Joe Grushecky, Bruce Springsteen Call for Unity in Divisive Time

Pittsburgh rocker Joe Grushecky and his pal Bruce Springsteen have written and recorded together several times over the years, and in 2017, the Boss joined Grushecky and his band, the Houserockers, on the politically pointed but inspirational track, “That’s What Makes Us Great.” Their duet on the song, which carries a message of acceptance and strength in unity, was released as a single, then on Grushecky’s 2018 release, More Yesterdays Than Tomorrows. But the nation’s current political turmoil has prompted the Steel City native to rerelease the tune as a lyric video.

“We need unity, compassion and respect for all of our countrymen and women. Love conquers hate,” Grushecky explained in an announcement about the release, on the heels of the first presidential debate between incumbent Donald Trump and his opponent, Joe Biden. In the rousing rocker, Springsteen sings, Don’t tell me a lie/And sell it as a fact/I’ve been down that road before/And I ain’t goin’ back/And don’t you brag to me/That you never read a book/I never put my faith/In a con man and his crooks.

Together, they sing, Let’s turn this thing around/Before it gets too late/It’s up to me and you/Love can conquer hate/I know this to be true/That’s what makes us great.

Grushecky, a longtime special-education teacher and the son of a coal miner, has always represented and defended the working class, the downtrodden, the underdog; that’s part of what he and Springsteen have in common. (Before the E Street Band, Springsteen led a band named Steel Mill.) They first met when Grushecky’s former band, the Iron City Houserockers, recorded their second album, 1980’s Have a Good Time But Get Out Alive! Steve Van Zandt, of Springsteen’s E Street Band, arranged several songs on it. They’ve since performed together dozens of times, and when Grushecky asked Springsteen to guest on a track for his 1995 album, American Babylon, Springsteen ended up cowriting two songs, performing on eight, and producing the entire album. Then he joined the band for a five-city club tour, including two nights in Pittsburgh.

For the Houserockers’ 1998 followup, Coming Home, Springsteen cowrote four songs — and showed up to play the Pittsburgh release party, where fans wouldn’t let the band and the Boss leave the stage. They continued to write together, and their song, “Code of Silence,” introduced during Springsteen and the E Street Band’s 1999-2000 reunion tour, earned Springsteen a Grammy for Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance, for a live version recorded at Madison Square Garden and included on his 2003 album, The Essential Bruce Springsteen.Grushecky’s version appears on his 2006 release, A Good Life.
They duetted again on their cowritten tune, “Another Thin Line,” for Grushecky’s 2009 release, East Carson Street, named for the popular avenue on Pittsburgh’s South Side where he appeared countless times, including those bar blasts with Springsteen.  

They’ve also shared stages — and raised millions of dollars for Parkinson’s Disease and other degenerative neurological diseases — via the Light of Day Foundation, created by Bob Benjamin, Grushecky’s longtime manager and Springsteen’s longtime friend.

“That’s What Makes Us Great,” written in response to then-new President Trump’s immigration crackdowns, recalls the spirit of Woody Guthrie, an inspiration to both artists, in its moving lines and in the video’s imagery. During an administration that has inspired many artists to speak out, Grushecky’s song asks, Is there a difference I can make? In the chorus, their voices make the answer clear.

Photo: Joe Grushecky, Bruce Springsteen and Houserockers bassist Art Nardini at the 2015 Light of Day benefit. Photo by John Cavanaugh

That’s What Makes Us Great

Grushecky
They come from everywhere
All longing to be free
They come to join us here
From sea to shining sea

Grushecky and Springsteen
And they all have a dream
As people always will
To be safe and warm
In that shining city on the hill

Grushecky
Some wanna slam the door
Instead of opening the gate
Ah, let’s turn this thing around
Before it gets too late

Grushecky and Springsteen
It’s up to me and you
Love can conquer hate
I know this to be true
That’s what makes us great

Springsteen
Don’t tell me a lie
And sell it as a fact
I’ve been down that road before
And I ain’t goin’ back

And don’t you brag to me
That you never read a book
I never put my faith
In a con man and his crooks

Grushecky and Springsteen
I won’t follow down that path
And tempt the hands of fate
Ah, let’s turn this thing around
Before it gets too late

It’s up to me and you
Love can conquer hate
I know this to be true
That’s what makes us great

Springsteen
In the quiet of the night
I lie here wide awake
And I ask myself
Is there a difference I can make?

Grushecky and Springsteen
Is there a difference I can make?

It’s up to me and you
Love can conquer hate
It’s up to me and you
Love can conquer hate
It’s up to me and you
Love can conquer hate
I know this to be true
And that’s what makes us great
That’s what makes us great
That’s what makes us great
That’s what makes us great

Leave a Reply

Cherie Currie Revisits a Simple Message of the Times on “What The World Needs Now is Love”

Tanya Tucker Gets Real: Brandi Carlile, John Prine, and Coming Back