When Bruce Springsteen went back on the road in 1984, he opened every show by shouting out, "one, two, one, two, three, four," followed by the droning synth chords of "Born in the USA". Max Weinberg hit his drums with a two-fisted physicality that cut through the swelling chords. With a rolled-up red kerchief around his head and heavy black boots under his faded jeans, Springsteen looked like the character of the song, and from the very first line ("Born down in a dead man's town") he sang with the throat-scraping desperation of a man with his back against the wall. When he reached the crucial lines, though, the guitars and bass dropped out and Weinberg switched to just the hi-hat. Springsteen's voice grew a bit more private and reluctant as he sang, "Nowhere to run. Nowhere to go". It was as if he weren't sure if this were an admission of defeat or the drawing of a line in the sand. But when the band came crashing back at full strength - building a crescendo that fell apart in the cacophony of Springsteen's and Weinberg's wild soloing, paused and then came together again in the determined, marching riff - it was clear that the singer was ready to make a stand.
Geoffrey Himes has written about music on a weekly basis in the Washington Post since 1977, During that time he has also written about pop music for the Oxford American, Rolling Stone, No Depression, the Chicago Tribune, Country Music Magazine, Sing Out, Request Magazine, and other outlets. He won a 2002 ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award for Music Feature Writing.