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Bruce Springsteen rocked the Super Bowl this week, reminding the world of what it means to be born in the USA: America might be doing it tough but it can still put on a hell of a show.

But an appropriately authentic one at a time when make believe has been mugged by harsh reality.

As the poet laureate of blue collar America, Springsteen's songs evoke the bleak monotony of working class life, a struggle made all the harder by the almost religious belief in the American Dream that everybody can get rich and famous. The Boss lives the dream but he always goes back to New Jersey.

And whenever he seems in danger of losing his way in a fog of acoustic gloom, he reaches for his Fender Telecaster. Messages can be sent by Western Union but rock music endures because of its ability to exhilarate, to take people outside themselves, if only for a few hours or even just the time it takes to play a three verse and chorus pop song.

For a time the two Springsteens - sombre poet and shake the rafters rocker - were seldom seen in the same room. They reunited for his 2002 album The Rising which celebrated the sacrifice and heroism of ordinary Americans on 9/11.

Not surprisingly this dichotomy can cause confusion.

At one point the police union, a bastion of the blue collar males Springsteen sings about, called on its members to boycott him over his song 41 Shots, a raw-throated protest at the riddling of an unarmed black boy by New York's finest.

And in the 1984 presidential election Ronald Reagan, who saw America as the shining city on the hill and seemed oblivious to anything that contradicted this rose-tinted view, used without permission Springsteen's anthem Born in the USA as his campaign song.

What Reagan and his supporters didn't get was that the song is a bitter attack on inequality and America's tendency to use its underclass as cannon fodder in foreign wars.

Its terse summary of American involvement in Vietnam - 'I had a brother at Khe Sanh/Fighting off the Viet Cong/They're still here, he's all gone' - could be revised to take in Afghanistan and Iraq when America, as it surely will, walks away leaving its foes more or less intact and with precious little to show for the new white headstones in Arlington National Cemetery.

Springsteen closed his set with Glory Days, which could be seen as a sly dig at his audience since its about a guy who was a sports hero at high school but has been an average Joe ever since and now bores anyone who doesn't see him coming with stories of his glory days.

A cynic might think Springsteen should look in the mirror, might argue that being the halftime entertainment at the Super Bowl, hurling his 59-year-old frame around for the benefit of corporate junketeers, trophy wives and rednecks, is the act of a man desperate to stave off obsolescence.

That would be unfair. Three and a half decades have passed since Rolling Stone magazine critic Jon Landau announced "I have seen the future of rock 'n roll and his name is Bruce Springsteen" so it would be strange indeed if his best days weren't behind him.

Yes, his recent albums, while worthy enough, pale in comparison with his masterpieces but at least he's still producing new work.

On this most American of occasions, it would be more pertinent to wonder if America itself is beginning to resemble that ageing jock, living in the past because the present and future don't bear thinking about.

In a report entitled Global Trends 2025 published late last year, the US intelligence community predicted a new international order in which America's power and influence will be significantly diminished.

Others have gone further, asserting that the current crisis is simply the most dramatic manifestation thus far of a decline that began in the late 1970s. Since then the US has gone from being the greatest exporting nation to the greatest importer, from being the biggest creditor nation to the biggest debtor.

It's true that America remains the mightiest military power, spending as much on defence (and offence) as the rest of the world combined. But having a blue water navy and the ability to obliterate cities on every continent didn't help the Soviet Union.

For four decades after World War Two it was a superpower. Now, like that American soldier at Khe Sanh, it's all gone.