The Ghost of Tom Joad

The Ghost of Tom Joad

One of the things Bruce Springsteen loved about living in California was riding his motorcycle through the mountains above Los Angeles and out into the Southwestern desert. These trips off of the main highways and through the small towns in the Sierras and Central California inspired his songwriting for 1995’s The Ghost of Tom Joad, a collection of quiet, mostly acoustic songs. The album tells stories set primarily in the American Southwest, though Springsteen also finds time for tales set everywhere from Ohio to Louisiana to Texas. Springsteen had heard stories about the brutal circumstances that many migrant workers faced. He spent time doing research, to ensure the details and the emotional heart of each song on The Ghost of Tom Joad would ring true. On “Sinaloa Cowboys,” he tells the story of two brothers from Mexico who make the choice to leave agricultural work in favor of working in a meth lab, while “Balboa Park” is the saga of a group of teenagers working as child sex workers. Springsteen also created connections between the songs on the record; in his mind, the steelworker from “Youngstown” leaves Ohio and become the hobo moving from city to city in search of work in “The New Timer.” The title track, meanwhile, was directly inspired by John Steinbeck’s Great Depression epic The Grapes of Wrath, and also reflected the economic downturn in the US manufacturing industries. These songs were even more stripped down in their arrangements than the ones on Nebraska. Springsteen began by recording himself on acoustic guitar, and later assembled a small ensemble, including the E Street Band’s Danny Federici on keyboard and accordion, and Garry Tallent on bass. The sparseness of the arrangements focus the listener’s attention on the storytelling.

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