Friday Fun: Boss Top Ten, #8--"Death to My Hometown"

"Death to My Hometown" (off of Wrecking Ball (2012)
Concert Footage:  Apollo Theatre, New York (U.S.A.), 2012

Bruce has a large number of songs in his catalog that relate to the collapse of American cities.  In fact, if there is one consistent thread running through all of his work, it might be that.  Off the top of my head, I can think of at least a half-dozen songs that have this as an element or a significant theme--"The River," "Born in the U.S.A.," "The Promise," "Johnny 99," "My City of Ruins," "Factory."  And there are many more.

This is a controversial opinion, but I think his songwriting on this topic has gotten better as time has gone on.  I think many of the earlier songs can be a bit too formulaic, such that they all become variations on the same song ("is this the one where the factory closes down, or the one where there are no construction jobs, or what?")  The other problem is that there is a sense of resignation in the songs of this type from this period, as if "well, the factory has closed down, so I guess there is nothing I can do."  I know many people really love "The River" and the "The Promise," but I find them to be a bit whinny.  They are not my favorites.

The turning point for me with regard to these types of songs is "Youngstown," off of 1995's The Ghost of Tom Joad.  On the surface it is just like those other songs, but it is much more focused and on the nose.  It names the problem specifically--factories don't close down and lives are not ruined by cosmic forces beyond human control, but by the conscious decisions of corporate interests, people who either choose not to take into account the impact of their decisions, or know and don't care.  All of Springsteen's songs about failing communities have an anger to them, but "Youngstown" is the first song that directs that anger at a target:

From the Monongahela valley
To the Mesabi iron range
To the coal mines of Appalachia
The story's always the same
Seven hundred tons of metal a day
Now sir you tell me the world's changed
Once I made you rich enough
Rich enough to forget my name

"Death to My Hometown" is basically "Youngstown" on steroids.
"Death to My Hometown" clearly takes its inspiration, at least in part, from Irish Rebel songs--instead of the English crown being the great enemy, it is corporate America.  Corporate America is an invading army that has ransacked our communities and destroyed our lives.  They came when we weren't looking, but they came nonetheless.  And, they are coming back, so what are we going to do about it?

So, listen up my sonny boy, be ready when they come
For they’ll be returning sure as the rising sun
Now get yourself a song to sing
And sing it ’til you’re done
Sing it hard and sing it well
Send the robber barons straight to hell
The greedy thieves who came around
And ate the flesh of everything they found
Whose crimes have gone unpunished now
Who walk the streets as free men now

They brought death to our hometown, boys

"Death to My Hometown" is probably the angriest song in Springsteen's catalog.  But because it takes its musical cues from Rebel songs, it is an anger directed toward rallying us to a spirited resistance.  Nevertheless, again like the Rebel songs, it is completely uncompromising. No one is going to question where Bruce stands on these matters--the "robber barons" are "greedy thieves," who "[eat] the flesh of everything they found."    

If you have ever thought to yourself, "you know what--F*** it, I'm going to vote for Bernie Sanders (or Jeremy Corbyn if you live in the UK); let's burn the whole thing down," then this is the song for you.  Get yourself this song to sing, and sing it 'til you're done.


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