A work song about not working: That’s “Shackled and Drawn,” in a nutshell.
A high-energy track from the Wrecking Ball album and a dependable crowd-pleaser from the Wrecking Ball Tour, “Shackled and Drawn” takes the form of a gospel work song. But the singer is not shackled like a slave. He’s shackled by his unemployment.
Or, to put it another way, it’s not a work song designed to get you through the hardship of working. It’s a work song designed to keep your spirits up when you’re unemployed.
The singer is “trudging through the dark in a world gone wrong,” while “up on bankers’ hill, the party’s going strong.”
If he envies their money, he doesn’t mention it. He just wants a chance to work himself.
“I always loved the feel of sweat on my shirt/Stand back, son, and let a man work,” he sings.
Also in the same vein: “Freedom, son’s, a dirty shirt/The sun on my face and my shovel in the dirt/A shovel in the dirt keeps the devil gone.”
Without that option, he asks, “What’s a poor boy to do but keep singing this song” The line echoes another song about unrest, from decades ago: The Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man,” with its famous question, “What can a poor boy do except to sing for a rock ‘n’ roll band?”
Springsteen sang “Street Fighting Man” 28 times in 1984 and 1985, on his Born in the USA Tour. “That one line, ‘What can a poor boy do but sing in a rock and roll band?’ is one of the greatest rock and roll lines of all time,” Springsteen said in Dave Marsh’s book, “Glory Days: Bruce Springsteen in the 1980s.”
The sermon-like exhortation at the end of “Shackled and Drawn,” by the way, is recited by Springsteen backing vocalist Cindy Mizelle, with the words coming from the introduction of Lyn Collins’ 1972 hit, “Me and My Baby Got a Good Thing Going” (see below).
Background facts: “Shackled and Drawn” is from Springsteen’s 2012 album, Wrecking Ball. According to Brucebase, Springsteen performed it in concert 143 times between 2012 and 2016.
On each of the 70 days leading up to Bruce Springsteen’s 70th birthday (on Sept. 23, 2019), NJArts.net will do a post on one of The Boss’ best songs of the last 30 years. We’re starting with No. 70 and working our way up. For more on the project, click here.
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