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How the War in Iraq Impacted Bruce Springsteen’s Music

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When Bruce Springsteen is on tour, whether solo or with the E Street Band, his concert setlists sometimes become a commentary on what is going on in the world.

For instance, after Johnny Cash died in the fall of 2003, the Boss opened his next two shows with an acoustic version of “Walk the Line.” When the Trayvon Martin case became headline news in 2012, Springsteen and the E Streeters played “American Skin (41 Shots)” in the young man’s honor. And when the United States invaded Iraq on March 20, 2003, Bruce had plenty to say with his choice of songs.

In the run-up to the war, Springsteen had been vocal about his stance against it. When introducing “Born in the U.S.A.,” he would say that he had written that song about the Vietnam War and hoped he wouldn’t have to write a similar song soon. He even revived his hit cover version of Edwin Starr’s “War,” specifically for a March 2 show in Austin, Texas – then-President George W. Bush’s former hometown.

The day of the U.S. invasion of Iraq also happened to be the first date of Bruce and the E Street Band’s Australian leg of The Rising Tour. So, it was from the Telstra Dome in Melbourne, Australia that Springsteen made his political stance clear. He opened with a somber, acoustic rendition of “Born in the U.S.A.,” instead of the anthemic full-band version heard elsewhere on the tour. He then launched straight into a full-band attack for “War,” with its impassioned line: “What is it good for? Absolutely nothin’.” Springsteen would continue to open his shows this way for the subsequent Australian dates.

Later on in the show, before playing “Land of Hope and Dreams” during the second encore, Bruce dedicated the song to “American and Australian sons and daughters … and innocent Iraqi civilians.”

The Iraq War would have a profound effect on Springsteen’s concerts and songs. In the 2004 U.S. presidential election, he campaigned against George W. Bush and played a major role in the Vote for Change tour. Springsteen’s next two albums would feature songs about characters dealing with the Iraq War and its consequences, including “Devils & Dust,” “Last to Die” and “Gypsy Biker.”

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