Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Death to My Hometown

by Gregg Chadwick

Death to My Hometown
(Song by Song Review of Bruce Springsteen's New Album - Wrecking Ball)

Wisconsin Hometown
photo by Gregg Chadwick

Last year Bruce Springsteen took a turn as guest vocalist on the Boston based Irish American punk band The Dropkick Murphys' version of Peg O' My Heart. They played Boston's House of Blues together in March 2011 and the sound seems to have carried over into Springsteen's rollickingly powerful Celtic inspired song Death to My Hometown (Listen Here). 

The Dropkick Murphys and Bruce Springsteen
House of Blues, Boston, Mass 2011

Like Springsteen, The Dropkick Murphys have been influenced by Woody Guthrie, going as far as using Guthrie's unpublished lyrics as the basis for their song I'm Shipping Up to Boston which Martin Scorsese used masterfully in his film The Departed

We Stand With Wisconsin
(Madison, Wisconsin 2011)
photo by Gregg Chadwick 

Inspired by Guthrie's progressive politics, The Murphys were involved with the Wisconsin Union solidarity movement last year. Their song Take 'Em Down is a pro-union romp that would sound right at home on Wrecking Ball. Tom Morello, whose powerful guitar solos provide a sonic edge to Wrecking Ball, also was influential in backing the protestors gathered in Madison, Wisconsin in February 2011. Morello's deeply political album from last year, World Wide Rebel Songs, can be seen as a harbinger for Springsteen's Wrecking Ball.

Gregg Chadwick
Drum Taps
24"x24" oil on linen 2011

In Death to My HometownBruce Springsteen combines the influence of The Dropkick Murphys and Tom Morello with what Greil Marcus has called "the old, weird America".
The song starts with a booming martial drum beat accompanied by penny whistle and a ghostly looped choir sampled from Alan Lomax's field recording of the Sacred Harp Singers' version of  The Last Words of Copernicus.

Oh! No cannonballs did fly, no rifles cut us down
No bombs fell from the sky, no blood soaked the ground
No powder flash blinded the eye, no deathly thunder sound
But just as sure as the hand of God, they brought death to my hometown
They brought death to my hometown, boys.

 In Yonkers, Jacqueline Borrero says the payment on her family’s home is $4,800 a month,
up from $4,000 last May. The loan will rise to $5,100, starting in November.
“We’re really scared,” she said.

October 2007, The New York Times
photo by George M. Gutierrez for The New York Times

No shells ripped the evening sky, no cities burning down
No armies stormed the shores for which we'd die
No dictators were crowned
I awoke from a quiet night, I never heard a sound
Marauders raided in the dark and brought death to my hometown, boys
Death to my hometown

A sign leans on a fence at a new Occupy Oakland encampment at a foreclosed property on November 22, 2011 in Oakland, California. About a dozen Occupy Oakland protestors set up an encampment on the grassy area of a foreclosed property after Oakland police shut down three different Occupy encampments over the past week, including the biggest one that was in Frank Ogawa Plaza in front of Oakland City Hall.
             November 21, 2011 - Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images North America

They destroyed our families' factories and they took our homes
They left our bodies on the plains, the vultures picked our bones

So listen up, my sonny boy, be ready when they come
For they'll be returning sure as the rising sun
Now get yourself a song to sing and sing it 'til you're done
Yeah, sing it hard and sing it well

Send the robber barons straight to hell
The greedy thieves who came around
And ate the flesh of everything they found
Whose crimes have gone unpunished now
Who walk the streets as free men now

Springsteen's Death to My Hometown is not just a lament for what has been lost, but also a musical call to action to gather the 99% together and to bring Wall Street and the pushers of unjustly weighted loans to justice. As I listen to the finale of Death to My Hometown, the chorus begins to shift into the massed crowd in the Italian painter Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo's monumental work, The Fourth Estate. Coupled with Springsteen's powerful music, Volpedo's painting provides an inspirational reference for international camaraderie and action. I am reminded of the powerful words of Martin Luther King Jr., "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

We are not alone.

Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo
Il Quarto Stato (The Fourth Estate)
293 x 545 cm oil on canvas 1901
Civica Galleria d'Arte Moderna
Milan, Italy

All lyrics from Death to My Hometown -  Copyright © Bruce Springsteen (ASCAP)

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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