Presuming to attribute meaning to an artist's work is risky business in any case. When the meaning you're assigning is of a political nature, you're skating way out on thin ice. If you doubt me on this, just ask nationally-syndicated Washington Post columnist George Will.
Being thoroughly familiar with the lyrics to most Springsteen songs, including “Born In The USA,” I was well aware of the dichotomy between Reagan's "Morning In America" campaign theme and Springsteen's "dead man's town." So I knew immediately that the Gipper had struck a bad chord when, at a campaign stop in Hammonton, New Jersey, he invoked the Boss in part of his speech.
America's future rests in a thousand dreams inside your hearts. It rests in the message of hope in songs so many young Americans admire: New Jersey's own Bruce Springsteen...
It wasn't until years later that I learned that George Will, a conservative Republican with connections in the Reagan White House, had written this column, and had floated the idea to Reagan's long-time advisor Michael Deaver, that associating the Reagan-Bush campaign with Springsteen might be a good idea.
I think people have a need to feel good about the country they live in. But what’s happening, I think, is that that need—which is a good thing—is gettin' manipulated and exploited. And you see the Reagan re-election ads on TV—you know: “It’s morning in America.” And you say, well, it’s not morning in Pittsburgh.
Of course, Reagan went on to a historic landslide re-election victory, winning 49 of 50 states, including New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Furthermore, hindsight shows us that it was indeed morning in Pittsburgh (or at least the dawn was breaking) as "the Steel City" actually made a remarkable recovery from the death of its steel mills, and since then has consistently been rated as one of the best places for young people to live and work.
But when one of your heroes publicly rebukes another one, you don't soon forget it. And so that vision that was planted in my brain still remains...
The foregoing cautionary anecdote notwithstanding, I freely admit there are song lyrics that speak to my libertarian soul. Lyrics that so artfully capture my philosophy of liberty, or seem to deliver a stinging rebuke of collectivism, that I ponder whether the songwriter intended precisely the same meaning I ascribe. Admit it, you do it too.
Let us list our Songs Of Freedom and those liberty extolling (or defending) lyrics that we love.
So let us fearlessly, if somewhat foolishly, wander into the weeds of artistic interpretation. Let us list our Songs Of Freedom and those liberty extolling (or defending) lyrics that we love, but with this important disclaimer: We do not profess to know the songwriter's intended meaning of the lyrics we'll cite. We're only concerned with our interpretation of them, with the chord they strike in our hearts and minds, however tenuous our explication may seem to others. Fair enough?
I invite readers to add their personal favorite(s) as a comment to this article.
Without further ado, my top five countdown (there are too many to list them all):
5.) Bob Marley - Redemption Song
Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
None but ourselves can free our minds
Have no fear for atomic energy
'Cause none of them can stop the time
How long shall they kill our prophets
While we stand aside and look? Ooh
Some say it's just a part of it
We've got to fulfill the Book
Won't you help to sing
These songs of freedom?
'Cause all I ever have
4.) Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers - I Won't Back Down
Well I know what's right
I got just one life
In a world that keeps on pushin' me around
But I'll stand my ground
And I won't back down (I won't back down)
3.) Creedence Clearwater Revival - Who'll Stop The Rain
I went down Virginia
Seeking shelter from the storm
Caught up in the fable,
I watched the tower grow
Five year plans and new deals
Wrapped in golden chains!
And I wonder, still I wonder
Who'll stop the rain?
2.) The Rolling Stones - Ruby Tuesday
Don't question why she needs to be so free
She'll tell you it's the only way to be
She just can't be chained
To a life where nothing's gained
And nothing's lost, at such a cost
1.) Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here
(I hear the aforementioned stinging rebuke of collectivism in this gem. Do you?)
So, so you think you can tell
Heaven from hell
Blue skies from pain
Can you tell a green field
From a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell?
Did they get you to trade
Your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
Did you exchange
A walk on part in the war
For a lead role in a cage?
Won't you help to sing these Songs of Freedom? Redemption Songs... redemption songs.