main-205.jpgThere is a reason Nebraska is cited as the Springsteen record for non Bruce fans. Unlike the slick sheen that covers much of his other studio output, Nebraska is raw, on edge, dirty, and sounds at times fevered, like the initial moments after you wake in the middle of the night and are unsure where you are. Listening to the album after dark, on vinyl, by yourself, and/or driving at night, alone, is an altogether music geek rite of passage. It’s a desolate album, and at the time of its recording, was probably the last thing Springsteen’s audience was expecting.

The story goes that soon after the release of (his commercial breakout album) The River, the Springsteen famously stole away in a room by himself and recorded these demos on a four track thinking the band would later flesh them out. Apparently the E-Street-ified versions took the soul out of the recordings and Springsteen decided to release the album as is. One of the tracks that did not make the cut on Nebraska is the demo’d, acoustic, version of “Born In The U.S.A.” It’s stark, barren, and outright spookyness sound 180 degrees different from the bastardized, fist-pumping version that saw an official release four years later on an album of the same name. Long traded in bootleg format, the acoustic, Nebraska version of “Born In The U.S.A.” saw an official release in 1999 via the Tracks box set.

MP3: Bruce Springsteen :: Born In The U.S.A. (demo)
Amazon: Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska
Amazon: Bruce Springsteen – Tracks

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11 Responses to “Desolation, Nebraska”

  1. Allow me to recommend the “Alone in Colt’s Neck” bootleg of Nebraska sessions, if you don’t already have it — info at Your description of the feel of those tracks, like waking up from a fever dream, is dead-on. It’s high time I pulled the record out again — it’s been a while.

  2. if you’re saying that the official version of “Born In The USA” is anything less than excellent, I gotta disagree with you damn near completely, sir. but you’re right about Nebraska.

    as an indie rocker and recent convert to Bruce’s amazing-ness, it really bugs me how he’s so often written off as this dumb guy who has recorded one classic (Nebraska) and tons of crap. so not true. dude’s a fucking monster.

  3. nebaska is one of my all time favs, for so many of the reasons you described. great write-up…thanks for motivating me to take a slow drive in my car earlier tonight with the cd…

  4. indeed, you are correct, I am absolutely saying that. In fact, the ’84 version of BITUSA is why I avoided the man’s music for a good 10+ years.
    But I agree w/ you, bruce is a badass. And far, far, far from a “dumb guy.”

  5. I’m still new to Bruce…but Nebraska is the one album I own so far and I friggin love it. Atlantic City is so amazing. Thanks for the demo of Born In the USA.

  6. Um, allow me, if you will, to point out that it’s RITE (not right) of passage (we’re talking here about age-old coming of age patterns, not which ship gets to proceed through the lock next) and in the instance above – “at the time of it’s recording” – it’s ITS (not it’s). Small points perhaps but then we all hug our little destinies; mine, it would seem, involves expressing my admiration and gratitude for your fine, fine. sight, um, that is to say, SITE, by informally doing it’s (sic) copy editing. Carry on my Drunkard friend. (No, seriously. Carry on.)

  7. And I probably don’t need to mention this to you, Satisfied ’75, but for anyone who hasn’t heard The Cash Brother’s song “Nebraska” from the album How Was Tomorrow?, well, there’s no better summary of that late night Nebraska drive than that song.

  8. maybe it’s the reason you avoided his music for so long, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s any less the right version for the song. in the Guthrie-ish Nebraska demo version, it’s a folky trying to feel what it’s like to be in this character’s shoes. it’s a character sketch. in the BITUSA version, he IS that guy, for better or for worse (which is why so many people misinterpret it, just as real people are tougher to pin down than sketches).

    also, it’s fun to sing and dance to when you’re drunk!

  9. didactic, where ya been all my life?

  10. I thought that with The Ghost of Tom Joad he was specifically trying to recapture the spirit of Nebraska – that is, I read it somewhere but have no idea if it’s true or not. I have to say I reckon he failed, although there are a couple of decent tracks on Joad. He does full on rock versions of Atlantic City a lot, most notably on his MTV Plugged album, which I think are pretty good.

  11. […] Hot on the heels1 of reading a discussion at the AV Club that touched on the “finality” of a song’s composition, I come acrosss An Aquarium Drunkard’s posting an MP3 of the “Nebraska” version of Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The USA. Compared to the version Reagan sampled, it provides a great example of the different forms a song can take. Which begs the Boss-ified koan: Can you listen to The River twice? […]

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