Tracy Chapman and Bruce Springsteen both know what makes an imperial singer-songwriter. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was a momentously special occasion when the two joined forces to sing The Boss’ track ‘My Hometown’ in 2004. The performance is a breathtaking duet and one that needs to be seen in all of its magic to be believed.
The two giants of the industry have a strong mutual respect for one another, and both know how to deliver a song with a level of gravitas that makes each word mean everything. The first time they performed together came in 1988 at the Amnesty International Concert For Human Rights and Sting, Peter Gabriel and Youssou N’Dour, where they sang the track ‘Get Up, Stand Up’.
That show in 1988 kickstarted a friendship, one built over a shared willingness to get involved in the fight for a fairer future. Together, they shared a political landscape that would be the reason why they once again shared the stage in 2004 to perform ‘My Hometown’ in Orlando as part of the ‘Vote For Change’ tour.
The string of live dates arrived in the wake of the Iraq war, playing live in several swing states before the 2004 election, which attempted to encourage voters to choose Democrat nominee John Kerry and oust George W. Bush from the Oval Office. While they didn’t manage to succeed in their electoral wish, the tour allowed both musicians another opportunity to share the stage and try to make a significant political difference.
‘My Hometown’ is far from the biggest Springsteen song, but the story behind its creation made it a poignant pick for the pivotal night in Orlando. The Born To Run track paints a dark and dismal portrait of everyday New Jersey life under Ronald Reagan’s reign, a figure who had stark similarities with George W. Bush and one Springsteen and Chapman were desperately attempting to oust from power.
Springsteen describes the closing of a factory in the song, and a year after ‘My Hometown’ was released, the 3M Company closed their factory in Freehold. During a benefit performance for the employees who had lost their jobs, Springsteen introduced the song by saying: “The marriage between a community and a company is a special thing that involves a special trust. What do you do after ten years or 20 years, you wake up in the morning and see your livelihood sailing away from you, leaving you standing on the dock? What happens when the jobs go away and the people remain?”.
Adding: “What goes unmeasured is the price that unemployment inflicts on people’s families, on their marriages, on the single mothers out there trying to raise their kids on their own. The 3M company: it’s their money, it’s their plant. But it’s the 3M workers’ jobs. I’m here to say that I think that after 25 years of service from a community, there is a debt owed to the 3M workers and to my hometown.”
The passion in Springsteen’s voice when he delivered that speech in 1986 is still alive today, and ever-present in the gripping duet he shared with Chapman in 2004. A shared humanitarian passion brought together these two talents, and they delivered this rendition of ‘My Hometown’ with all the mite they had in them.