"Vietnam" (recorded September – December, 1981 at Springsteen’s House, Colt’s Neck, NJ; unreleased)
by Mark Richardson
The story of Bruce Springsteen’s song “Vietnam” is the story of how songs get written, what gets left in, and what gets left out. It’s not quite accurate to call it a “Springsteen song,” since it was never properly released in any form and has never been performed. It exists only as demo that has been bootleged, just Springsteen’s guitar and voice; according to the Brucebase, it was recorded at Springsteen’s home in Colt’s Neck, N.J., sometime between September and December 1981. Just after New Year’s in January 1982, Springsteen would go on to record another set of demo sessions at home that were more fleshed out; this collection of demos became the Nebraska album. So the writing and recording of “Vietnam” is quite close in spirit if not quite sound to what ultimately became Nebraska, and its concerns mirror many of those found on Springsteen’s starkest and bleakest album. But the most intriguing thing about “Vietnam” is what its fragments evolved into.
Before we get to that, first a quick word about the subject matter: “Vietnam” is about the difficulties of a vet returning home from the war. A pretty well-worn subject in books and film, to be sure, but something that was definitely in the air in the early 1980s, as Americans gained some perspective after the end of the war and a new era was on the horizon with Reagan’s presidency, which was based in part on trying to forget Vietnam and the tumultuous 1960s.