icon, his critics complained that he was corny, nostalgic, even conservative. No matter the anger at the heart of this record, and the skepticism for mainstream values and the viability of the American dream that carries over from every Springsteen record since Born In The USA, the sheer accessibility and palatability of the album also made Springsteen a target.
I was curious to talk to someone who loves Bruce and loves Born In The USA but still retains some skepticism about what the album signifies and how it impacted his career. Fortunately, I was able to get hold of Patterson Hood, co-founder of one of the great American rock bands of the last 20 years, Drive-By Truckers.