On this day, twenty years ago, I left my tiny rooming house room in Quincy and got on the bus, then the train, then another train to get to the Cambrigeside Galleria, where I worked at the B. Dalton's in 1995. The air around the mall smelled of chocolate because there used to be a chocolate factory nearby. It's gone now. The B. Dalton's is, too.
I was first in line when Best Buy rolled its gate up and I ran in, running right to the CD section and snatching up the first copy of The Ghost Of Tom Joad I saw. Two women who'd come in behind me were doing the same thing. I'd gotten into Springsteen only two years prior; the newest albums were Human Touch and Lucky Town, which at the time I drank in like water. I'd gotten in by way of Nebraska, which was bleak and monochrome and exactly fitted the life I was leading. "Streets of Philadelphia" had come out recently and I'd fallen for that, and I'd grabbed Greatest Hits the day it came out, but this was the first brand-new studio album by Springsteen I would hear since becoming a fan.
I didn't have a Discman then (that came later). There was no immediate download or buying in bed. On the long ride back home, all I could do was read the lyrics, and man, did they make sense. So many of the songs were stories of people so desperate that they forgot they were desperate. In 1995, that was where I was. Who I was. I got back to my rooming house and turned on the CD player and plugged in the headphones I'd borrowed from my then-boyfriend's best friend, who had since died. I fell into The Ghost of Tom Joad, and it fell into me.
That record came out twenty years ago, when I was twenty and living on my own and struggling against every desire to give up. Tom Joad gave me hope in its hopelessness. I was on the edge of the world back then, tottering. The people I was listening about had fallen off, and there was never a hope of getting back. All I needed was to not fall off. I've come close a few times, but I always got back.
Thanks for being my reason to live for a little while, The Ghost of Tom Joad. And thanks for being one hell of an album.