Springsteen goes to work and presents Labor Day-themed show on SiriusXM

springsteen work songs

Bruce Springsteen played songs about work on his 11th SiriusXM satellite radio DJ show, Sept. 2.

Bruce Springsteen played songs about a favorite theme of his, work, Sept. 2 in the 11th installment of his SiriusXM satellite radio DJ show, “From My Home to Yours.”

There was a higher ratio of music to talk than there has been in most shows in the series. Of all the shows he has done, this 90-minute one was, perhaps, the one that most closely followed the conventional radio-DJ format. It was arguably the least personal and most, uh, workmanlike of the 11.

Springsteen did speak briefly and compassionately about about those left unemployed by the pandemic. “There is little as painful as to be without productive work,” he said. He also read poems by Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes, Philip Levine and Joe Hill, and played a comedy bit about Labor Day by Jimmy Tingle.

Surprisingly, though, there were no stories about his own working life, unless you count a brief anecdote about working with Donna Summer, whose “She Works Hard for the Money” he played. Maybe he refrained from more autobiographical content because because he included segments relating to his own work as a musician and other work he did, in his youth, in previous shows.

You can read what Springsteen said here, and see videos for the songs that were played. In some cases, a version of the song may have been played that is different from than what is embedded in this post.

Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” London Symphony Orchestra

“Greetings, E Street Nation, friends, fans and listeners from coast to coast. Welcome to our Labor Day extravaganza. Today we are celebrating the American working man and woman, all the folks that keep our world spinning round and round. We opened with ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’ by Aaron Copland. Now this is The Great One, reminding us, one way or another, we’re all workin’ for the man.”

“Working for the Man,” Roy Orbison

“Working on the Highway,” Joe Ely

“That was a great friend of mine, Joe Ely, the fabulous singer-songwriter-rocker out of Texas, with ‘Working on the Highway.’ And before that, of course, The Voice, The Great One, Roy Orbison, with ‘Working for the Man.’ Let’s send one to the working women out there.”

“Working Woman,” Mick Flavin

(Springsteen plays a comedy bit about Labor Day by Jimmy Tingle.)

The mills
That grind and grind,
That grind out new steel
And grind away the lives
Of men, —
In the sunset
Their stacks
Are great black silhouettes
Against the sky.
In the dawn
They belch red fire.
The mills, —
Grinding out new steel.

“Grinding out new steel. That’s Langston Hughes.”

“Youngstown,” Bruce Springsteen

“Union Maid,” Woody Guthrie

“Rebel Girl,” Hazel Dickens

” ‘Rebel Girl.’ Dudley Connell, Hazel Dickens and Tom Adams. Song by Joe Hill. And before that, ‘Union Maid,’ with Woody Guthrie.

“Now born in 1879, Joe Hill was a Swedish-American labor activist and a member of the Industrial Workers of the World, better known as The Wobblies. He was dubiously convicted of a murder, and executed by firing squad on Nov. 19, 1915, at Utah’s Sugar House Prison. This was his Last Will and Testament:

My will is easy to decide,
For there is nothing to divide
My kin don’t need to fuss and moan —
Moss does not cling to a rolling stone
My body? — Oh! —If I could choose
I would want to ashes it reduce,
And let the merry breezes blow
My dust to where some flowers grow
Perhaps some fading flower then
Would come to life and bloom again
This is my last and final will. —
Good luck to all of you,
— Joe Hill

“Joe Hill,” Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band

“Fight the Power,” Public Enemy

“Clampdown,” Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, featuring Tom Morello

“Badlands,” Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band

“That is ‘Badlands,’ live at Arizona State University, November 1980, the night after Ronald Reagan was elected president. Before that, The Clash’s ‘Clampdown’ as performed by yours truly with Tom Morello and the E Street Band in Sunrise, Fla., April 29, 2014. And previous to that, the all-time classic ‘Fight the Power,’ by Public Enemy.

