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All this summer on NPR, we're hearing about the American Dream. For some, that dream is represented through music. So, we've been asking writers what song represents the American Dream for them. On this 4th of July, we hear from NPR music critic Ann Powers who needs to look no further than The Boss.


ANN POWERS, BYLINE: I fell in love with Bruce Springsteen for his swagger. It was ridiculous, and offered so much hope. Here was a bony dude with the worst haircut ever, who wore t-shirts covered in holes making music as big as the known universe. I defy any rock fan over age 35 to not hear Springsteen's classic line from "Born To Run" when somebody invokes the American Dream.


BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) In the day we sweat it out on the streets of a runaway American Dream, at night we ride through the mansions of glory in suicide machines, sprung from cages out on Highway 9, chrome wheeled, fuel-injected, and stepping out over the line.

POWERS: His runaway dream demanded the kind of reckless courage that rock and roll was built to conjure. But the freedom cries of Springsteen's anthems have always been countered by his ballads about sorrow and disappointment. And it was one of those songs, "The River," that turned my listening relationship with Springsteen into an adult one.


SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) No wedding day smiles, no walk down the aisle, no flowers, no wedding dress. At night we went down to the river, and into the river we'd dive...

POWERS: The Springsteen who promised me a wild ride in a junkyard car excited me. But I learned something more important from one who, just a few years later, sang a different kind of song, about a man parking his family vehicle at the edge of the river where he and his wife had fallen in love.


SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Is a dream a lie, they don't come true, or is something worse that sends me down...

POWERS: But Springsteen still believes in the dream. Though the river is dry, the memory it conjures, and the chance it might rise again, offer nourishment. For me, Bruce Springsteen's meditations on missed opportunity and regret say more about the American Dream than do any of his shout-along party starters. His fascination with how people survive connects Springsteen to a rich musical lineage. Rhythm and blues taught him how to make pain exquisite. Country music helped him understand that stories about coping could be as powerful as fantasies of escape. The rocker in Springsteen taps into the human craving for transcendence, but the mature artist always goes back to the world where people actually live in, where dreams crash and build and crash again. Springsteen's songs of failure lend honor to the struggle. No matter how hopeless things get, he reminds us, people will find a way to swim.


SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Ooh...

MONTAGNE: NPR music critic Ann Powers. In the coming weeks, we'll hear from other writers about the songs that, for them, embody the American Dream. You'll find more at


MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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