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"A new book gave Bruce Springsteen the chance to write his thoughts about three decades of tough times in our nation. The following are excepts of his foreword to 'Someplace Like America,' by Washington Post photographer Michael Williamson and writer Dale Maharidge, both Pulitzer Prize winners."

The Boss agreed to write the introduction to 'Someplace Like America.' (photo: Public domain)
The Boss agreed to write the introduction to 'Someplace Like America.' (photo: Public domain)



'Someplace Like America'

By Bruce Springsteen, The Washington Post

20 December 11

 

View Photo Gallery - A new book gave Bruce Springsteen the chance to write his thoughts about three decades of tough times in our nation. The following are excepts of his foreword to "Someplace Like America," by Washington Post photographer Michael Williamson and writer Dale Maharidge, both Pulitzer Prize winners.

 

Someplace Like America: Tales From the New Great Depression," the latest collaboration from Columbia journalism professor Dale Maharidge and Post photographer Michael S. Williamson, tells the story of American industry and its workers - a story the two began to document more than 30 years ago and published in the mid-'80s in "Journey to Nowhere." That work inspired Bruce Springsteen to compose the lyrics to "Youngstown" and "The New Timer."

The Boss agreed to write the introduction to "Someplace Like America." His words are adapted for publication here, along with some of Williamson's pictures.

had completed most of the "Tom Joad" record when one night, some 15 years ago, unable to sleep, I pulled a book down off my living room shelf. I read it in one sitting, and I lay awake that night disturbed by its power and frightened by its implications. In the next week, I wrote "Youngstown" and "The New Timer."

That book - "Journey to Nowhere," by Dale Maharidge and Michael S. Williamson - put real lives, names and faces on statistics we'd all been hearing about throughout the '80s. People who all their lives had played by the rules, done the right thing and had come up empty, men and women whose work and sacrifice had built this country, who'd given their sons to its wars and then whose lives were marginalized or discarded. I lay awake that night thinking: What if the craft I'd learned was suddenly deemed obsolete, no longer needed? What would I do to take care of my family? What wouldn't I do?

Without getting on a soapbox, these are the questions Maharidge and Williamson posed with their words and pictures. Men and women struggling to take care of their own in the most impossible conditions and still moving on, surviving.

As we tuck our children into bed at night, this is an America many of us fail to see, but it is a part of the country we live in, an increasing part. I believe a place and a people are judged not just by their accomplishments, but also by their compassion and sense of justice. In the future, that's the frontier where we will all be tested.

How well we do will be the America we leave behind for our children and grandchildren.

Now, their new book, "Someplace Like America," takes the measure of the tidal wave 30 years and more in coming, a wave that "Journey" first saw rolling, dark and angry, on the horizon line. It is the story of the deconstruction of the American dream, piece by piece, literally steel beam by steel beam, broken up and shipped out south, east and points unknown, told in the voices of those who’ve lived it. Here is the cost, in blood, treasure and spirit, that the post-industrialization of the United States has levied on its most loyal and forgotten citizens, the men and women who built the buildings we live in, laid the highways we drive on, made things and asked for nothing in return but a good day's work and a decent living.

It tells of the political failure of our representatives to stem this tide (when not outright abetting it), of their failure to steer our economy in a direction that might serve the majority of hard-working American citizens and of their allowing of an entire social system to be hijacked into the service of the elite. The stories allow you to feel the pounding destruction of purpose, identity and meaning in American life, sucked out by a plutocracy determined to eke out its last drops of tribute, no matter what the human cost. And yet it is not a story of defeat. It also details the family ties, inner strength, faith and too-tough-to-die resilience that carry our people forward when all is aligned against them.

When you read about workers today, they are discussed mainly in terms of statistics (the unemployed), trade (the need to eliminate and offshore their jobs in the name of increased profit) and unions (usually depicted as a purely negative drag on the economy). In reality, the lives of American workers, as well as those of the unemployed and the homeless, make up a critically important cornerstone of our country's story, past and present, and in that story, there is great honor.

Maharidge and Williamson have made the telling of that story their life's work. They present these men, women and children in their full humanity. They give voice to their humor, frustration, rage, perseverance and love. They invite us into these stories to understand and allow us to experience the hard times and the commonality of experience that can still be found just beneath the surface of the modern news environment. In giving us back that feeling of universal connectedness, they create room for some optimism that we may still find our way back to higher ground as a country and as a people. As the folks whose voices sing off the book’s pages will tell you, it's the only way forward.

