HOW CAN A POOR MAN STAND SUCH TIMES AND LIVE?

Live 13 Apr 2006 version


Well the doctor comes 'round here with his face all bright
And he says "in a little while you'll be alright"
All he gives is a humbug pill, a dose of dope and a great big bill
Tell me how can a poor man stand such times and live

"Me and my old school pals had some mighty high times down here
And what happened to you poor black folks, well it just ain't fair"
He took a look around, gave a little pep talk, said "I'm with you" then he took a little walk
Tell me how can a poor man stand such times and live

There's bodies floatin' on Canal and the levees gone to Hell
Martha, get me my sixteen gauge and some dry shells
Them who's got got out of town and them who ain't got left to drown
Tell me how can a poor man stand such times and live

Go ahead!

Got family scattered from Texas all the way to Baltimore
Yeah and I ain't got no home in this world no more
Gonna be a judgment that's a fact, a righteous train rollin' down this track
Tell me how can a poor man stand such times and live
Tell me how can a poor man stand such times and live
Tell me how can a poor man stand such times and live


Originally written in 1929 by Blind Alfred Reed who recorded it on 04 Dec 1929 in New York City and released as RCA VICTOR Vi V-40236. It had Blind Alfred Reed on fiddle and vocals and his son, Arville Reed, on guitar. See Blind Alfred Reed's version.

The song was also recorded -- and made famous -- by Ry Cooder on his 1970 self-titled album, Ry Cooder.

Bruce Springsteen told Australian journalist Sean Sennett on 05 Jun 2006 before the Tonight Show taping in Los Angeles: "Jon Landau, my manager, sent me a tape of Ry Cooder doing the song, and I just liked it musically. He kind of sang the Blind Alfred Reed lyric, but for me there was a place to make it more current." Springsteen reworked the song for his Seeger Sessions tour. He kept only the last verse from Blind Alfred Reed's version, and wrote 3 additional verses related to the Gulf Coast (New Orleans) disaster and its aftermath.

It is reported that he did record the song in studio with the Seeger Sessions Band during the last of the three "Seeger Sessions", but he did not include it on his 2006 cover album, We Shall Overcome - The Seeger Sessions.

Bruce Springsteen and his Seeger Sessions band played the song at a "private" rehearsal on 13 Apr 2006 at the Convention Hall, Asbury Park, NJ. The soundboard recording of that performance was first officially released on 17 Apr 2006 as an internet-only download single on Bruce's official website. It was later included in Oct 2006 as a bonus track on the "American Land Edition" of the We Shall Overcome - The Seeger Sessions album.

The song was played during all 4 public rehearsal shows for The Seeger Sessions tour: 20, 24, 25, and 26 Apr 2006 at the Convention Hall, Asbury Park, NJ. It was also played on 30 Apr 2006 at New Orleans Fair Grounds, New Orleans, LA, when Springsteen and the Seeger Sessions Band closed the first weekend of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

According to Backstreets:

The horn-fueled "How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?" -- the show's centerpiece, literally and otherwise -- is the most overt reference to the Gulf Coast disaster and its aftermath. On Monday [24 Apr] night, Springsteen introduced it by telling the crowd that it's "important that we do what we can to help that area get back on its feet," adding, slightly off-mic, "and force our government to do something about it." On Tuesday [25 Apr], he explained the new twist he put on Blind Alfred Reed's Depression-era song: "I kept the first verse, and rewrote the second three, in true folk fashion." His new lyrics include "bodies floating on Canal," "I got family scattered from Texas to Baltimore," and a not-so-subtly-veiled description of President's Bush's response to the tragedy: "He took a look around and gave a pep talk / Said 'I'll be right here' then he took a little walk..."

HOW CAN A POOR MAN STAND SUCH TIMES AND LIVE? was performed during every show of the Seeger Sessions tour. Video for the live 05 Jun 2006 performance at Greek Amphitheatre, Los Angeles, CA, was released on We Shall Overcome - The Seeger Sessions - American Land Edition. See the live 05 Jun 2006 version. The song was also performed during two off-tour stops:

  • 09 May 2006 at St. Lukes Church, London, England, during the Sold On Song special for BBC. The show was broadcast on BBC Radio 2 (13 May 2006) and televised on BBC 2 (20 May 2006) and BBC 4 (19 May 2006).
  • 05 Jun 2006 at NBC Studio's, Burbank, CA, during The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, taped in the afternoon before the Greek Amphitheatre show

The above lyrics are for the officially released live 13 Apr 2006 version. See the live 05 Jun 2006 version and Blind Alfred Reed's version.

Springsteen's thoughts on the song:

This song was written by Blind Alfred Reed and recorded a month after the crash of '29 that heralded the Great Depression. I first heard it on Ry Cooder's self - titled debut album (1970). To his arrangement we owe a debt. I kept the "doctor" first verse by Reed then wrote three others with a mind to the great trials the people of New Orleans have faced this year.

Liner notes from We Shall Overcome - The Seeger Sessions - American Land Edition:

Written and recorded just weeks after the 1929 stock market crash by singer and fiddler "Blind" Alfred Reed. I kept the first verse, then wrote three more, portraying the government negligence that made the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina so much worse for the poor of New Orleans.

Available Versions

List of available versions of HOW CAN A POOR MAN STAND SUCH TIMES AND LIVE? on this website:

HOW CAN A POOR MAN STAND SUCH TIMES AND LIVE? [Live 13 Apr 2006 version]
HOW CAN A POOR MAN STAND SUCH TIMES AND LIVE? [Live 05 Jun 2006 version]
HOW CAN A POOR MAN STAND SUCH TIMES AND LIVE? [Live 18 Nov 2006 version]
HOW CAN A POOR MAN STAND SUCH TIMES AND LIVE? [Original Blind Alfred Reed version]

Page last updated: 02 May 2007