The Road to Someplace Like America Updated June 2, 2013


In 1995, Bruce Springsteen contacted me and photographer Michael Williamson about our first book, Journey to Nowhere, the Saga of the New Underclass. (We showed the destruction of a steel city, traveled with the new jobless and became hobos with them during the start of the hard times in the early 1980s.) Bruce was inspired to write two songs from that book on his Ghost of Tom Joad release — "Youngstown" and "The New Timer."

We've now spent 30 years documenting the economic ruin faced by millions. This has resulted in our latest book, Someplace Like America: Tales from the New Great Depression, published by the University of California Press. Bruce has written a foreword to this book.

Meantime, in the coming months here on the Backstreets website, I'm going to show you how we did this story. Between 1980 and 2010, we traveled over a half million miles around the country, riding on freight trains, in buses, or by automobile, meeting hundreds of people. We saved everything. I'll tell the back story visually in audio slideshows and pictures with text (with occasional video) from our archives of photos, notes, ephemera — the kind of stuff you don’t usually see from a writer or photographer until after they are long dead. There will be footage of our jumping on a freight train in 1986. I'm not quite sure anything quite like this visual history blog has been done before. I'll take you along behind the scenes, up to the day Bruce contacted us. Later, I'll share things from after — how Bruce got us back on the story of American workers.

This will be the raw anatomy of not only the making of our books, but what has happened to America over the past 30 years. I will not hold back. I'll show how we did what we did, warts and all. At times, it may be like visiting a sausage factory — it was a long and hard road that Michael and I traveled. But mostly, I hope this blog and our book reveals something hopeful about us as a people. We are at a critical juncture in our history as a nation. By telling the stories of workers — including the real-life people Bruce sang about in those two songs from our first book — we can begin raising the questions that we have to answer to find a way forward into creating a new and better America. That is the goal of our new book.

I suggest that you read from the bottom up in order to follow the story. You might want to play Bruce's music while looking at the posts. An obvious choice is Ghost. But so much fits — material from The River and Nebraska albums, for sure. A favorite individual song is "Seeds."

If you want to keep up on developments on the book (and both a feature film and documentary based on it) or to post comments, please click here to link to my Facebook page. I will try to answer your questions as time permits. I will be posting exclusively to Backstreets.com, but I will put this material on that Facebook page a few days later after each post, as well as the UC Press website.
--Dale Maharidge

Purchase Someplace Like America:
Tales From the New Great Depression
Hardcover - Softcover

16. 1995: Bruce Springsteen Contacts Us
We inspire two songs on The Ghost of Tom Joad; the true life story behind "The New Timer."

15. Bringing It Home
Closing out 1983 and writing the first book

14. Texas, Part II (1983)
Home Sweet Tent

13. April: On to Texas (1983)
Three o'clock in the morning — deeper into the noir

12. The New Timer (1983)
Our journey with Sam

11. Under the Bridge (1983)
Leaving Youngstown, heading south, we turn west

10. Our Obsession with Steel, Part 2 (1983)
Staring into the "fiery furnaces of Hell."

9.Our Obsession with Steel, Part 1 (1983)
"A job that'd suit the Devil as well."

8. A Tale of Bricks and the Mob (1983)
How some bricks almost got us whacked.

7. We Live with Ghosts (1983)
Our days in Youngstown.

Interlude: Someplace Like America: An Overview (1982-2011)
An overview for the book Someplace Like America: Tales from the New Great Depression by Dale Maharidge, Michael S. Williamson, photographer, and Bruce Springsteen, foreword, published by UC Press. Dale talks about some of the people and places they've seen in writing and photographing the book.

6. "Them Big Boys Did What Hitler Couldn't Do" (1983)
Bruce Springsteen and the story behind this line.

5. Selling the Book (1983)
Selling the book and flying to Youngstown

4. On Becoming a Hobo, Part 2 (1982+)
Thoughts on becoming a hobo

3. On Becoming a Hobo, Part I (1982)
The first 6-day trip

2. A Team is Formed (1980 - 1981)
A blue-collar kid and an orphan meet: a writer-photographer team is born to tell stories ignored by the media

1. Introducing Maharidge & Williamson
We discover 29-year-old hobo food

Introduction: Bruce Springsteen talks about Maharidge & Williamson
Springsteen often gave this introduction to the song "Youngstown" on his Ghost of Tom Joad tour



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