Happy 4th of July with a very sad song! The song is Bruce Springsteen’s Independence Day which seemingly makes it the perfect song to refer to on this day, though analysis of Bruce’s lyrics reveal a different subject matter altogether.
Written in 1977 but left off 1978’s Darkness On The Edge Of Town, Bruce reportedly felt that album was sombre enough already and perhaps not in need of another father-and-son song. Independence Day was finally released as one of 20 songs on 1980’s The River.
Some critics and fans have argued that the song is most notable for the sublime melancholy of the playing of the two now deceased members of the E Street Band: Danny Federici on organ and Clarence Clemons on saxophone. But more than that (not to mention the strength of the melody as highlighted below), it is the lyrics that elevate this beyond being just a pretty sounding, sombre song.
“Papa go to bed now, it’s getting late,” is the role-reversing opening line as sung by a son who acknowledges the love for a father he simply can no longer go on living with. Bruce (or Bruce’s character) tells of a son and father as being “too much of the same kind,” and mournfully announces, “So say goodbye, it’s independence day.” Keeping in mind this song was penned a mere 22 years after Bill Haley’s Rock Around The Clock, the emergence of Elvis and the birth of Rock & Roll, you realise how advanced the genre had quickly become.
So yes, it’s not about America’s Independence Day at all, but it is about independence. And it’s written and sung by a truly great American hero. Here is Bruce Springsteen’s Independence Day as it sounded on The River, but as a bonus I’ve also included a beautiful live version from 2012. Recorded in Paris, it’s just Bruce on piano and a strong reminder for me that while there are many superior pianists than him, his melodies rarely sound more angelic than when he plays them solo.