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From his home to Yours.. 8 avril

Le set, très Labour Day, de ce 11ème volume :

Avec son verbatim..

The eleventh episode of From My Home to Yours is a Labor Day special, and it brings to mind a weird little armchair criticism Bruce Springsteen receives from time to time: how can he still speak to or even understand the concerns of the working class? Now that he's, y'know, a rich rock 'n' roll star?

"It always comes up," Bruce told Backstreets in 2004. "I've settled into the fact that I'll be answering that question for the rest of my working life." It's a misguided question for all sorts of reasons, but as he noted then, it especially denotes "a tremendously muddled idea of how writers write."

Volume 11 is very much about the writers writing. As workers work, the writers write, and it's all reflected not only in the songs on Bruce's new Labor Day playlist but in the poems he recites throughout. Poetry abounds — from his own literal poetry readings to the spoken word of Patti Smith's breathless "Piss Factory" from 1974 — blurring lines between 20th century poets and songrwiters, their mutual inclination to capture a nation at work.

Greetings E Street Nation, friends, fans and listeners from coast to coast! Welcome to our Labor Day extravaganza. Today we are celebrating the American working man and woman — all the folks that keep our world spinning 'round and 'round.

Pop hits, sincere paeans to American industry, warnings about "working for the man," ironic and even grieving takes on labor, it's all here. Because our DJ knows a thing or two about work. He'll work hard for your love, as the hardest-working man in show business, and yeah, he knows about the working class, too. The working, the working, the working life (if you're surprised his own "Factory" didn't show up, maybe it's because the aforementioned "Piss Factory" is, he says, "one of the best songs about factory work I've ever heard").

From the cold open of Aaron Copland's stirring "Fanfare for the Common Man," Bruce moves on to Roy Orbison. "The Great One" (as Bruce calls Roy O.) did write "Working for the Man," speaking of writers, and it's only one of five tracks on the list with "work" in the title. Six, if you count Philip Levine's moving "What Work Is," a poem Bruce recites in full. His own "Working on the Highway" is represented in a cover by Joe Ely ("a great friend of mine… fabulous singer/songwriter/rocker out of Texas").

Organized labor receives plenty of focus, starting with a timely stand-up bit by Jimmy Tingle from his 2008 comedy album Jimmy Tingle for President:

We have all these great holidays, they all have meaning — nobody even knows what they mean anymore! Like, Labor Day: people don't even realize what Labor Day's about. People protested, they demonstrated, they had to sacrifice for things like… the 40-hour work week, benefits, to abolish child labor in this country, safe standards in factories! Some people lost their jobs; some people lost their lives. People don't even realize it — it's completly off the radar. People go, "Labor Day, Labor Day, Labor Day, let me think... are the liqour stores open? Or do we have to drive to New Hampshire?"

Oh, you can't scare Bruce, he's sticking to the union… and the union is also repped here by Woody Guthrie's "Union Maid" (a portion of it, anyway) and Joe Hill's "Rebel Girl," as sung by Hazel Dickens on the 1990 Smithsonian Folkways collection of Hill's songs, Don't Mourn - Organize! Songs of Labor.

This portion of the show shines a light on Hill, a labor activist and songwriter who paid the death penalty just over 100 years ago. Bruce takes us back to his own one-off performance of an old union anthem about the man: "Joe Hill" (AKA "I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night"), from the High Hopes tour stop in Tampa. The 1936 Earl Robinson composition was popularized by Pete Seeger and FMHTY favorite Paul Robeson (and later, Joan Baez); in some ways it's a precursor to "The Ghost of Tom Joad" and "We Are Alive." Bruce spins his own recording here, performed on May 1, 2014 — International Workers Day — as "a salute for the union folks here tonight."

