The Ghost of Tom Joad

Somber and startlingly hushed, Springsteen’s first primarily acoustic set since Nebraska was no less unflinching or dark. Framed/inspired by its title character, it serves as a parched, narrative-driven consideration of poverty, immigration and the brittle troubles of Americans and Mexicans in the Southwest.

Released: November 21, 1995
Label: Columbia Records
Produced By: Bruce Springsteen, Chuck Plotkin
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1 The Ghost of Tom Joad
2 Straight Time
Got out of prison back in '86 and I found me a wife
Walked the clean and narrow
just tryin' to stay out and stay alive
Got a job at the rendering factory,it ain't gonna make me rich
In the darkness before dinner comes
Sometimes I can feel the it
I got a cold mind to go tripping across that thin line
I'm sick of doin straight time

My uncles at the evenin' table makes his living runnin' hot cars
Slips me a hundred dollar bill, says
"Charlie, you best remember who your friend are."
I got a cold mind to go tripping across that thin line
I ain't makin' straight time

Eight years in, it feels like you're gonna die
But you get used to anything
Sooner or later it becomes your life

Kitchen floor in the evening, tossin' my little babies high
Mary's smilin', but she watches me out of the corner of her eye
Seems you can't get any more than half free
I step out onto the front porch, and suck the cold air deep inside of me
Got a cold mind to go tripping cross that thin line
I'm sick of doin' straight time

In the basement, huntin' gun and a hacksaw
Sip a beer, and thirteen inches of barrel drop to the floor

Come home in the evening, can't get the smell from my hands
Lay my head down on the pillow
And, go driftin' off into foreign lands
3 Highway 29
I slipped on her shoe, she was a perfect size seven
I said "there's no smokin' in the store ma'am"
She crossed her legs and then
We made some small talk, that's where it should have stopped
She slipped me a number, I put it in my pocket
My hand slipped up her skirt, everything slipped my mind
In that little roadhouse On highway 29

It was a small town bank, it was a mess
Well I had a gun, you know the rest
Money on the floorboards, shirt was covered in blood
And she was cryin', her and me we headed south
On highway 29

In a little desert motel, the air it was hot and clean
l slept the sleep of the dead, I didn't dream
I woke in the morning washed my face in the sink
We headed into the Sierra Madres 'cross the borderline
The winter sun, shot through the black trees
I told myself it was all something in her
But as we drove I knew it was something in me
Something had been comin' for a long long time
And something that was here with me now
On highway 29

The road was filled with broken glass and gasoline
She wasn't sayin' nothin', it was just a dream
The wind come silent through the windshield
All I could see was snow and sky and pines
I closed my eyes and I was runnin',
I was runnin' then I was flyin'
4 Youngstown
Here in north east Ohio
Back in eighteen-o-three
James and Danny Heaton
Found the ore that was linin' yellow creek
They built a blast furnace
Here along the shore
And they made the cannon balls
That helped the union win the war

Here in Youngstown
Here in Youngstown
My sweet Jenny, I'm sinkin' down
Here darlin' in Youngstown

Well my daddy worked the furnaces
Kept 'em hotter than hell
I come home from 'Nam worked my way to scarfer
A job that'd suit the devil as well
Taconite, coke and limestone
Fed my children and made my pay
Then smokestacks reachin' like the arms of god
Into a beautiful sky of soot and clay

Here in Youngstown
Here in Youngstown
My sweet Jenny, I'm sinkin' down
Here darlin' in Youngstown

Well my daddy come on the 0hio works
When he come home from world war two
Now the yards just scrap and rubble
He said, "Them big boys did what Hitler couldn't do"
These mills they built the tanks and bombs
That won this country's wars
We sent our sons to Korea and Vietnam
Now we're wondering what they were dyin' for

Here in Youngstown
Here in Youngstown
My sweet Jenny, I'm sinkin' down
Here darlin' in Youngstown

From the Monongaleh valley
To the Mesabi iron range
To the coal mines of Appalacchia
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

In Youngstown
In Youngstown
My sweet Jenny, I'm sinkin' down
Here darlin' in Youngstown

When I die I don't want no part of heaven
I would not do heavens work well
I pray the devil comes and takes me
To stand in the fiery furnaces of hell
Also Appears On
Live in New York City Live in New York City (DVD) London Calling: Live in Hyde Park
5 Sinaloa Cowboys
Miguel came from a small town in northern Mexico.
He came north with his brother Louis to California three years ago
They crossed at the river levee, when Louis was just sixteen
And found work together in the fields of the San Joaquin

They left their homes and family
Their father said, "My sons one thing you will learn,
for everything the north gives, it exacts a price in return."
They worked side by side in the orchards
From morning till the day was through
Doing the work the hueros wouldn't do.

