The Ghost of Tom Joad

Men walkin' 'long the railroad tracks
Goin' someplace there's no goin' back
Highway patrol choppers comin' up over the bridge
Hot soup on a campfire under the bridge
Shelter line stretchin' 'round the corner
Welcome to the new world order
Families sleepin' in their cars in the Southwest
No home no job no peace no rest
The highway is alive tonight
But nobody's kiddin' nobody about where it goes
I'm sittin' down here in the campfire light
Searchin' for the ghost of Tom Joad

He pulls a prayer book out of his sleeping bag
Preacher lights up a butt and takes a drag
Waitin' for when the last shall be first and the first shall be last
In a cardboard box 'neath the underpass
Got a one-way ticket to the promised land
You got a hole in your belly and gun in your hand
Sleepin' on a pillow of solid rock
Bathin' in the city aqueduct

The highway is alive tonight
Where it's headed everybody knows
I'm sittin' down here in the campfire light
Waitin' on the ghost of Tom Joad

Now Tom said "Mom, wherever there's a cop beatin' a guy
Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries
Where there's a fight against the blood and hatred in the air
Look for me mom I'll be there
Wherever there's somebody fightin' for a place to stand
Or a decent job or a helpin' hand
Wherever somebody's strugglin' to be free
Look in their eyes Mom you'll see me."

Well the highway is alive tonight
But nobody's kiddin' nobody about where it goes
I'm sittin' down here in the campfire light
With the ghost of old Tom Joa


The title refers to the main character in John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath.

Bruce has said that the song was written with the E Street Band in mind in 1995. It is not known whether or not he actually recorded the song with the band though.


Live history

"The Ghost of Tom Joad" has been performed live a total of 452 times.
First known performance:
1995-10-28, Mountain View, CA
Last known performance:
2021-05-13, Colt's Neck, NJ

Release history

Total releases: 14
Bruce Springsteen, The Ghost of Tom Joad, maxisingle, 1995
Bruce Springsteen, The Ghost of Tom Joad, album, 1995-11-21
Bruce Springsteen, Video Anthology 1978-2000, movie, 2001
Bruce Springsteen, The Essential Bruce Springsteen, compilation, 2003-11-04
Pete Seeger, Sowing the Seeds - The 10th Anniversary, contribution, 2007
Bruce Springsteen, PBS Exclusive, maxisingle, 2007-04-25
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, Magic Tour Highlights, maxisingle, 2008-07-15
Various artists, Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary Concert, various artists, 2010-09-28
Bruce Springsteen, Collection 1973-2012, compilation, 2013-03-12
Bruce Springsteen, High Hopes, album, 2014-01-14
Bruce Springsteen, The Essential Bruce Springsteen (2015 edition), compilation, 2015-10-16
Bruce Springsteen, Chapter and Verse, compilation, 2016-09-23
Bruce Springsteen, The Album Collection Vol. 2, rerelease, 2018-05-18
Bruce Springsteen, Springsteen on Broadway, live, 2018-12-14