It’s just been announced that Bruce Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad” will be released as a duet with the Nightwatchman Tom Morello on Springsteen’s new album.*
The timing couldn’t be better, as I work on the syllabus for my spring 2014 course, “A Tale of Two Depressions,” which I’ll coteach for the second time (here’s a link to the course last spring) with Ben Giamo.
*For younger readers, Tom Joad is a character in John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes Of Wrath. Near the end of the story, Tom makes his famous “I’ll be there” speech, which is noted in Springsteen’s lyrics.
Tom Joad: I been thinking about us, too, about our people living like pigs and good rich land layin’ fallow. Or maybe one guy with a million acres and a hundred thousand farmers starvin’. And I been wonderin’ if all our folks got together and yelled…
Ma Joad: Oh, Tommy, they’d drag you out and cut you down just like they done to Casy.
Tom Joad: They’d drag me anyways. Sooner or later they’d get me for one thing if not for another. Until then…
Ma Joad: Tommy, you’re not aimin’ to kill nobody.
Tom Joad: No, Ma, not that. That ain’t it. It’s just, well as long as I’m an outlaw anyways… maybe I can do somethin’… maybe I can just find out somethin’, just scrounge around and maybe find out what it is that’s wrong and see if they ain’t somethin’ that can be done about it. I ain’t thought it out all clear, Ma. I can’t. I don’t know enough.
Ma Joad: How am I gonna know about ya, Tommy? Why they could kill ya and I’d never know. They could hurt ya. How am I gonna know?
Tom Joad: Well, maybe it’s like Casy says. A fellow ain’t got a soul of his own, just little piece of a big soul, the one big soul that belongs to everybody, then…
Ma Joad: Then what, Tom?
Tom Joad: Then it don’t matter. I’ll be all around in the dark – I’ll be everywhere. Wherever you can look – wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad. I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready, and when the people are eatin’ the stuff they raise and livin’ in the houses they build – I’ll be there, too.
Ma Joad: I don’t understand it, Tom.
Tom Joad: Me, neither, Ma, but – just somethin’ I been thinkin’ about.