We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is — if you’re
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting from one foot to another.
Feeling the light rain falling like mist
into your hair, blurring your vision
until you think you see your own brother
ahead of you, maybe ten places.
You rub your glasses with your fingers,
and of course it’s someone else’s brother,
narrower across the shoulders than
yours but with the same sad slouch, the grin
that does not hide the stubbornness,
the sad refusal to give in to
rain, to the hours of wasted waiting,
to the knowledge that somewhere ahead
a man is waiting who will say, ‘No,
we’re not hiring today,’ for any
reason he wants. You love your brother,
now suddenly you can hardly stand
the love flooding you for your brother,
who’s not beside you or behind or
ahead because he’s home trying to
sleep off a miserable night shift
at Cadillac so he can get up
before noon to study his German.
Works eight hours a night so he can sing
Wagner, the opera you hate most,
the worst music ever invented.
How long has it been since you told him
you loved him, held his wide shoulders,
opened your eyes wide and said those words,
and maybe kissed his cheek? You’ve never
done something so simple, so obvious,
not because you’re too young or too dumb,
not because you’re jealous or even mean
or incapable of crying in
the presence of another man, no,
just because you don’t know what work is.

“The Ghost of Tom Joad,” Rage Against the Machine

“That is ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad,’ by Rage Against the Machine. And prior to that, ‘What Work Is,’ by poet Philip Levine. And this is the Queen of Disco, Donna Summer.”

“She Works Hard for the Money,” Donna Summer

“I had the pleasure of writing a song and doing a session with Donna and Quincy Jones in the mid-’80s. She was absolutely lovely. I originally wrote ‘Cover Me’ for her, and then Mr. Landau heard it and, doing his duty as my manager, advised me to keep it. So I wrote a song, ‘Protection,’ for her, and recorded it with her. Good, but no ‘Cover Me.’ ”

“Workin’ Woman Blues,” Valerie June

“Piss Factory,” Patti Smith

“All right, that’s ‘Piss Factory’ from 1974, by my beautiful friend Patti Smith and Richard Sohl. One of the best songs about factory work I’ve ever heard. And now, from my man John Mellencamp, terrific American songwriter, this is ‘Pink Houses.’ ”

“This Labor Day, we have to pause and to think of the millions of Americans who have been displaced and left jobless by the coronavirus. There is little as painful as to be without productive work. So for this Labor Day, we send our prayers up for a healthy working nation, in the coming days, months and years ahead.”

“Don’t Give Up,” Peter Gabriel, featuring Kate Bush

“Like a Rock,” Bob Seger

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day — at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

— Walt Whitman.

“That’s our show for today, folks. Until we meet again, stay strong, stay healthy, stay safe, and have a wonderful Labor Day.”

You can read transcripts of what Springsteen has said on the previous 10 shows, and see YouTube videos of all the songs he has played, via these links:

APRIL 8 (a tribute to the late John Prine and more)

APRIL 24 (thoughts on life during pandemic, New York songs and more)

MAY 6 (when the pandemic is over, he promises, “50,000 people will once again scream their heads off somewhere in New Jersey”)

MAY 20 (a tribute to the late Little Richard and more)

JUNE 3 (protest songs and more)

JUNE 17 (a “rock ‘n’ roll requiem” for those who have died from coronavirus)

JULY 1 (discussion with and songs by Southside Johnny and Steven Van Zandt)

JULY 15 (summertime songs and memories)

JULY 29 (discussion with and songs by Patti Scialfa)

AUG. 14 (songs about the night and dreams)

Also, click here for some of my thoughts on this ambitious series in general.

Though Springsteen is not officially on a schedule for these shows, and there won’t necessarily be any more after today, he has been doing them once every other week for more than four months.

The shows have lasted between 70 minutes and two hours each, and are being broadcast on SiriusXM’s E Street Radio channel (channel 20), with repeats and on-demand availability following the initial broadcast.

Visit siriusxm.com.

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