In 1995, Bruce Springsteen had an
international #1 with his Greatest Hits album. Instead of capitalizing
with a full-band tour, his next project was The Ghost Of Tom Joad, a
partial return to the starkness of his 1982 Nebraska album, reflecting
his concerns with the dispossessed in American society.
ensuing solo tour found him performing both material from the album and
older classics, in a somber, stripped-back style. This superb
performance was recorded on the Columbia Records Radio Hour for
broadcast on the CBS Radio Network shortly after the album's release.
This performance was broadcast on WCBS-FM and it is presented here with
background notes and images.
Maybe it was a ghost that inspired
The Ghost of Tom Joad, Bruce Springsteen's spare and haunting album
populated by luckless souls wandering parched deserts. "I heard a
voice," Springsteen says backstage at the Wiltern Theater, Los Angeles -
the first formal stop on his first solo acoustic tour. "And I followed
that voice." His muse made no mention of feverish sales, or high chart
figures, or the type of rousing anthems on February's Bruce Springsteen
Greatest Hits, a celebratory overview sweetened by new songs with the E Street Band.
didn't want to get caught up in making a record by the rules, where you
have to have a single and a video," he says. "I wanted my freedom. I've
enjoyed making more mainstream records, but that's not where I am now.
This music means a lot to me. I feel a tremendous sense of purpose, the
deepest I've felt in a decade."
Fans who boarded the Bossmobile
during 1984's profitable Born In The U.S.A. joyride may be unaccustomed
to Springsteen's hushed tone and spartan show. Neither is new. He
explored dark themes in 1982's acoustic Nebraska, and in the early 70s
performed sans bands at such Greenwich Village hot spots as the Gaslight
and Max's Kansas City. After all, Columbia talent scout John Hammond
signed Springsteen as a solo acoustic folkie in 1972. "About 25 years
down the road, I've come full circle," Springsteen says. "I always
wanted to go back to this. Touring solo is more liberating than
limiting. It's an adventurous evening for me. I really get to sing the
way I like to sing, which I haven't completely done in years, because
I'm usually shouting over the band."
Joad marks a detour from
the introspective themes on 1987's Tunnel Of Love and 1992's twin
releases, Lucky Town and Human Touch. And oddly, the solo foray stems in
part from his brief reunion with his E Street pals. "The band always
symbolized a certain sense of community," he says, noting that he's
undecided about future collaborations with the group. "With them around,
I tend to write, for lack of a better word, outwardly. I actually wrote
The Ghost Of Tom Joad as a band song around the time of Greatest Hits. A
rock version." (Coincidentally, the raucous Born In The U.S.A. single
was initially penned for Nebraska. Its original bleakness is restored in
the current show.)
Much of Joad is set in the Southwestern
desert. Sinaloa Cowboys, a song about two ambitious Mexican brothers who
toil as migrant workers and then descend into the drug trade, grew out
of a chat Springsteen had with a man he met on one of his frequent
motorcycle trips to Arizona. "I was with my buddies in this Four Corners
town last year," he recalls. "We'd stay in motels, play cards, drink a
little. People there didn't really recognize me. This guy told me his
brother died in a motorcycle accident. Something about the tone of his
voice struck me. I thought, 'Two brothers. Yeah.' The song just came
out. Once I found myself in that geography, I stayed there. It's a
fascinating place, filled with tremendous tension, a lot of gray moral
areas, clashing cultures and interesting people - hiding and running and
searching, and trying to sort it all out. I wanted to get that feeling
on the record."
load was also shaped by John Ford's The Grapes
of Wrath film, Jim Thompson's noir novels, and newspaper articles on
border issues. The new protagonists "felt like an extension of the
Article properties: Bruce Springsteen: Upper Darby Theater '95 (CD)
For most music fans Bruce Springsteen, born in Freehold, New Jersey on September 23, 1949 needs no introduction. His fan base began building in 1973 when his first album, 'Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.' was released. A year later, music critic Jon Landau wrote, "I saw rock and roll's future, and its name is Bruce Springsteen." With 1975's 'Born To Run' album Springsteen achieved commercial as well as critical success. The LP would spend two years among the Top 200, rise to #3 and sell more than three million copies. To cap off '75, Springsteen appeared on the covers of both 'Time' and 'Newsweek' the week of October 27.
From his early albums on, Springsteen has focused his themes on working-class people and issues. Thus Vietnam, its soldiers and its veterans, have shown up in a number of his songs. Examples include not only the single Born In The U.S.A. (mistakenly embraced by President Ronald Reagan as a patriotic anthem) but also lesser-known album tracks such as Lost In The Flood, Youngstown,Brothers Under The Bridge and Shut Out The Light.
Galveston Bay from 'The Ghost Of Tom Joad' is another album track that received limited airplay. It is the story of a Vietnamese soldier "who fought side by side with the Americans," flees the country when Saigon fell and eventually brings his family to Texas. There he buys a shrimp boat and begins a new life on the bay. The song's lyrics address tensions between Vietnamese refugees and local fishermen in the larger context of anti-immigrant sentiment: "America for Americans." In the conflict that follows people die. Ultimately, however, there is reconciliation with the present in Galveston and perhaps with the past, the Vietnam War itself.