Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Jack of All Trades

by Gregg Chadwick

Jack of All Trades
(Song by Song Review of Bruce Springsteen's New Album - Wrecking Ball)

"If it weren't for the message of mercy and pity in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, I wouldn't want to be a human being. I would just as soon be a rattlesnake."
-Kurt Vonnegut

Giorgio de Chirico
The Enigma of the Hour
oil on canvas 1911
Private Collection

A synthesizer wash, plaintive piano, and haunting horns like those found in Michele Lacerenza's Johnny's Theme accompany the world weary singer in Bruce Springsteen's Jack of All Trades (Listen Here). The aural landscape is bleak. The world in Jack of All Trades seems as if dust blowing in from the 1930's has choked off all color and most of life in the small towns and suburbs of the US. 

A hardscrabble emotional landscape remains with little in the way of  work or meaning. The only wage to be found is in odd jobs and small errands. I am reminded of the haunting, empty spaces in Giorgio de Chirico's spare cityscapes and photos of the Great Depression by Arthur Rothstein and Dorothea Lange.

Farmer and sons, dust storm, Cimarron County, Oklahoma, 1936
Photographer: Arthur Rothstein
Courtesy The Library of Congress

I'll mow your lawn, clean the leaves out your drain 
I'll mend your roof to keep out the rain
I'll take the work that God provides
I'm a Jack of all trades, honey, we'll be alright

Unemployed men vying for jobs at the American Legion Employment Bureau
in Los Angeles during the Great Depression.

I'll hammer the nails, and I'll set the stone
I'll harvest your crops when they're ripe and grown
I'll pull that engine apart and patch her up 'til she's running right
I'm a Jack of all trades, we'll be alright

Gregg Chadwick
Call and Echo
16"x20" oil on linen 2011

Springsteen's song is written  from experience - memories of his father's humiliation at being laid off, unemployed, and unable to find a job. In a sense Springsteen is writing from his father's point of view and putting into musical terms a story of self worth and resilience. As a father, I worry about my son and family and strive as hard as I can to provide for them. I know the pain of losing a job and moving forward - always searching for the next thing and never knowing whether it will pay off.

Gregg Chadwick
Mare e Ombra
24"x18" oil on linen 2012

A hurricane blows, brings a hard rain
When the blue sky breaks, feels like the world's gonna change
We'll start caring for each other like Jesus said that we might
I'm a Jack of all trades, we'll be alright

The banker man grows fat, the working man grows thin
It's all happened before and it'll happen again

Now sometimes tomorrow comes soaked in treasure and blood
Here we stood the drought, now we'll stand the flood
There's a new world coming, I can see the light
I'm a Jack of all trades, we'll be alright

Murray Anderson in 1942
Courtesy Geoff Micks at Face in the Blue

Something breaks and Jack of All Trades veers ominously into a world of violence and retribution:

So you use what you've got, and you learn to make do
You take the old, you make it new
If I had me a gun, I'd find the bastards and shoot 'em on sight
I'm a Jack of all trades, we'll be alright
I'm a Jack of all trades, we'll be alright

The song bleeds into a mournful guitar solo by Tom Morello. The horns join in. Is it a funeral march? Or a break in the storm?

Bruce Springsteen and Tom Morello 

Toward Los Angeles, California. 1937

Photographer: Dorothea Lange
Courtesy: The Library of Congress

All lyrics from Jack of All Trades -  Copyright © Bruce Springsteen (ASCAP)

Follow Up:

Shawn Poole at the all things Bruce Springsteen geared website reported -

Springsteen thanks fans by text 
As reported previously, this week Dave Marsh began hosting a special daily one-hour edition of Live From E Street Nation on E Street Radio, in addition to his regular two-hour gig every Friday (which also will air in the 10 a.m - noon slot tomorrow). Dave's show has been previewing a track each day from Wrecking Ball (the same track released each day online in streaming audio), and taking calls from listeners to express their reactions. Yesterday's "
Jack of All Trades" show elicited many powerful, moving comments as fans from various walks of life spoke, often through tears, about how relevant this new ballad is and how eloquently it addresses their own personal experiences. Just before beginning today's E Street Radio premiere of "Death to My Hometown," Marsh told listeners that he noticed his cell phone vibrating towards the end of yesterday's show. After he went off the air, he saw that he had been texted by the composer of "Jack of All Trades" himself: "Wow! What a show... Thank these folks for me. It was an honor hearing their stories. –B."

More Song by Song Reviews of Wrecking Ball:

More at:

"Bruce Springsteen's widescreen vision of America on Wrecking Ball is filled with terror, tension, tenacity and above all else, triumph which may not replenish your bank account, but it will replenish your soul."
-Anthony Kuzminski, Bruce Springsteen - Wrecking Ball, antiMusic
All Things Shining by Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly
The Working Man's Voice - The Wall Street Journal
Bruce Springsteen, Théatre Marigny press conferenceParis, February 2012

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