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Song of the Moment: Youngstown

As the presidential race comes down the stretch, it's all about Ohio.

So we're told.

Ohio is the swing state du jour.

All eyes are on it.

Whatever.

There are many songs about Ohio. The top of the heap is - no doubt - the one by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

"The Kent State shootings had a profound effect on some of the students who later became prominent musicians," according to Songfacts.

"Chrissie Hynde was a student at the time, and eventually formed The Pretenders. Mark Mothersbaugh and Jerry Casale were also on campus, and after the shootings, they developed the band Devo based on the concept of 'De-Evolution,' meaning the human race was regressing.

Said Casale, "It refocused me entirely. I don't think I would have done Devo without it. It was the deciding factor that made me live and breathe this idea and make it happen. In Chrissie Hynde's case, I'm sure it was a very powerful single event that was traumatic enough to form her sensibility and account for a lot of her anger."

Hynde, of course, went on to write "My City Was Gone," in which she lamented the mallification of her home state. The final verse:

I went back to Ohio
But my pretty countryside
had been paved down the middle
by a government that had no pride

The farms of Ohio
had been replaced by shopping malls
And Muzak filled the air
from Seneca to Cuyahoga Falls
Way to go, Ohio

Oddly, Rush Limbaugh uses the opening of the song as a "bumper" on his radio show despite the fact that Hynde does not share his politics.

"[S]he cannot stop him from using the song as long as the show continues to pay royalties," according to Songfacts.

But the Ohio song most relevant to this year's Election Day is one that has unfortunately been relevant for too long: Bruce Springsteen's "Youngstown."

Springsteen is actively campaigning for Obama and in his endorsement noted that he'll be doing so in Ohio. I happen to think that's folly. Not because I think he should be campaigning for Romney, but because it's painful to see him give cover to the guy who - among other misdeeds - has so aggressively given cover to the villainous fat cat bankers of Springsteen's songs.

Bruce would be more effective going around the country on his own singing songs like "Youngstown" and making his audiences understand exactly what it is he's saying - not just touring but campaigning for economic and political literacy and perhaps even calling for real change and supporting independent and/or third-party candidates or just causes. Now he's an insider riding on Air Force One with commander-in-chief of kill lists and drone deaths, among other civil liberty disasters. It's not just about economics.

But economics are Bruce's bread-and-butter and "Youngstown" is a song that tells a familiar tale, familiar to the Springsteen mythology of factory towns and exploited workers whipsawed by economic forces they do not understand. (It is telling that the song is from the album The Ghost of Tom Joad, which is also wholly relevant on several levels and is among his most underrated works; there's a reason why Libertyville's Tom Morello, late of Rage Against the Machine, performs his own version of the title track, as well as frequently performing the song with Springsteen himself.)

"Youngstown" isn't unlike "My Hometown," though decidedly less cloying. Those jobs are going boys, and they ain't coming back. Them big boys did what Hitler couldn't do.

Song: Youngstown

Album: The Ghost of Tom Joad

Recorded: April - June 1995.

Released: Nov. 21, 1995

Length: 3:57

Wikipedia: "Springsteen was inspired to write 'Youngstown' and 'The New Timer,' another Ghost of Tom Joad song, after reading Dale Maharidge's 1985 book Journey to Nowhere: The Saga of the New Underclass, illustrated by Michael Williamson.

"Journey to Nowhere chronicled the story of middle-class Americans who lost their jobs and had become hobos riding freight trains like in the Great Depression. The stories of dying steel towns inspired 'Youngstown' and the stories of boxcar hobos inspired 'New Timer.'

"In an interview with BBC Radio, Springsteen stated that his connection to this song was 'probably through my own kids and my own job, in the sense that the thought of being told after 30 years or so, that what you're doing isn't useful anymore, or has no place, or that the world has changed and that's the way it is. And you're 50 and gotta find something else to do. That's almost impossible . . . I don't know what I would do in that circumstance.'

"With 'Youngstown,' he managed to trace the rise of America as an industrial power, and the subsequent breaking of its social contract. This contrast between the mythology of the American Dream and the realities faced by its working-class citizens is among Springsteen's most familiar themes. Activist historian Howard Zinn included the lyrics of the song in his 2004 book Voices from a People's History of the United States."

Wikipedia suggest also seeing "Allentown." That song is from 1982. The hollowing out of America began long ago - and every presidential candidate since has promised to rebuild manufacturing here while enacting policies that only further eviscerate it.

Songfacts: "This revisits a common Springsteen theme: the division between the wealthy and the working class."

(But don't get smug: Springsteen's daughter is into dressage just like Ann Romney.)

Lyrics:

Here in Northeast Ohio
Back in 1803
James and Dan Heaton
Found the ore that was linin' Yellow Creek
They built a blast furnace
Here along the shore
And they made the cannonballs
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
Them smokestacks reachin' like the arms of God
Into a beautiful sky of soot and clay

Here in Youngstown
Here in Youngstown
Sweet Jenny I'm sinkin' down
Here darlin' in Youngstown

Well my daddy come on the Ohio works
When he come home from World War Two
Now the yard's 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 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

And Youngstown
And 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 heaven's work well
I pray the devil comes and takes me
To stand in the fiery furnaces of hell

Original Put To User Video

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In Youngstown, 1996

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On Letterman, 1995

-

In Pittsburgh last month at an Obama event.
It just doesn't fit, singing on behalf of that slick Forward sign. It's just sad. Neither major candidate represents Youngstown. It's not on the agenda. It's like a last, desperate gasp for America. My sweet Jennie, I'm sinkin' down.

-

Previously in Song of the Moment:
* Iron Man
* The Story of Bo Diddley
* Teach Your Children
* Dream Vacation
* When The Levee Breaks
* I Kissed A Girl
* Theme From Shaft
* Rocky Mountain High
* North to Alaska
* Barracuda
* Rainy Days and Mondays
* Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?
* Baby, It's Cold Outside
* Man in the Mirror
* Birthday Sex
* Rio
* My Sharona
* Alex Chilton
* Surfin' Bird
* By The Time I Get To Arizona
* Heaven and Hell
* Sunday Bloody Sunday
* Lawless One
* Tell It Like It Is
* The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
* Lake Shore Drive
* On, Wisconsin!
* Anarchy in the U.K.
* Ballad of a Thin Man
* White Riot
* Know Your Rights
* Chicago Teacher

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See also:
* Songs of the Occupation: To Have And To Have Not
* Songs of the Occupation: Johnny 99

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Comments welcome.



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Posted on November 6, 2012


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