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Factory, Bruce Springsteen

Review Factory, Bruce Springsteen

Aggiornato il 18 Mar, 2024 | Words and Music |

Short but very intense song, Factory is the 7th track of Darkness On The Edge Of Town, the famous 1978 album by Bruce Springsteen. Like the homologous track of the first side of the LP, Adam Raised A Cain, Factory is markedly autobiographical and has subject Bruce‘s father, Douglas. Despite its lyrical relevance, the song has long risked being discarded from the album, and then eventually re-entering the large group of little gems included in Tracks, the collection of unreleased tracks and outtakes published in 1998. Luckily Springsteen had second thoughts. Factory, in its musical simplicity of a folk-rock ballad based mainly on piano and organ parts, is a fundamental song, especially because it forms a trilogy concerning the Bruce‘s relationship with his father which includes, in addition to Adam Raised A Cain, also Independence Day, written around the same time but released on the subsequent double-disc The River (1980).


In the trilogy that we could define as “Old Doug’s”, Factory occupies a special place due to the different angle from which the relationship between father and son is observed. As in Adam Raised A Cain and Independence Day the narrator is the son. Again, as in Adam Raised A Cain it is the son who observes the events (in Independence Day, however, the son speaks directly to his father). But, while between the other two songs there is a direct link, as the homely misunderstandings and the generational clash will culminate with the farewell on Independence Day, in Factory we can observe the perhaps unexpressed but compassionate, deep love of a son who sees his father getting sick and old, due to hard work in the factory.


The narration that Springsteen gives to the young man in Factory could appear aloof, because there are no lines that express affection. On the contrary, the listener could see a sense of indifferent observation of predestination in that repeated “It’s the working, the working, just the working life“. But to bring everything to a more emotional level there are both the Bruce‘s singing interpretation, resigned and suffering, and a relevant detail: while in the first and last verse the working figure is generically defined as a man, in the second verse he becomes my daddy. Neither the formal my father, nor the slangy my old man, but the more affectionate my daddy.


Imagine you are at the cinema and the opening credits are rolling. Then comes the first scene: in the distance, the whistle of a factory is heard, calling the workers to their duty. That first whistle has been the alarm clock for years for a man who lives right next to the factory. He gets up and gets dressed in the cold of the morning. Alone, in a still dark house, while his wife and children are still sleeping, the man prepares his lunch and leaves his house. We still don’t know who that man is. The narrative is detached and impersonal. We only see those few actions, without knowing the protagonist’s name and his situation.


The scene continues. The man has recently crossed the threshold of his house and is crossing the street in the rain. In the distance he can see the factory gates. We don’t watch that scene by a camera following it, but from the point of view of someone who is in the house. The camera moves to that person: he is a boy, the son of the working man. At that moment, the level of emotion in the narrative changes. The son is not looking at just any man, but at his dad. Perhaps his hero. Or simply the man who, thanks to his sacrifice, supports his family. He knows that his father lives in fear of getting sick and in an already concrete pain. He knows that the deafening noise of those monstrous machines is stealing his hearing, but he also knows that this is the life his father agreed to live in order to support his family.


At the end of this splendid short movie the scene becomes impersonal again. While the son and the rest of the family wait for the man at home for dinner, at the call of a factory whistle which – also exhausted – no longer blows, but cries, we can see the man come out of those same gates where he had entered in the morning, but now the fear and pain have turned into a sense of death. Something that the man shows in his gaze and that he will take to his home and to his bed. That evening, as in many others, someone will be sick in the residential houses of the workers around the factory. Maybe it will be the turn of this family man or someone else, but it will happen.


We were prisoners of our love, a love in chains” sing Bruce in Adam Raised a Cain. Well, this love resurfaces in Factory in the eyes of that boy who observes the physical and mental deterioration of a man who accepts that life as a predestination. The element of rain accompanies us in both songs. In Adam Raised A Cain the boy is out in the rain, while his father faces him from the doorway. In Factory the roles are reversed. The boy is at the door of the house and sees his father going to work in the rain. An entrance, the one in the factory, which looks like a death sentence, a one-way trip to hell. The line that closes each verse, in its simplicity, conveys the whole meaning of the song. That sort of predestination to which men like that father are condemned. Punching in every day, facing sickness and death, but taking home something to live on. “It’s just the working life” means that things as serious as sickness and death are reduced to the rank of custom and inevitability. It seems that American society forces people into a diabolical pact: “Do you want to have bread to feed your family? Here is the solution. But nothing is free. We give you life and you have to give it back to us.


Factory is a short song that starts from the folk tradition and adds the classic acoustic rock ballad elements. From a musical point of view, there are two distinctive elements: the first is the melody, supported by the four fairy hands of Danny Federici on the organ and Roy Bittan on the piano. A partnership whose peculiar sound has rightfully entered the history of popular music. Springsteen also asks them to fill the musical interlude before the last verse with sweet sadness. The second remarkable aspect is the vocal performance of Springsteen himself, apparently flat but full of meaning. In that voice Bruce brings together the echoes of Woody Guthrie‘s traditional folk, the fullness of Johnny Cash‘s low and deep tones and Bob Dylan‘s rough spontaneity. In this way the crudity of the message is filled with the emotional participation of the young narrator towards the work and health events of his father. Again, with a view to arranging the music in full harmony with the lyrics, Springsteen‘s choice to close the song not with screams of agony (as in Adam Raised A Cain or Streets Of Fire), but with a faint but exciting vocalization with the mouth closed.


Like many Springsteen songs, Factory too had a complex genesis, between melodies and harmonies that changed from take to take on carved-in-rock lyrics. Perhaps this is also why Bruce remained undecided until the end about the inclusion of the song in Darkness On The Edge Of Town. It should be noted that while tribute bands or other singers, such as Lucinda Williams, have proposed versions of Factory that ranged from blues to country-rock, Springsteen has instead always kept the song in its original version even live. The live re-proposition at the Paramount Theater is wonderful, included in the celebratory box set of Darkness On The Edge Of Town, published in 2010.


Read Also: Badlands


Next Review: Streets Of Fire – 1 April 2024


Dario Migliorini


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