Digging that one out of his live archives, the DJ expanded on the song with some biographical details (which he may well remember from reading his Howard Zinn) and even a poem —  Hill's last piece of writing, from the night before his death:

Born in 1879, Joe Hill was a Swedish-American labor activist and a member of the Industrial Workers of the World — better known as the Wobblies. He was dubiously convicted of a murder and executed by firing squad on November 19, 1915 at Utah's Sugar House Prison. This was his last will and testament:

My Will is easy to decide,
For there is nothing to divide
My kin don't need to fuss and moan—
"Moss does not cling to a rolling stone" 

My body?—Oh!—If I could choose
I would want to ashes it reduce,
And let the merry breezes blow
My dust to where some flowers grow 

Perhaps some fading flower then
Would come to life and bloom again 

This is my Last and Final Will —
Good luck to all of you,
Joe Hill

Public Enemy's "Fight the Power," an "all-time classic" in the mix, bursts right out of Bruce's live "Joe Hill," conjoining these two songs written a half-century apart. "To make everybody see, in order to fight the powers that be?" It's there you'll find Joe Hill.

There's plenty of workplace diversity in the viewpoints here, and the spirit of Adele Springsteen's work shoes is in the mix as much as Douglas's factory whistle."Let's send one to the working women out there!" Bruce says at one point, reaching for Mick Flavin's "Working Woman" rather than a mainstay like Merle Haggard's "Workin' Man Blues." He later underscores the point by adding Valerie June's "Workin' Woman Blues" to the playlist. And then there's "the Queen of Disco, Donna Summer":

She works hard for the money! I had the pleasure of writing a song and doing a session with Donna and Quincy Jones in the mid-'80s. She was absolutely lovely. I originally wrote "Cover Me" for her, and then Mr. Landau heard it and, doing his duty as my manager, advised me to keep it. So I wrote a song "Protection" for her and recorded it with her. Good… but no "Cover Me."

You can listen to the Donna Summer recording here —  that's Bruce on the guitar lead (and subtly, his vocal in the fade-out). He recorded "Protection" with the E Street Band in 1982, but his own version has yet to be officially released. It's better than he seems to think.

Even further back in Bruce's back pages, today's a good day to remember that this is a guy who had a freakin' band called Steel Mill. Which made his recitation of Langston Hughes's "Steel Mills" all the more resonant —

The mills
That grind and grind,
That grind out new steel
And grind away the lives
Of men, —
In the sunset
Their stacks
Are great black silhouettes
Against the sky.
In the dawn
They belch red fire.
The mills —
Grinding new steel,
Old men*

*In his recitation, Bruce's delivers the last two lines as "Grinding out new steel / Grinding out new steel"

— though the real masterstroke was following this with his own "Youngstown."

"Steel Mills" is typically considered Langston Hughes's first poem. When he was in high school in Cleveland, his stepfather worked in Ohio steel mills; the poet wrote this at the age of fourteen. Which seems astonishingly young — but then, Springsteen knows all about what a 14-year-old kid can take in.

Once again, the idea that a successful artist can no longer have much to say on this subject ignores the power of his own formative years in a working class family — fully formative years, as evidenced by the Born to Run bio, the Broadway show, and this very radio show. In the stories he's been telling, Bruce's childhood never seems that far away. Again and again (especially in Volume 8, "Summertime Summertime") we're reminded that he is regularly in touch with the boy who grew up commanding the night brigade. His younger self — who watched as work brought joy and indentity to his mother, struggle and darkness to his father — seems always in reach of his psyche, and his childhood has always informed his writing on the recurring subject of work.

And if "you grow up and you calm down" about such things… well, as the Clash would have it, you're "working for the clampdown."

That classic London Calling track appears here "in these days of evil Presidentes" as a Springsteen cover, again from the High Hopes tour — with heavy labor from Tom Morello (who makes several appearances today, as part of Bruce's 2014 live band as well as in Rage Against the Machine's "Ghost of Tom Joad" cover).

A Clash song would likely have made the new DJ set no matter the subject, considering the recent birthday celebration for Joe Strummer (in which Bruce calls the Clash leader "my great, great departed friend and brother that I never had… my inspiration for the past 40 years"). But "Clampdown" in particular is an important facet in this 90-minute playlist about the value and dangers of "working hard" and "working for the man."

"Clampdown" goes right into another live E Street Band performance, learning all those facts real good in "Badlands" from Tempe 1980 — "Live at Arizona State University, November 1980, the night after Ronald Reagan was elected President" —  and we'll return to the Reagan era in full force toward the end of this set.

