Signifying (and Psychoanalyzing) National Identity in Rock: Bruce Springsteen and The Tragically Hip


  • Alexander Carpenter
  • Ian Skinner



This article addresses the broader issues of national identity in popular music, while focusing on Bruce Springsteen as an icon of "American- ness." Springsteen's ideas about American identity—and especially how identity is tied to place, and to abstract notions like the American Dream—are addressed through an analysis of the song "Born to Run.” This analysis examines how the elusiveness of American identity and the American Dream are embedded in the musical features of the song itself, including aspirational melodic structures and successions of non- resolving chords that signify a sort of never-ending pursuit. Springsteen and his music are also juxtaposed here with the music of the Canadian band The Tragically Hip, who are widely considered "Canada's band" by the Canadian media, and whose music is reputed to capture the essence of the Canadian identity; however, as in Springsteen's music, the articulation and expression of national identity proves problematic, and "The Hip" often resort to musical processes—especially harmonic stasis— that suggest not only the vast emptiness of the Canadian landscape, but also a kind of fruitless encircling of "Canadian-ness" as something that can never be fully grasped or realized.

Author Biography

Alexander Carpenter

Chair, Department of Fine Arts, University of Alberta, Augustana