Tom Morello & Bruce Springsteen: The Ghost of Tom Joad


I was twelve years old, experiencing a musical coming of age.  At twelve, I was reaching the age where the music I listened to was not just whatever played on the radio, or what my parents listened to; I was now making intentional choices about the sounds I wanted to hear.  The world of music fascinated me, and as a budding guitarist, I began to study musicians; their techniques and their styles (usually without being able to duplicate them).  The easiest way to do this was to watch live performances, and the music channel was a gold mine of such recordings.  From age twelve to thirteen, concerts were pretty much all I watched by myself.  One day I was watching the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th anniversary concert, and given that it featured such acts as Jeff Beck, Paul Simon, and Bruce Springsteen, the rest of my family was interested.

The acts went by, and after maybe an hour (forgive my lapse in memory, It’s been a while) Bruce Springsteen came onstage.  He played for a very long time.  I’m talking extremely long.  So long, I had even begun to lose interest.  Then, the Boss began to speak again; “I want to bring out one of the greatest guitar players in rock and roll, and a great voice from Rage Against the Machine and The Night Watchman…Tom Morello.

They began playing a song that, for the most part sounded like a Bruce Springsteen song, nothing more, nothing less.  Bruce stiffened up and belted out the first verse.

Man walks along the railroad track
He’s goin’ some place, there’s no turnin’ back
The Highway Patrol chopper comin’ up over the ridge
Man sleeps by a campfire under the bridge

After the first verse, Tom stepped up to the mic and began singing the second.  I was surprised at how unorthodox his voice was.  He followed pitch loosely and trailed off with the last word of each line; and yet, it was just what the song needed.  They led into a solo, where Bruce seemed to tighten every muscle in his body, and Tom Morello did some weird stuff (as he does) that I knew enough about him to expect.  The performance was entertaining, but it became mind-blowing when Tom Morello began his second solo.

The last shall be first and the first shall be last

Armed with an array of space age effects Morello launched into a 10 note ascending and descending scale, which is about as close to the melody as he stuck for the rest of the ordeal.   Then, for about fifteen seconds, he played the same note, over and over… It gets crazier.  Morello now does something that I cannot accurately describe; flipping his pointer finger above and below the neck of the guitar hammering certain notes.  This led into a delayed series of scales each going up a half step, but echoing throughout creating a discordant web of noise before finally doing his impression of a hip-hop turntable to top it off.  Like Morello himself with his high strapped guitar, and untrimmed guitar strings, this solo was the perfect unorthodox addition to this rousing folk ballad.

I won’t say this performance changed my life, but I did try for about a week to learn how to make record scratching sounds with my guitar, before finally giving up and citing the reason for doing so as the simple fact the I am not Tom Morello.  It also sent me into a bit of an obsession with Morello that has since faded away (mostly); I still follow his work with supergroup Prophets of Rage, ignoring their vague politics, and sticking around till the break to hear whatever weird sound Morello is going to make next.

For those unfortunate enough to have never seen this performance, here it is, in all its glory.  I recommend grabbing whoever is nearby, switching to full screen and turning the volume up as high as your device will allow.  It’s just better that way.  Enjoy!

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