Bruce Springsteen is one of the world's best selling artists. In 2016, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The title track from Springsteen's eleventh studio album, this song was inspired by Woody Guthrie's song, 'The Ballad of Tom Joad,' which was in turn inspired by John Steinbeck's classic novel, The Grapes of Wrath. Tom Joad is the protagonist of that book, and the third verse of Springsteen's song references the famous speech that Joad gives toward the end of the book, after he has avenged the murder of his friend, Jim Casy. Joad is preparing to go on the lam, but before he leaves, he says the following to his mother:
'Then it don’ matter. Then I’ll be all aroun’ in the dark. I’ll be ever’where — wherever you look. Wherever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever they’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. If Casy knowed, why, I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad an’ — I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry an’ they know supper’s ready. An’ when our folks eat the stuff they raise an’ live in the houses they build — why, I’ll be there. See? God, I’m talkin’ like Casy. Comes of thinkin’ about him so much. Seems like I can see him sometimes.'
Men walkin' 'long the railroad tracks Goin' someplace there's no goin' back Highway patrol choppers comin' up over the ridge Hot soup on a campfire under the bridge Shelter line stretchin' 'round the corner Welcome to the new world order Families sleepin' in their cars in the Southwest No home no job no peace no rest The highway is alive tonight But nobody's kiddin' nobody about where it goes I'm sittin' down here in the campfire light Searchin' for the ghost of Tom Joad He pulls a prayer book out of his sleeping bag Preacher lights up a butt and takes a drag Waitin' for when the last shall be first and the first shall be last In a cardboard box 'neath the underpass Got a one-way ticket to the promised land You got a hole in your belly and gun in your hand Sleeping on a pillow of solid rock Bathin' in the city aqueduct The highway is alive tonight Where it's headed everybody knows I'm sittin' down here in the campfire light Waitin' on the ghost of Tom Joad Now Tom said "Mom, wherever there's a cop beatin' a guy Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries Where there's a fight 'gainst the blood and hatred in the air Look for me Mom I'll be there Wherever there's somebody fightin' for a place to stand Or decent job or a helpin' hand Wherever somebody's strugglin' to be free Look in their eyes Mom you'll see me." Well the highway is alive tonight But nobody's kiddin' nobody about where it goes I'm sittin' down here in the campfire light With the ghost of old Tom Joad