 

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+110 # freeportguy 2011-12-20 08:46
"People who all their lives had played by the rules, done the right thing and had come up empty, men and women whose work and sacrifice had built this country, who’d given their sons to its wars and then whose lives were marginalized or discarded."

Yep. As simple as this. Because it is NOT true that everyone will succeed if they work hard. No more than anyone can become (insert famous name here) if they work hard enough.

Such myths are misleading and dangerous, instead of being motivating, for they are now used to put people down: "If you are not rich and with a job, it's your fault".
 
 
+57 # bugbuster 2011-12-20 09:49
"If you are not rich and with a job, it's your fault"
The people who say these things are too ignorant, immature, and self-absorbed to have ever looked around them and realized the extent of privilege they were born into. They would claim that they were not raised in a "rich" family, and they would be wrong.
 
 
+26 # MainStreetMentor 2011-12-20 14:58
Bruce makes his living in the entertainment industry. Someone else make their living in the transportation, or some other, industry. But the work/labor/effo rts they use to extract a living, rides atop the fundamental fact that FIRST they are Americans. Bruce doesn’t hesitate to put aside those things that ride atop that foundation, in order to help repair it. The recognition of the correct sequence of priorities that Bruce exhibits, is also exhibited by the active members of the Occupy Movement … by the millions of Americans who want their country back. Some role models of recent years have tarnished, but, seeing words like these from Bruce rekindles our faith: Some celebrities display “True Grit”. You, Mr. Springsteen, possess it in abundance.
 
 
+2 # CL38 2011-12-23 22:17
It's time we honestly looked at the damage capitalism does when it's carried to the kind of extremes that Republicans and corporations are promoting.

It's time to step back from this abyss of mindless greed at any cost.
 
 
+68 # chizables 2011-12-20 09:31
I love Bruce. Always have. Always will. He gets it.
 
 
+41 # bugbuster 2011-12-20 09:50
I like a different kind of music from Bruce's, but his stock just went up several hundred points for me.
 
 
+32 # wfalco 2011-12-20 10:13
Classic Bruce when he writes "it is the story of the deconstruction of the American Dream" and then sums up by offering "and yet it is not a story of defeat.....we may find our way back to higher ground..." Bruce already wrote the book with "Darkness on the Edge of Town" and even "The Rising."
 
 
+103 # fredboy 2011-12-20 10:47
During my last year teaching at Vanderbilt's MBA program a student told me "Employees are nothing but expendable human capital. We owe them nothing. We just learned that in another class." My response: "If you truly think that way, who on Earth would ever want to work for you?"

That was my tipping point, the moment I decided to leave a profession I had once revered. I had met so many truly good students there--as an example, in earlier years almost the entire student body and most faculty and staff had created and celebrated a remarkable volunteer group serving all Nashville nonprofits needing assistance.

I was doing my best to help students see that all people are special, every individual life is unique, and true leadership is framed in sharing and caring for all. But that student's comment let me know, when viewed in the context of the then-collapsing economy (it was in the fall of 2008), that something was very wrong.

Employees -- yes, workers -- are the true foundation of our economy and our nation's work ethic. Batter them, decry them, castigate them, and delete them like mere lines on a spreadsheet and you will split the future of this nation in half.
 
 
+36 # Lolanne 2011-12-20 12:09
Quoting fredboy:
...
Employees -- yes, workers -- are the true foundation of our economy and our nation's work ethic. Batter them, decry them, castigate them, and delete them like mere lines on a spreadsheet and you will split the future of this nation in half.


Thank you for this post, Fredboy. I often appreciate and hit the thumbs up button on your posts, but with this one my respect for you has definitely increased. I appreciate your sharing something of your own journey and your "tipping point."

You, and The Boss of course, are absolutely right. What has happened in America is one of the great tragedies of the world. True, we've enjoyed much more prosperity as a nation than most of the world, but things got out of hand a long time ago when greed began to destroy the very fabric of the land. We could have had it all, had we remembered where we came from and how we began. Maybe it's still possible to turn things around...maybe. ..but it's getting very, very late.
 
 
+12 # Bill Clements 2011-12-20 21:42
Deeply moving post, fredboy. Thank you for sharing.
 
 
+38 # Reductio Ad Absurdum 2011-12-20 10:48
All we need are worthy leaders with a progressive vision and the unwavering backbone to fight for it. WE will have to be those leaders; WE will have to re-direct the course of this country en masse, with vocal opposition to both the destructive policies of the Republicans and the impotent cowardice of the Democrats.
 
 
+22 # CherP. 2011-12-20 11:02
Thank you, Bruce; you speak for those who feel they have no voice! Tom Joad said he would be there, and so are you!
 
