Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Shackled and Drawn

by Gregg Chadwick

Shackled and Drawn
(Song by Song Review of Bruce Springsteen's New Album - Wrecking Ball)

In a recent interview session in Paris, Springsteen described the impetus behind the songs of Wrecking Ball:

"My work has always been about judging the distance between American reality and the American dream."

Like the music of Woody Guthrie, a core group of songs on Wrecking Ball looks at the status of labor in the United States. And the view isn't pretty. Bruce Springsteen's Shackled and Drawn (Listen Here) is an homage to Guthrie and an ode to the dignity that hard work engenders. At the same time, underneath the rollicking music, Shackled and Drawn mourns for those who have lost their jobs in the current corporate drive to downsize, outsource, and maximize profits: 
Freedom, son, is a dirty shirt
The sun on my face and my shovel in the dirt
The shovel in the dirt keeps the devil gone
I woke up this morning shackled and drawn
Upon first hearing these poignant lines, I thought of Edward Hopper's  painting Pennsylvania Coal Town. Gail Levin writes that this painting "of a bald man raking leaves by the side of a nondescript house .... is the closest Hopper ever came to expressing sympathy with the masses."Gail continues her exploration of the painting by writing that, "Pennsylvania Coal Town brings to mind Sherwood Anderson's 1917 novel Marching Men, set in the Pennsylvania coal region in a town called Coal Creek. The novel, which Anderson dedicated 'To American Workingmen,' comments on the oppressive routine of workers' lives. Anderson described the town as "hideous ... a necessity of modern life." 

Edward Hopper
Pennsylvania Coal Town
28"x40" oil on canvas 1947
The Butler Institute of American Art
Youngstown, Ohio

But the glowing light that draws Hopper's workingman's gaze seems to reflect a spiritual realm outside his daily toil. Community and faith carry many forward in hard times. In Shackled and Drawn Springsteen echoes this hope in Hopper by bringing in a raucous choir bearing musical empathy. Echoing a key line from Woody Guthrie's I Ain't Got No Home, Springsteen and ensemble sing:
Gambling man rolls the dice, working man pays the bills
 It's still fat and easy up on bankers hill
Up on bankers hill the party's going strong
Down here below we're shackled and drawn

At the song's close a sample of Lyn Collins' version of Me and My Baby Got Our Own Thing Going provides a laborer's benediction. "Brothers and sisters, stand up and be counted", she declares. 

Paul Strand
Man with a Hoe, Los Remedios
 6 5/16" x 4 15/16" photogravure 1933 (printed 1940)
Metropolitan Museum of Art
New York, New York

 All lyrics from Shackled and Drawn -  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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