Born to Run (2016)

BOOK THREE

LIVING PROOF

SEVENTY-TWO

WRECKING BALL

One afternoon, driving back from a séance at my local watering hole, I started singing at the wheel, “You put on your coat, I’ll put on my hat, you put out the dog, I’ll put out the cat . . .” “Easy Money.” Bing . . . the light went on. The muse had materialized along the roadside. “Easy Money” was the key to a record I needed to make.

After the crash of 2008, I was furious at what had been done by a handful of trading companies on Wall Street. Wrecking Ball was a shot of anger at the injustice that continues on and has widened with deregulation, dysfunctional regulatory agencies and capitalism gone wild at the expense of hardworking Americans. The middle class? Stomped on. Income disparity climbed as we lived through a new Gilded Age. This was what I wanted to write about.

I’d been following and writing about America’s post-industrial trauma, the killing of our manufacturing presence and working class, for thirty-five years. So I went to work. I had some music in my notebooks waiting. “Jack of All Trades,” written in a fury. “We Take Care of Our Own” and “Wrecking Ball.” Then I wrote “Easy Money,” “Death to My Hometown” and “This Depression.” I had “Shackled and Drawn” and “Rocky Ground” from a gospel film project I’d been working on and they fit perfectly. Finally, I knew I needed a closer. I had “Land of Hope and Dreams,” with which we struggled to beat our own live version until Bob Clearmountain came in with a transcendent mix. But still, I needed the song that would address the new voices of immigration, the civil rights movement and anyone who’d ever stuck their neck out for some righteous justice and was knocked down or killed for their effort. Where were they? I decided they were all here now and speaking to those who would listen. Those spirits don’t go away. They haunt, they rabble-rouse, from beyond the grave. They have not been and can never be silenced. Death has given them an eternal voice. All we have to do is listen. That would be the message of my last song, “We Are Alive.” Listen and learn from the souls and spirits who’ve come before.

I knew this was the music I should make now. It was my job. I felt the country was at a critical juncture. If this much damage can be done to average citizens with basically no accountability, then the game is off and the thin veil of democracy is revealed for what it is, a shallow disguise for a growing plutocracy that is here now and permanent.

Wrecking Ball was received with a lot less fanfare than I thought it would be. I was sure I had it. I still think I do and did. Maybe my voice had been too compromised by my own success, but I don’t think so. I’ve worked hard and long to write about these subjects and I know them well. I knew Wrecking Ball was one of my best, most contemporary and accessible albums since Born in the USA. I’m no conspiracy theorist, so basically I realized that the presentation of these ideas in this form had a powerful but limited interest to a reasonably large but still select group of people, especially in the United States. For the next several years we toured, crisscrossing the globe, to a wild reception, where Europe, as usual, was a whole other story. There there was a deep and abiding interest in American affairs and anyone singing about them. Their interview questions were political and filled with the stakes I knew I was writing about when I wrote the record. I came to terms with the fact that in the States, the power of rock music as a vehicle for these ideas had diminished. A new kind of super-pop, hip-hop and a variety of other exciting genres had become the hotline of the day, more suited to the current zeitgeist. Don’t get me wrong. I can’t complain. Wrecking Ball went to number one and had a fine success of its own in the United States. Appreciative and understanding audiences met us everywhere. But I thought this was one of my most powerful records and I went out looking for it all.