WHO CAN SLEEP – Born in the U.S.A. 35 is available @ Spotify.
by Walter Price
Yesterday, 23 September 2019, marked the 70th birthday for one of America’s most revered voices, Bruce Springsteen. His sturdy social consciousness spelled out in poetry that isn’t easy to forget and often takes on personal interpretations. His songs have not only resonated and entertained over the decades, but they have given voice to society’s often overlooked. And while each fan has his/her/their favorite track or LP, if you’re of a certain age, and remember the power of MTV at its height, Springsteen’s ’84 masterstroke, ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ is your album.
And to mark its 35th anniversary, Los Angeles folk duo Who Can Sleep has released a cerebral stunner of a tribute. Filled with their signature harmonies and shadowy delivery, ‘Side A’ takes an American rock classic far into new thought-provoking territories.
And there is a near cosmic connection to the album, as the band explains, “Born in the USA and Lex both came into the world in 1984. Lex and Bruce also happen to share the same birthday, September 23rd. This year, Lex and Born in the USA turn 35, and Bruce turns 70. That means Bruce was also 35 when Born in the USA debuted! Auspicious numerology aside, the record has tremendous meaning for us. Bruce’s lyrical themes still resonate today, and sometimes in unexpected ways. Recorded in Lex’s grandmother’s garage in Sacramento, here is Side A. “
Born in the USA
Lex: We tried many interpretations of the melody for months it seemed. Finally, I was in Sacramento for the birth of my sister’s daughter, staying with my grandma, and somehow I came upon something that stuck. Maybe I was trying to borrow something from “Atlantic City”. Dean added the humming which really holds the song together. I cried many times while working on this song at my grandma’s. Like so many families, I had an uncle who was in Vietnam. He married a woman from Thailand and they had two kids. He moved his family back to the states and died of a heart attack a year later.
Dean: Approaching this song felt like trying to sit down for a drink with a rattlesnake. When I was a kid I loved it. As I grew up and as Bruce’s career progressed it became far from my favorite of his canon. I’ve read that perhaps Bruce is somewhat ambivalent about it – I think it was originally written for Donna Summer (I might lose my mind imagining the fabulous possibilities for that production!). I had been wanting to arrange something with an early 60’s downtempo swagger. When I started playing Cover Me in that 12/8 groove I fell in love with the song again.
Lex: First let me say we had this song done and ready to master and the computer lost it, which turned out to be a blessing. This simple guitar thing just seemed to work – it doesn’t seem to ever resolve. It’s melancholy with a glimmer of hope, I think. Though Bruce’s version is upbeat, the narrator and his buddy Wayne felt a bit tragic to me, they’re telling lies all over the place, trying to get with girls and find work. And get moving again. The World Trade Center line, of course, means something entirely different today, too. It was not an easy line to sing.
Working on the Highway
Dean: The electricity of this entire record lies in the fact that consistently Bruce’s lyrics belie the band arrangements. They’re terrifically energetic, uptempo performances but the words are heartbreaking. The juxtaposition is unique in pop music. Our sound as a duo has none of the bombast of the E Street Band, so even when we sing happy songs they sound kind of gloomy. This story in this song is definitely seedy. I’m pretty sure the narrator goes to prison for taking a minor over the state line.
Lex: Again, we played with so many versions of melodic and harmonic reinterpretation, and nothing seemed to grab us. We both really love the original and thought we’d stay true to that, but it wasn’t working. I don’t know how this one really came to be. It was late at night, and I could hear Dean hollering in the garage, and I feared he’d wake up grandma.
I’m On Fire
Lex: Arriving at the last track, I realize I could say almost the same thing for each song. None of this was easy. Dean was really losing hope in me. This was March, maybe. I’d been playing around with some suspended chords on the guitar, and the words over the chords. We got really drunk one night with a friend I knew from the theater in New York. I felt awful the next day, but plugged in the electric guitar and microphone, and let Dean have it. We both knew then we’d found it. BUT still, arriving at the production we did, took miraculous effort on Dean’s part. Once again, we tried many different versions, coming back to the idea of isolating my voice. We both feel pretty good with what we got.
[ Dean Vivirito / Lex Helgerson ]
Side A, Born in the U.S.A.
Songwriter: Bruce Springsteen
Video Director: Lex Helgerson / Dean Vivirito
Director of Photography: David Johnson
AC: Joe Tapia
Additional footage: AJH
Featuring: Louisa Ruiz Helgerson // Silverboy // Jackie Bates // Penelope Ruiz Helgerson // Tessa BH Ruiz // Michael Swain // Deborah Dickson // Alexander Clark // Jack Bates // Maddy Bates // Karen Bates // Mark Michael Vivirito // Charlie Vivirito // Juan Guillermo Ruiz de Hernandez // Dean Vivirito // Lex Helgerson
support great artists, buy music
“I make American music, and I write about the place I live and who I am in my lifetime. Those are the things I’m going to struggle for and fight for.” – Bruce Springsteen