He’s Guilty, He’s Guilty, Don’t Let That Boy Go Free

Growin' Up, which features on Bruce Springsteen's first album Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., is a song of youthful rebellion. For young Bruce Springsteen, his status as something of a social rock-n'-roll outsider in a conservative blue-collar town was a point of pride.

Key lyrics:

"When they said sit down, I stood up"

"I broke all the rules, strafed my old high school, never once gave thought to landing"

One can see how he prides himself on his nonconformity. His father particularly was not a fan of this trait. When young Springsteen was laid up in a motorcycle accident, his father summoned a barber, and had the young man's hair cut, an act which he held against his father for a long time following.

"Lost in the Flood", also from Greetings, is an impressionistic tale of a veteran returning home from the war, and seeing the truth of things when all others are deluded. Containing some of Springsteen's finest wordplay, it is one of the most Dylanesque songs on the album, a label which Springsteen would long after attempt to shed.

Key lyrics:

"And I said, 'Hey, gunner man, that's quicksand, that's quicksand, that ain't mud,

Have you thrown your senses to the war, or did you lose them in the flood?"

The disillusioned veteran is not an uncommon trope, but Springsteen handles it uncommonly well.

"Adam Raised a Cain", from Springsteen's 1978 album Darkness on the Edge of Town, evokes the oldest Biblical allusion in the book to paint a picture of the narrator as a dark-hearted beast, in many ways his father's son. Springsteen's yelping, panicked vocal style adds pathos and emotion to the tale.

Key lyrics:

"Daddy worked his whole life, for nothing but the pain,

Now he walks these empty rooms, looking for something to blame,

You inherit the sins, you inherit the flames,

Adam raised a Cain"

Springsteen, to be sure, had gone through a rough patch. The previous two years had been consumed by a lawsuit between himself and his first agent, which tortured Springsteen, and delayed the release of his follow-up to 1975's smash hit Born to Run.

"Factory", also from Darkness, tells the story of a blue-collar man through the eyes of his young son. The father is merely going through the motions, deriving no joy from his daily drudgery.

Key lyrics:

"Factory takes his hearing, factory gives him life,

The working, the working, just the working life"

The song, while the shortest on the album, is perhaps the most personal. This would explain why it was placed on the record at the expense of a classic Springsteen outtake such as "The Promise" or "Because the Night".

"Independence Day", from Springsteen's 1980 double-album The River, tells the story of a son who plans to leave his home. He and his father have argued late into the night, and the narrator urges him to forget his struggle.

Key lyrics:

"There was just no way this house could hold the two of us

I guess that we were just too much of the same kind"

"But won't you just say goodbye it's Independence Day

I swear I never meant to take those things away"

It is left unclear from the song where exactly the narrator is going. At various points in the lyrics the song implies prison, vagrancy, or Vietnam.

"Highway Patrolman", from Springsteen's 1982 acoustic album Nebraska, tells the story of a man whose brother is a Vietnam veteran and criminal. The protagonist is (eponymously) a highway patrolman, and weighs his familial duty to his duty to the law.

Key lyrics:

"Man turns his back on his family well he just ain't no good"

"Franky came home in '68 and me I took this job"

This song, while focusing primarily on the patrolman, shows great empathy towards the character of Franky. Who can say what horrors he saw in the armed forces? But whatever occurred to him broke him, and the narrator is obsessed with memories of himself and his brother in their youth.

"My Father's House", also from Nebraska, tells the story of a dream in which the protagonist goes to his father's house. He finds that his father no longer lives there.

Key lyrics:

"She said "I'm sorry son but no one by that name lives here anymore'"

"My father's house stands hard and bright

It shines like a beacon calling me in the night

Calling and calling so dark and alone

Shining cross this dark highway where our sins lie unatoned"

The narrator was never able to reconcile with his father. In this, one of the bleakest songs on his bleakest album, Springsteen deals with his own broken relationship with his father.

"Born in the U.S.A.," from the eponymous album, tells the tale of a man who fought in Vietnam and returns to find his country has in essence abandoned him. One of Springsteen's biggest hits, it is one of the most misunderstood songs in the history of music.

Key lyrics:

"Went down to see my V.A. man,

He said 'Son, don't you understand'"

"I'm ten years burning down the road

Nowhere to run ain't got nowhere to go"

The song, due to its bombastic arrangement, is often taken as a statement of unadulterated patriotism and pride. Springsteen had originally intended it to be sparse and in the style of Nebraska, which would have made its meaning far more unambiguous. However, Springsteen's indictment of the way in which veterans are treated loses none of its venom in its realized form.