[I wrote this piece for the Holler If You Hear Me group blog back in 2012. It seems even more relevant in 2017 under a president who campaigned under the guise of "making America great again" for the working man and woman. Then proceeded to appoint a cabinet filled with billionaires who have made it their life's work to INCREASE the wealth gap between the rich and poor. More than ever, "we take care of our own" has become a necessity, not a choice. -Bill Glahn]
“The wonder is, these songs bring forth such personal stories, the kind of detail you'd expect to be a journalistic staple somewhere--mainstream or alternative--because Bruce made it personal, rather than the "normal" which is almost clinical. You hear people HURT, you hear some of the consequences of the systemic collapse, and for the most part, first-hand, not third-hand.” (from a conversation with Dave Marsh on fans' responses to Wrecking Ball)
I didn't start digging into the album, Wrecking Ball until yesterday. Jack Of All Trades wasn’t the first song that grabbed me musically, but it is the song with the biggest connect. The biggest connect in a long, long time for me from a Springsteen song. And I think the reason for that is that it comes from the perspective of the lowest rungs of the working class – not the wider expanse of the middle class. I'm finally reading Daniel Wolff's 4th of July, Asbury Park: A History of the Promised Land, which IMO, is a great piece of literature to read along with this new album. Especially the parts regarding attitudes of the Asbury Park business community toward the "great unwashed" of the west side.
I've got a story...
The last time I saw Dave Marsh in person was at a gathering following SXSW in 2007. A few days later Dave posted something in an email discussion among friends along the lines of "Bill looks great, if exceedingly tired."
When I moved to Austin, about a month before I saw Dave, I was beyond broke and not quite over some ill health. I worked a lot of day labor jobs to get by. That's about as low on the ladder as you can get and still be working. But I learned a lot there.
I learned the best places for finding unfinished cigarettes and how to smoke them in a semi-sanitary fashion (strip the unused tobacco and re-roll them in fresh papers). I learned that it didn't take much cheap high gravity malt liquor (one 99 cent 24 oz Steel Reserve) to put yourself in a deep sleep and allow your body to heal for the next day. I learned that Austin has a good (and mobile) support system for feeding hungry folks. And most important, I learned that you never EVER admit that you never did any specific job before.
In fact, pretty much every person that showed up at Labor Ready was a Jack (or Jill) of all Trades. I mean - the worst that could happen would be that you wouldn't get sent back to the same job the next day, but you'd still make a day's wages on the deal.
"Anyone with carpentry experience?" "Fuck yeah, my dad was a carpenter. I grew up on that shit."
"Anyone ever run a commercial dish washer?" "You bet! I was the king of dish washing at the Denny's in my hometown."
And my favorite? "Who has a valid driver's license and a clean driving record? It WILL be checked."
Very few hands up on that one and I knew I'd be car hopping at the weekly Car Mart auto auction. If you could be convincing enough (and had a car) you could get work somewhere every day - often another shift at night as well - and even some weekend work in the bargain. But the pay was shit and the work (except for the car hop gig) grueling and everybody's hope was latching onto a permanent job and a return to some normalcy.
Eventually that happened with an underground construction company (sewer and waterline installation) where "Jack of All Trades" was escalated to a whole new level.
I lived in an apartment complex almost entirely inhabited by Hispanic construction workers - a mix of Texas natives, illegals with legal relatives, and green card immigrants, A couple neighbors worked for the same company I worked for and a few other co-workers lived in complexes near-by, so we hung out some both on and off the job. And I started to get some advice. "You work too hard, Beell. If you want to make better money, hop on a machine. Don't wait to be taught. Just hop on like you've been doing it all your life."
When the bosses weren't around I'd jump on a backhoe and start trenching (under the watchful eye of my compadres to make sure I didn't hit any underground utilities or such). When the bosses would show up they'd tell them "Beell's pretty good on a backhoe." I learned all kinds of shit. Cement work (I really WAS good at that!) Road patchwork (cutting old portions out with a concrete diamond saw and filling in). Front end loader work. Roller work. Jack-hammer work. Pipe fitting. Really - becoming a real jack-of-all trades provided a degree of sanity while I was in Austin - something I miss greatly in the mundane labor I now do in Springfield. But I have med benefits. A much less rewarding reward system now, but a needed one. Which, for the most part, does not exist in the jack of all trades world.
Back to the Springsteen song...
The "tired" tone of the song is perfect. Even more so from a day labor perspective. And you never really get over the hostility toward bosses - who are always content to watch you shovel your way to your next meal no matter what toll that backbreaking work takes on your body and soul. The only real way to get around the bosses at that level is another song altogether. We take care of our own.