 
+11 # cordleycoit 2011-12-20 13:02
We who saw this coming were silenced or trivialized. All we could do was listen to the voices: Zevon and Springsteen, Malcolm and Ted Joans.
Today we have the internet which is being placed outside the reach of the poor. So we have to to look up to hear if the voices of America are being heard. Thanks Boss. See ya if I ever hit Hillsdale again.
 
 
+10 # bobby t. 2011-12-20 13:17
it was written in a book i read long ago that big blue, ibm, was a great company because of its loyalty to its workers. they in turn were loyal to big blue. big red white and blue was once loyal to its citizens. and in turn we were loyal to it.what happened to big blue is what is going to happen to america, because the trust is no longer there. exactly who do you really trust nowadays? maybe martin sheen?
 
 
+16 # bobby t. 2011-12-20 13:56
oh the banks are made of marble,
with a guard at every door,
and the vaults are stuffed with silver,
that the people sweated for.
i saw a lonely miner,
scubbing coal from off his back,
and i saw his kinfolk crying,
got no coal to heat the shack.

there is a blizzard in the midwest, in more sense than one. the people in iowa should write in, "martin sheen." (the actor, a man by the way who has been arrested over sixty times for protesting the stupid things that we americans do to one another. he had lost his faith until he found a priest who had some....)
 
 
+14 # BLBreck 2011-12-20 14:32
bobby t., unfortunately Big Blue IBM forgot what made them great in the 1980's. They laid off many of their workers of many years, let them stew for a while and then hired them back as temps at far lower wages and no benefits. And where is that "wonderful" company now? Don't think it's Big Blue anymore, is it? Now that's Karma.
 
 
+13 # noitall 2011-12-20 14:52
The 'right' often put down "tinsel town" when TT comment negatively (in righties' opinion) about social conditions, war, the environment, etc. They say that they are just going for the publicity or whatever the righties might say. Myself, I'm much more likely to listen to an artist than a politician on assessments of these types of issues. No matter how rich an artist gets, generally speaking, the artist still has the soul and inner knowledge that it took to shine in their art, it carries forward with their insights into life. Sure sometimes they are politically incorrect or err but that generally impacts their own life (and at worst their righty-assigned role as rolemodel to society (somehow, righties antics don't contribute to that). Generally speaking though, I think that artists have heart and use it. I only wish that there was a screen that allowed only people with heart and soul to become politicians. Then maybe the People will get "leaders" that care about the People and not just filling their pockets.
 
 
+16 # Electricrailwaygod 2011-12-20 18:41
I used to not like Bruce Springsteen, but that was during the 80's with "Born in America" Which I had then taken as a slight to those of us who were indeed born in other lands.

Today, I read a review on that song and indeed I had misinterpreted it. Now I as well think very highly of Springsteen. What a Master -- a Master of decency and Light!
 
 
+17 # Bill Clements 2011-12-20 21:52
I love stories like yours. People who aren't afraid to admit they were wrong once and can share their insights/growth with others. It doesn't get much better than that. Thank you, electricalrailw aygod.
 
 
+3 # gus mozart 2011-12-21 11:14
Quoting Electricrailwaygod:
I used to not like Bruce Springsteen, but that was during the 80's with "Born in America" Which I had then taken as a slight to those of us who were indeed born in other lands.

Today, I read a review on that song and indeed I had misinterpreted it.


Not only misinterpreted (which many people did, even though if one listened to the lyrics, it was obvious that it was a protest of what America had done), but also got the name of the song wrong. It's "Born In The USA", and also the title of one of the biggest selling albums of the 1980's.
 
 
+3 # Capn Canard 2011-12-22 08:07
Electricrailway god, that is par for the course! Consider that the Reagan presidency completely misunderstood Springsteens' "Born in the USA" as a patriotic song... Ignorance and dull thinking, many people are highly challenged when interpreting artistic statements.
 
 
+6 # mwd870 2011-12-21 06:04
This is progress every time well-known and influential people like Bruce Springsteen speak out against the inequalities in our society and how it happened.
 
 
+6 # tuandon 2011-12-21 10:14
It never is wonderful to see that The Boss has a true grasp of what is what in this "great" country of ours. Now that dishonesty and greed have been institutionalis ed by Reagan and his successors, those of us on the "outside" are facing an uphill battle to "take back OUR country!" I probably will not live to see it, but we will win it back.
 
 
+1 # Jefferson_Pepper 2011-12-23 14:00
Bruce for President. I'd vote for him.
 

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