At the Concert for Valor Tuesday night on the Mall in Washington, D.C., Bruce Springsteen caught social media heat for a song choice: Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son,” which he performed with Zac Brown and Dave Grohl during Brown’s set.
Here are the verse lyrics from the original recording, minus some “oohs,” “ahs,” “uhs” and “Lords.”
Some folks are born made to wave the flag
They’re red, white and blue
And when the band plays “Hail to the Chief”
They point the cannon at you
Some folks are born silver spoon in hand
Lord, don’t they help themselves
But when the tax men come to the door
Lord, the house look a like a rummage sale
Yeah, some folks inherit star-spangled eyes
They send you down to war
And when you ask them, “How much should we give?”
They only answer, more, more, more
And the chorus:
It ain’t me, it ain’t me
I ain’t no Senator’s son
It ain’t me, it ain’t me
I ain’t no fortunate one
Though written by leather-voiced classic rock mastermind John Fogerty — a man Springsteen once called “our generation’s Hank Williams” — this is lyrical terrain familiar to the Boss. “Fortunate Son” takes on income inequality and unblinking patriotism, as Fogerty, a former serviceman, explains here.
But it was the song’s third chorus that really got people’s dander up on the Mall. In that one, Fogerty insisted he “ain’t no military son.” Here’s Springsteen singing the offending lyric as Grohl and Brown bang their heads:
On Veterans Day, in the heart of a centuries-old democracy fighting interminable foreign wars — not far from a monument to Gen. George Washington — this didn’t go over well.
“The song, not to put too fine a point on it, is an anti-war screed, taking shots at ‘the red white and blue,'” the Weekly Standard wrote. “It was a particularly terrible choice given that Fortunate Son is, moreover, an anti-draft song, and this concert was largely organized to honor those who volunteered to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
And then there was Twitter.
Will never understand why Fortunate Son is played during ‘patriotic’ scenarios. Not really getting this. #TheConcertForValor
— MK (@megtkel) November 12, 2014
Ummm… Why are they playing an anti-patriotic song “Fortunate Son” at the Concert for Valor? And why are they cheering?
— Colette Moran (@ColetteMoran) November 12, 2014
But Springsteen did have his defenders.
Indeed, at the same concert, Springsteen also performed a dirge-like version of “Born in the U.S.A.” “I wrote this 30 years ago — think it still holds,” Springsteen said before playing the song. While some think “Born in the U.S.A.” is an American anthem, a quick look at the lyrics confirms that it’s more of an anti-anthem anthem overtly critical of the Vietnam War. Here they are, minus some repetitions of the titular call to arms — and that line about being a “cool rockin’ daddy”:
Born down in a dead man’s town
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.
Got in a little hometown jam so they put a rifle in my hand
Sent me off to a foreign land to go and kill the yellow man
Born in the U.S.A.
Come back home to the refinery
Hiring man says “son if it was up to me”
Went down to see my V.A. man
He said “son don’t you understand now”
Had a brother at Khe Sahn fighting off the Viet Cong
They’re still there he’s all gone
He had a woman he loved in Saigon
I got a picture of him in her arms now
Down in the shadow of penitentiary
Out by the gas fires of the refinery
I’m ten years burning down the road
Nowhere to run ain’t got nowhere to go
Even Ronald Reagan, who praised the song in his 1984 campaign, seemed confused. Here’s the Gipper praising the Boss:
Is “born in the USA” much different in sentiment than “fortunate son”? — Zach Wolf (@zbyronwolf) November 12, 2014
So, starting right now, let’s agree: Songs like “Fortunate Son” and “Born in the U.S.A.,” while they criticize the armed forces, aren’t anti-American in the sense that, for example, the Islamic State is anti-American. By offering a critique of our nation’s policies, they celebrate its promise.
Or, as Mark Twain put it: “The true patriotism, the only rational patriotism, is loyalty to the Nation all the time, loyalty to the Government when it deserves it.”