American Land

Bruce Springsteen, 2006

In what historical period do you imagine the character in this song immigrated to the United States? When did large numbers of the immigrants the song describes come to the United States to work in places like steel mills?

What tone is created by the opening instrumental music? Does the music invoke particular ethnicities, demographic groups, or economic classes?

Why does the narrator want to immigrate to America? How do his expectations compare with his actual experience when he arrives?

"American Land" performed by Bruce Springsteen on Wrecking Ball, © 2012. Available on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

For more information about Bruce Springsteen, visit his official website.

Rights have not been secured to reprint the words for this song. Please consult the following online resource for lyrics:

Born in 1949 in New Jersey, rock legend Bruce Springsteen is known for his depiction of working-class life and descriptions of American identity. Springsteen's music speaks to the broad American experience, telling stories about the daily lives of people, events, and personal, social, and political issues. He has been compared to Woody Guthrie, whose songs spoke about the American experience in the Depression, and folk singer and activist Pete Seeger, whose songs addressed social justice issues in the 1950s and 1960s. According to Owen Cantrell, Springsteen is best considered a "folk stylist," a performer that "is not a folk musician, but utilizes the lyrical and musical tools of folk music for political and social purposes" (148).

Seeger Sessions American Land edition
Seeger Sessions American Land edition.

Springsteen's album We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (2006) consists of covers of songs that Seeger recorded and performed. "American Land" was first recorded live and released as a bonus track on a special edition of the album, called the American Land Edition. Unlike the tracks on the original edition, "American Land" is a new song inspired by Seeger's 1956 recording of "He Lies in the American Land." Springsteen later recorded "American Land" in the studio and released it on a special edition of his album Wrecking Ball (2012).

"He Lies in the American Land" was written in the early 1900s by a Slovak immigrant steelworker named Andrew Kovaly (VAT Unit 6) and translated by Seeger in the 1940s. Springsteen paraphrases the text of the first verse of the song, in which a man says goodbye to his lover before he heads to America, but sets it in a completely different musical style: an upbeat, rock-and-roll-influenced Irish jig. Springsteen goes on to tell the story of the immigrant experience by talking about the promise of America in verse two, the arrival in America and hard work of the immigrant in verse three, and a description of who came and the troubles they faced in verses four and five. The lively chorus talks about the promise of America for the hard-working man. The song begins with a melody on the penny whistle, an instrument associated with Celtic music, and has an instrumental dance break after the second singing of the chorus.

Compare this song to:

"He Lies in the American Land" (Unit 6)



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