Of course, the backdrop for this episode is not only Monday's Labor Day holiday, but also a COVID-parallel epidemic of joblessness in this country. As reported by the Washington Post, based on Department of Labor figures as of August 27, there are 27 million Americans receiving some type of unemployment assistance.

That's a frightening figure, especially for anyone who understands, as Springsteen has expressed it, that "the lack of work creates a loss of self." Bruce spoke on the subject after the Great Recession at a 2012 press conference for Wrecking Ball, emphasizing that the human cost of unemployment is "devastating. People have to work. The country should strive for full employment. It's the single thing that brings a sense of self and self-esteem, and a sense of place, a sense of belonging." Eight years later, he offers encouragement for those out of work.

On this Labor Day we have to pause and think of the millions of Americans who have been displaced and left jobless by the coronavirus. There is little as painful as to be without productive work. So for this Labor Day, we send our prayers up for a healthy working nation in the coming days, months, and years ahead.

Peter Gabriel's "Don't Give Up" was the accompanying long-distance dedication, and it came in the midst of a summational pack of songs from the mid-'80s that recall the height of the Reagan era.

It's interesting that when Bruce Springsteen thinks of "working songs," even he still thinks of "heartland rock." After all the commercialization and co-optation and parodies and gauzy effects of the decade, still standing tall in Volume 11 is the music of the genre's holy trinity: Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, and ("my friend…  terrific American songwriter") John Mellencamp. "Pink Houses" is the pick for JCM, his perfect slice of Americana and early-'84 Top 10 hit, which he and Bruce finally sang together last year.

For Seger, it's 1986's "Like a Rock" charging from the gate. Liberated from its heavy rotation in Chevy truck commercials (much as they may have actually benefitted auto workers in his home state), we're reminded that the song was never about chassis and tailgates at all, but about a lot of other things: the passage of time, aging and idealism, pride and sense of self, and yeah, the dignity and purpose hard work brings to a body. Stretched out here for its full length, rather than in 15- and 30-second spots, "Like a Rock" reintroduces itself as a lean and potent piece of craft — the sound, in the end, not of autoworkers welding, but of writers writing.

The song's sense of dignity is where you knew all this would wind up, this journey through all these aspects of labor, workin' neath the wheel, from the fields to unions to the Charlotte County road gang. And when the foreman calls time, Bruce lands on New Jersey's own Walt Whitman — all hail the Service Area in Cherry Hill — with a recitation of "I Hear America Singing."

"That's our show for today, folks. Until we meet again, stay strong, stay healthy, stay safe… and have a wonderful Labor Day."


  1. Aaron Copland - "Fanfare for the Common Man"
  2. Roy Orbison - "Workin' for the Man"
  3. Joe Ely - "Working on the Highway"
  4. Mick Flavin - "Working Woman"
  5. Jimmy Tingle - "Labor Day"
  6. [Poetry reading] Langston Hughes's "Steel Mills"
  7. Bruce Springsteen - "Youngstown"
  8. Woody Guthrie - "Union Maid"
  9. Hazel Dickens - "Rebel Girl"
  10. [Poetry reading] Joe Hill's "My Last Will"
  11. Bruce Springsteen - "Joe Hill" (live in Tampa, FL, 5/1/14)
  12. Public Enemy - "Fight the Power"
  13. Bruce Springsteen - "Clampdown" (live in Sunrise, FL, 4/29/14)
  14. Bruce Springsteen - "Badlands" (live in Tempe, AZ, 11/5/80)
  15. [Poetry reading] Philip Levine's "What Work Is"
  16. Rage Against the Machine - "The Ghost of Tom Joad"
  17. Donna Summer - "She Works Hard for the Money"
  18. Valerie June - "Workin' Woman Blues"
  19. Patti Smith - "Piss Factory"
  20. John Mellencamp - "Pink Houses"
  21. Peter Gabriel - "Don't Give Up"
  22. Bob Seger - "Like a Rock"
  23. Instrumental interlude: Ola Gjello - "Crystal Sky"
  24. [Poetry reading] Walt Whitman's "I Hear America Singing

C’est fait avec un tel bon goût ses tracklistings chaque fois. C’est admirable. J’aimerais bien entendre son intervention complète lors du show consacré à Joe Strummer.

Le set de la 12ème livraison dont le thème était "l'été, c'est fini".