An underappreciated protest song (a “thinly veiled” one according to Wikipedia, but it seems pretty explicit to me) is Bruce Springsteen’s “Death to My Hometown.” Perhaps because Springsteen’s recent work doesn’t regularly make it on the radio circuit, it hasn’t become very well known – or, at least this is my impression, since I’ve never met anyone who is familiar with it.
From his 2012 album “Wrecking Ball,” the song is a condemnation of the forces that brought about the recession of 2008. In particular, it focuses on the sons of bitches on Wall Street who, as Springsteen puts it, “destroyed our families’ factories” and “took our homes.” While the latter injustice feels very immediate, the former connects the crisis of the new millennium all the way back to deindustrialization and the devastation of the Rust Belt.
The special brilliance of the song is its focus on the stealthy, unspectacular way in which the financial wizards of the world destroyed the lives, figuratively and literately, of so many people. Springsteen opens with laying out a scene of apparent calm:
Oh, no cannonballs did fly, no rifles cut us down
No bombs fell from the sky, no blood soaked the ground
No powder flash blinded the eye, no deathly thunder sound
And yet, he immediately follows,
But just as sure as the hand of God, they brought death to my hometown.
A few lines later, Springsteen mentions that another sign of unjust oppression is also missing: No dictators were crowned. This particularly gives me pause. Listening in 2018, the mind immediately goes to Trump – bless his heart that he’s too incompetent and distracted to actually seize the moment to become a dictator. But then my thoughts turn to the panicked commentators of liberalism, and how they distance themselves from those in the trenches of this fight, and are happy to invite “polite” commentators of punishing the poor on their nightly cable shows but mount a so-called #Resistance every time Trump openly says what anyone with an ounce of analytical skills should know is the agenda of the Republican Party and has been for 60 fucking years. But it seems as if, as Springsteen says, “No shells ripped the evening sky, no cities burning down,” that means the Democratic Party will not go to battle against the thieves who silently “raided in the dark.” Is there a more immediately personal way to describe the slow, life-sucking shadow of neoliberalism?
Springsteen also includes, even though extremely briefly, something of a suggestion for action. In lyrics which sadly reflect the now generations-spanning phenomenon of increasing inequality, he warns:
So listen up, my sonny boy, be ready for 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
Yeah, 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…
Ah, they brought death to our hometown, boys.
Thus he appropriately ends with a reminder that no one – including the Democratic Party save what, Bernie and Elizabeth Warren – have made any real effort to bring these scumbags to justice. On the contrary, Barack Obama appointed one as his Secretary of the Treasury!
Finally, the music itself is everything you want in a protest song. Set to a powerful Celtic beat that implores you to stomp your feet and sway your head, replete with flutes and I think bagpipes, it stirs the innermost passions of at least this radical, infatuated as I am with Celtic music and the history of Irish resistance. (Yes I know bagpipes are Scottish but let’s also not be anal about these emotional associations yeah?) Long point short: Listen to this song, love it, feel it, beat your chest to it.