Word was out some men in from Sinaloa were looking for some hands
Well, deep in Fresno county there was a deserted chicken ranch
And there in a small tin shack on the edge of a ravine
Miguel and Louis stood cooking methamphetamine

You could spend a year in the orchards
Or make half as much in one ten hour shift
Working for the men from Sinaloa
But if you slipped the hydriodic acid
Could burn right through your skin
They'd leave you spittin' up blood in the desert
If you breathed those fumes in

It was early one winter evening as Miguel stood watch outside
When the shack exploded, lighting up the valley night
Miguel carried Louis' body over his shoulder down a swale
To the creekside and there in the tall grass, Louis Rosales died
Miguel lifted Louis' body into his truck and then he drove
To where the morning sunlight fell on a eucalyptus grove
There in the dirt he dug up ten-thousand dollars. all that they'd saved
Kissed his brothers lips and placed him in his grave
6 The Line
I got my discharge from Fort Irwin
took a place on the San Diego county line
felt funny bein' a civilian again
it'd been some time
my wife had died a year ago
I was still tryin' to find my way back whole
went to work for the INS on the line
With the California Border Patrol

Bobby Ramirez was a ten-year veteran
We became friends
his family was from Guanajuato
so the job it was different for him
He said' "They risk death in the deserts and mountains"
pay all they got to the smugglers rings,
we send 'em home and they come right back again
Carl, hunger is a powerful thing."

Well I was good at doin' what I was told
kept my uniform pressed and clean
at night I chased their shadows
through the arroyos and ravines

drug runners, farmers with their families,
young women with little children by their sides
come night we'd wait out in the canyons
and try to keep 'em from crossin' the line

Well the first time that I saw her
she was in the holdin' pen
Our eyes met and she looked away
then she looked back again
her hair was black as coal
her eyes reminded me of what I'd lost
she had a young child cryin' in her arms
and I asked, "Senora, is there anything I can do"

There's a bar in Tijuana
where me and Bobby drink alongside
the same people we'd sent back the day before
we met there she said her name was Louisa
she was from sonora and had just come north
we danced and I held her in my arms
and I knew what I would do
she said she had some family in Madera county
if she, her child and her younger brother could just get through

At night they come across the levy
in the searchlights dusty glow
we'd rush 'em in our Broncos
and force 'em back down into the river below
she climbed into my truck
she leaned towards me and we kissed
as we drove her brothers shirt slipped open
and I saw the tape across his chest

We were just about on the highway
when Bobby's jeep come up in the dust on my right
I pulled over and let my engine run
and stepped out into his lights
I felt myself movin'
felt my gun restin' 'neath my hand
we stood there starin' at each other
as off through the arroyo she ran

Bobby Ramirez he never said nothin'
6 months later I left the line
I drifted to the central valley
and took what work I could find
at night I searched the local bars
and the migrant towns
Lookin' for my Louisa
with the black hair fallin' down
7 Balboa Park
He lay his blanket underneath the freeway
As the evening sky grew dark
Took a sniff of toncho from his coke can
And headed through Balboa Park
Where the men in their Mercedes
Come nightly to employ
In the cool San Diego evening
The services of the border boys

He grew up near the Zona Norte
With the hustlers and smugglers he hung out with
He swallowed their balloons of cocaine
Brought 'em across the Twelfth Street strip
Sleeping in a shelter
If the night got too cold
Runnin' from the migra
Of the border patrol

Past the salvage yard 'cross the train tracks
and in through the storm drain
they stretched their blankets out 'neath the freeway
and each one took a name
there was X-man and Cochise
Little Spider his sneakers covered in river mud
they come north to California
end up with the poison in their blood

He did what he had to do for the money
sometimes he sent home what he could spare
the rest went to high-top sneakers and toncho
and jeans like the gavachos wear

One night the border patrol swept Twelfth Street
a big car come fast down the boulevard
spider stood caught in its headlights
got hit and went down hard
As the car sped away Spider held his stomach
limped to his blanket 'neath the underpass
lie there tasting his own blood on his tongue
closed his eyes and listened to the cars
rushin' by so fast
8 Dry Lightning
I threw my robe on in the morning
Watched the ring on the stove turn to red
Stared hypnotized into a cup of coffee
Pulled on my boots and made the bed
Screen door hangin' off its hinges
Kept bangin' me awake all night
As I look out the window
The only thing in sight

Is dry lightning on the horizon line
Just dry lightning and you on my mind

I chased the heat of her blood
Like it was the holy grail
Descend beautiful spirit
Into the evening pale
Her appaloosa's
Kickin' in the corral smelling rain
There's a low thunder rolling
'Cross the mesquite plain
But there's just dry lightning on the horizon line
It's just dry lightning and you on my mind

I'd drive down to Alvarado street
Where she danced to make ends meet
I'd spend the night over my gin
As she'd talk to her men

Well the piss yellow sun
Comes bringin' up the day
She said "ain't nobody gonna give nobody
What they really need anyway"

Well you get so sick of the fightin'
You lose your fear of the end
But you can't lose your memory
And the sweet smell of your skin
And it's just dry lightning on the horizon line
Just dry lightning and you on my mind
9 The New Timer
He rode the rails since the great depression
Fifty years out on the skids
He said you don't cross nobody
You'll be all right out here kid

