Journalism professor Dale Maharidge has spent a lifetime covering the underbelly of America, once sneaking into the ruins of a shuttered blast furnace in Youngstown, Ohio, with Bruce Springsteen.
The writer and the musician wanted to see for themselves what had happened to a place that had become an emblem, for both of them, of U.S. economic distress. Maharidge had written about the furnace in his 1985 book Journey to Nowhere: The Saga of the New Underclass, which chronicled the lives of homeless Americans traveling the country looking for work.
Springsteen was recording his The Ghost of Tom Joad album when he read Maharidge’s book and was inspired to write several songs, including Youngstown, which mentions the furnace.
On that snowy day in 1996 in the battered northeast Ohio former steel town, they discussed politics and the economy—the same topics they had discussed when they first met a year earlier at a Neil Young concert and Springsteen told him how much he enjoyed Journey to Nowhere.