Creating a song can be extremely similar to the overall life of a human being, depending on the direction that the song takes. For either situation, it takes immense amounts of time and patience to carefully forge together the intended experience, complete with endless forms of emotion and perspectives to amplify the level of understanding experienced by anyone affected. In the multiple renditions of the song ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’, different artists provide the lyrics a different mood and tempo to portray a unique portion of the emotion that the Joad family experienced in ‘The Grapes of Wrath’. From the depressing and mournful version that Bruce Springsteen brings forth to the aggressive and relentless interpretation by Rage Against the Machine, completely different versions of the song were created. However, each of those versions on their own lack the whole personal experience; the emotion displayed by each song is one-sided, either showing all sadness and loss, or only hatred and fury. A third variation, though, created by Springsteen and Rage Against the Machine’s lead guitarist Tom Morello, harmonizes the combination of the two artists’ perspectives, creating a song that provides an ultimately more personal experience to any of the listeners than the other two variations. Not only is there sorrow and loss from Springsteen’s perspective, as well as anger and passion from Rage Against the Machine, but an underlying sense of uplifting hope can be brought forward and appreciated by anybody willing to listen.
Springsteen and Morello’s version begins with a slow tempo and softer instrumentals, focusing more on the lyrics to provide an image for the listener. Similar to the beginning chapters of the novel, the song tries to portray the image of a desolate wasteland, where the farmers have lost all hopes of retaining their crops and keeping possession of their land. Described as the “new world order”, the lifestyle that the Okies once knew has ended, and now they must adapt and change in order to survive. However, such action is not done easily, for the difficulty of packing up an entire lifetime and moving forward to simply start again is far from a simple process. With no home and nowhere else to go, the Okies experience a sense of grief and sadness for the life that has been coercively tossed aside. Despite the instrumentals not being as strong as the lyrics, they still manage to amplify the melancholy sensation being expressed. In Springsteen’s solo version, the harmonica was used to create more of the blues-type mood; however it was replaced by violins in the duet, which still manages to convey the blues message well. Such feeling can also be compared to the sense of despair and loss that the Joads faced regarding death, though the lyrics of the song focus more along the lines of the loss of their home instead. The song and novel alike, however, bring forth these perceptions early, leaving room later on for different tones to be conveyed.
As the melody progresses, the lyrical tone becomes rawer and empowered. Even more uniquely, Tom Morello takes a turn at singing, bringing newly found energy to the verses and chorus. With such lines as “the highway is alive tonight”, the listeners are able to indulge in the concept of being strengthened and driven by the music, almost to provide a form of hope and salvation from the misfortune of the introduction. Alongside the lyrics, the guitar playing increases in fierceness, as if to symbolize the rising action in the song. With lead guitar riffs and even guitar solos, Springsteen and Morello attempt to connect to the audience and bring interest, as well as to share the feelings being experienced by the musicians. No longer is the tempo of the song relaxed and mellow, but instead, the pace has increased in speed, allowing for more vigour to be brought forward. All of these factors can represent the revitalization of the characters in the novel, and as the Joads find new ways to overcome their obstacles and find hope once again, the reading or listening audience can do the very same. Also, having the two artists joining together and becoming a combined force can be interpreted as a form of power and unity, similar to the Joads when they began to encounter other Okies on their way to
California, and even upon reaching ’s Weedpatch government camp. “Wherever somebody’s strugglin’ to be free”, there were always forms of optimism to keep the Joad family going on their journey to California, and the two musicians captured the essence and message of that portion of the novel masterfully. California
Whether it was crushing depression or fortifying empowerment being brought forth by musical inspiration, each unique emotion is a small portion of the whole human experience that both fictional and non-fictional individuals undergo on a day-to-day basis. Each individual artist with their own personal views created a well-sculpted version of The Ghost of Tom Joad, though each rendition feels almost too one-sided and closed off to the rest of the emotions that the Joads experience on their journey. However, when the two contrasting views came together in a single song, a richer experience was created. Not only was there sadness and frustration, but in working together, a new form of exhilaration and certainty to allow their viewing audience to connect all the more to an insightful form of musical art.