Left my family in Pennsylvania
Searchin' for work I hit the road
I met Frank in east Texas
In a freight yard blown through with snow

From New Mexico to Colorado
California to the sea
Frank he showed me the ropes, sir
Just till I could get back on my feet

I hoed sugar beets outside of Firebaugh
I picked the peaches from the Marysville tree
They bunked us in a barn just like animals
Me and a hundred others just like me

We split up come the springtime
I never seen Frank again
'Cept one rainy night he blew by me on grainer
Shouted my name and disappeared in the rain and the wind

They found him shot dead outside Stockton
His body lyin' on a muddy hill
Nothin' taken, nothin' stolen
Somebody killed him just to kill

Late that summer I was rollin' through the plains of Texas
A vision passed before my eyes A small house sittin' trackside
With the glow of the saviours beautiful light

A woman stood cookin' in the kitchen
Kid sat at the table with his old man
Now I wonder does my son miss me
Does he wonder where I am

Tonight I pick my campsite carefully
Outside the Sacramento Yard
Gather some wood and light a fire
In the early winter dark

Wind whistling cold I pull my coat around me
Make some coffee and stare out into the black night
I lie awake, I lie awake sir
With my machete by my side

My Jesus your gracious love and mercy
Tonight I'm sorry could not fill my heart
Like one good rifle And the name of who I ought to kill
10 Across the Border
Tonight my bag is packed
Tomorrow I'll walk these tracks
That will lead me across the border

Tomorrow my love and I
Will sleep 'neath auburn skies
Somewhere across the border

We'll leave behind my dear
The pain and sadness we found here
And we'll drink from the Bravo's muddy waters

Where the sky grows grey and white
We'll meet on the other side
There across the border

For you I'll build a house
High up on a grassy hill
Somewhere across the border

Where pain and memory
Pain and memory have been stilled
There across the border

And sweet blossoms fills the air
Pastures of gold and green
Roll down into cool clear waters

And in your arms 'neath the open skies
I'll kiss the sorrow from your eyes
There across the border

Tonight we'll sing the songs
I'll dream of you my corazon
And tomorrow my heart will be strong

And may the saints' blessing and grace
Carry me safely into your arms
There across the border

For what are we
Without hope in our hearts
That someday we'll drink from God's blessed waters

And eat the fruit from the vine
I know love and fortune will be mine
Somewhere across the border
11 Galveston Bay
Fifteen years Le Bing Son
Fought side by side with the Americans
In the mountains and deltas of Vietnam

In '75 Saigon fell
and he left his command
And brought his family to the promised land

Seabrook Texas and the small towns
in the Gulf of Mexico
It was delta country and reminded him of home

He worked as a machinist, put his money away
And bought a shrimp boat with his cousin
And together they harvested Galveston Bay

In the mornin' 'fore the sun come up
He'd kiss his sleepin' daughter
Steer out through the channel
And casts his nets into the water

Billy Sutter fought with Charlie Company
In the highlands of Quang Tri
He was wounded in the battle of Chu Lai
And shipped home in '68

There he married and worked the gulf fishing grounds
In a boat that'd been his father's
In the morning he'd kiss his sleeping son
And cast his nets into the water

Billy sat in front of his TV as the south fell
And the Communists rolled into Saigon
He and his friends watched as the refugees came
Settle on the same streets and worked the coast they grew up on

Soon in the bars around the harbor was talk
Of America for Americans
Someone said, "You want 'em out, you got to burn 'em out"
And brought in the Texas klan

One humid Texas night there were three shadows on the harbor
Come to burn the Vietnamese boats into the sea
In the fire's light shots rang out
Two Texans lay dead on the ground
Le stood with a pistol in his hand

A jury acquitted him in self defense
As before the judge he did stand
But as he walked down the courthouse steps
Billy said "My friend, you're a dead man"

One late summer night Le stood watch along the waterside
Billy stood in the shadows
His K-bar knife in his hand
And the moon slipped behind the clouds

Le lit a cigarette, the bay was as still as glass
As he walked by Billy stuck his knife into his pocket
Took a breath and let him pass

In the early darkness Billy rose up
Went into the kitchen for a drink of water
Kissed his sleeping wife
Headed into the channel
And casts his nets into the water

Of Galveston Bay
12 My Best Was Never Good Enough
Every cloud has a silver lining, every dog has his day
She said, "Now don't say nothin'
if you don't have something nice to say."
The tough, now they get going, when the going gets tough
But for you my best was never good enough

"Now don't try for a home run, baby
If you can get the job done with a hit"
Remember, "A quitter never wins and a winner never quits"
"The sun don't shine on a sleepin' dog's ass"
And all the rest of that stuff
But for you my best was never good enough

"If God gives you nothin' but lemons, then you make some lemonade"
"The early bird catches the fuckin' worm,
Rome wasn't built in a day"

"Now life's like a box of chocolates,
You never know what you're going to get"
"Stupid is as stupid does and all the rest of that shit"

Come'on pretty baby, call my bluff
'Cause for you my best was never good enough