Bruce Spring­steen released his most popular album, “Born in the U.S.A.” in 1984. | Wiki­media Commons

It’s no secret our gen­er­ation is obsessed with our parents’ gen­er­ation, but it’s more than mom’s old Levi jeans selling for $150 on Ebay. You can get a Beatles T‑shirt at Target just as easily today as you may have gotten one at Two Guys 50 years ago. Thanks to Stranger Things, 13-year-olds every­where know the lyrics to the Police’s “Every Breath You Take.” 

Decades later, we’re still being influ­enced by our parents’ music: rock ‘n’ roll.

The phase of comic-book char­acter movies is fading. Mean­while, our box office best­sellers are bringing back the great rock ‘n’ roll legends, like “Bohemian Rhapsody,” about Queen, or the 2019 movie “Blinded by the Light,” about a Pak­istani boy finding identity in the great American classics of Bruce Spring­steen. 

Perhaps they never left.

While rap dom­i­nates the Top 100 every week, rock ‘n’ roll, is still just as for­mative as when it was brand new — even if few popular musi­cians produce it anymore. It con­tinues to influence the clothes we wear, the films and TV shows we produce, the aes­thetic of our Instagram feeds. As the trailer to “Blinded by the Light” would suggest, if there’s one thing that unifies American culture across the board, it’s the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll. 

In that spirit — and in the interest of under­standing what that American culture is — we’re road-tripping back into those for­mative decades. Where better to start than with The Boss himself, Bruce Spring­steen? 

As the opening track to his iconic 1984 album of the same name, “Born in the U.S.A.” hit American culture right in the middle of the Reagan years. If the song is any rep­re­sen­tation of its time, American spirit was strong — and con­fusing. Spring­steen wrestles with the Vietnam War almost 10 years later; it’s cul­tural influence on the ’80s is unmissable. Par­tic­u­larly, he seems struck by the void left in American culture as a result of the war’s massive casu­alties. 

“I had a brother at Khe Sanh fighting off the Viet Cong/They’re still there, he’s all gone/He had a woman he loved in Saigon/I got a picture of him in her arms now,” Spring­steen sings. 

By con­trast, the upbeat tune and guitar-banging speak to Springsteen’s optimism and make this song an Inde­pen­dence Day classic. Whatever hurt he feels he takes in stride; after all, he was born in the U.S.A.

Col­lec­tively, the album ide­alizes the decade and leaves a strong nos­talgic taste, like the smell of beer at a baseball game. And in “Glory Days,” Spring­steen sings about baseball, drinks, and the good old days — working on an assembly line. The rear-window view may be a warped one, but Spring­steen has on rose-colored sun­glasses.

“No Sur­render” bursts into the middle of the album as Spring­steen bursts out of class, singing about getting away from “those fools.”

“We learned more from a three-minute record, baby/Than we ever learned in school,” he sings, a reflection not simply of ’80s optimism, but also of teen invin­ci­bility: rock ‘n’ roll was your edu­cation. What more did you need?

“Bobby Jean,” about a girl who likes the same music, the same bands, the same clothes, as Spring­steen, alludes to the cul­tural unity of the day — or maybe just to really good blue jeans. 

But it’s “My Hometown,” the last track of the album, that can be traced as the pre­cursor to many modern country pop songs. It’s a por­trait of modern American history, syn­the­sized through one story: a picture-perfect hometown, torn by “troubled times.” 

What starts off as “my hometown” becomes “your hometown.”

“Now Main Street’s white­washed windows and vacant stores/Seems like there ain’t nobody wants to come down here no more/They’re closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks/Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain’t coming back/To your hometown.”

Spring­steen speaks to Middle America, before “Middle America” became a political term that econ­o­mists and New York Times reporters studied. It’s the original “Hill­billy Elegy,” and J.D. Vance hadn’t even picked up a pen yet.

It’s called rock ‘n’ roll.