Armistead Maupin, through his fictional character Michael Tolliver, proposed the idea that each generation has a male performer straight guys would go queer for. “It was Mick Jagger for a long time,” Michael explains in Significant Others, “and now it’s Bruce Springsteen.”
The cover for Born in the U.S.A. does nothing to dissuade this idea. Springsteen’s jeans certainly do his posterior justice, and the red cap could be mistaken for a handkerchief, which conveys some sort of code that modern day hook-up apps make obsolete. And the form-fitting white t-shirt? It’s the uniform of countless gay guys.
At the time Born in the U.S.A. was released, I wasn’t yet sexually aware enough to attach the word “homoerotic” to the cover’s unconscious vibe. Besides, “homoerotic” and “Bruce Springsteen” aren’t words strung together in sentences in, well, ever.
And yet, I was drawn to the cover despite the fact I really couldn’t stand all the radio hits Born in the U.S.A. spawned. Springsteen was the polar opposite of the new wave music that caught my fancy at the time. The effete sophistication of ABC, Duran Duran and Eurythmics rubbed against Springsteen’s middle American bombast.
Also, the title track of the album had that disturbing line about being “sent to Vietnam to go and kill yellow man.”
But Springsteen himself? His contract had a rider that a gym went with him on tour. Countless pictures showed off his guns, and the “Dancing in the Dark” video made it a point to display his crotch.
It’s pretty amazing that an Internet search yields no beefcake photos of him from the 1980s. Recent pictures of Springsteen pretty much demonstrate the man takes care of himself.
I couldn’t admit it at the time, but Springsteen joined Huey Lewis, Sting, Simon Le Bon and Roger Taylor on the list of male figures stirring my pre-teen sexual awareness. But I couldn’t bring myself to overlook his music to acknowledge his placement on that list.
About three hours before writing this entry, Born in the U.S.A. became part of my vinyl collection. It’s taken 30 years.
In 1995, Emmylou Harris entered my life, and with it, country music and its punk-inspired off-shoot, alt-country. If Springsteen had more twang and less literary chops, he’d be chumming it up with Brad Paisley and Blake Shelton.
In short, I’ve grown accustomed to songs Springsteen himself has inspired that listening to the original is no effort. “Glory Days” is playing on the record player as I type this sentence, and I distinctly remember thinking it exemplified what I dislike about Springsteen. Today, I realize I’ve written songs in the same style.
Of course what clinched the purchase for me was actually listening to the album on the streaming services. None of the annoyance from 30 years ago surfaced. In fact, I understood the album. Born in the U.S.A. was an album for grown-ups in the 1980s, not for teenagers. I hated it because it wasn’t meant for me.
And now, I can totally own that yes, I think Bruce Springsteen is hot. I can call out the cover of Born in the U.S.A. as being totally homoerotic. Most importantly, I can admit it’s a really good album.
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