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Friday, July 6, 2018

July 6, 2018: The 4th in Focus: “Sandy (4th of July, Asbury Park)”

[To celebrate another 4th of July, a series on different cultural contexts for this very American holiday. Leading up to a special weekend post on critical patriotism!]
On how Bruce captured the more intimate side of independence day.
You didn’t think I could write a series about iconic images of America and not include the Boss, did you?! One of my most memorable youthful July 4th experiences, the fireworks show after a Richmond Braves minor league baseball game, featured star-spangled fireworks set to “Born in the U.S.A.”—yet another failure to listen closely to Bruce’s ironic anthem, of course, if also an association encouraged by Bruce’s own red, white, and blue album cover among other things. A fair portion of the ashes from those fireworks ended up in my cup of soda, which it’s hard not to read as a metaphor for the gap between the show and the song, the inspiring American spectacle and the far darker historical and social realities that “Born in the U.S.A.” seeks to capture. Indeed, Bruce read Ron Kovic’s memoir, and was inspired by it to write a much less well-known song, “Shut Out the Light” (1983).
As it turns out, in the course of his long and prolific career Bruce has written two songs that even more overtly feature independence day, and offer far different and more personal images of the holiday. From the double album The River (1980) there’s the haunting “Independence Day,” a song that may or may not be set on the actual holiday but uses it as an extended metaphor for the speaker’s decision to leave his hometown and the limited world and legacy of his father (to whom he addresses his determined but apologetic reflections throughout the song). And from The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle (1974) there’s the bittersweet “Sandy (4th of July, Asbury Park),” in which the jaded young speaker pleads with his star-crossed lover that they should leave “this carnival life” and start anew, all while “the fireworks are hailing over Little Eden tonight/Forcing a light into all those stoned-out faces left stranded on this Fourth of July.”
Besides being one of Bruce’s most beautiful and poignant songs (and featuring Danny Federici at his absolute best on the accordion), “Sandy” reflects an essential but easily overlooked truth: that the Fourth of July, like all communal holidays and occasions, is perhaps most consistently meaningful through its resonances in our individual lives, journeys, and memories. For me, the 4th will always mean both that childhood Richmond Braves game and the first time the boys and I stayed out on the Needham town common to watch the town’s fireworks show, images of community and connection in each case. For Bruce’s speakers, on the other hand, the holiday is a moment to declare independence from the communities that have produced and influenced but also limited them, to seek their own new journeys and identities as did America in that foundational moment. But across these disparate experiences, texts, and meanings, the 4th becomes an occasion to reflect on who we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re going—an underappreciated, frequent, and very valuable side effect of holiday celebrations.
Special post this weekend,
PS. What do you think? Contexts or connections for the 4th you’d highlight?

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