Bruce Springsteen

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Bruce Springsteen on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.

Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen (born September 23, 1949) is an American singer, songwriter, and guitarist, nicknamed "The Boss." He has frequently recorded and toured with The E Street Band. Springsteen is most widely known for his brand of heartland rock, rock and roll infused with Americana sentiments. His eloquence in expressing ordinary, every-day problems has earned him a huge fan base. His most famous albums, Born to Run and Born in the USA, epitomize his penchant for writing about the struggles of a young man growing up in the streets of New Jersey. Comparisons are inevitably made between him and Bob Dylan [1] ( because of his folk rock roots. Springsteen, however has become popular in his own right because of the appeal of his songs.

Springsteen's lyrics often concern men and women struggling to make ends meet, and frequently denounce the rich and greedy. He has gradually become identified with progressive politics. Springsteen's "Born in the USA" was so popular that Ronald Reagan chose it to be the theme of his 1984 presidential campaign, misinterpreting it to be a patriotic song rather than one about the negative after-effects of the Vietnam War. Springsteen is also noted for his work for the relief effort after the September 11th attacks on which his album The Rising reflects.


Early years

Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen was born September 23, 1949 in Freehold Borough, New Jersey. His father, Douglas, was a bus driver of Dutch and Irish ancestry and his mother, Adele Zirilli Springsteen, an Italian-American legal secretary. He was inspired to become a musician when he saw Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan Show. At the age of 13, he bought his first guitar for US$ 18. In 1965, he went to the house of Tex and Marion Vinyard, who sponsored young bands in his town. They helped him become the lead guitarist of The Castiles, and later became the lead singer of the group. The Castilles recorded two original songs at a public recording studio in Bricktown, New Jersey, and played a variety of venues, including Cafe Wha? in Greenwich Village. Marion Vinyard said that even when Springsteen was a young man, she believed him when he said he was going to make it big. [2] (

He began performing in Richmond, Virginia in late 1969 and through 1970 with singer Robbin Thompson in a band called Steel Mill. They went on to perform some memorable shows at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. Before being discovered nationally, he returned to Asbury Park, New Jersey, and performed regularly at small nightclubs there and along the Jersey shore. His New Jersey shows quickly gathered cult-like appeal for their energy, passion and longevity, most lasting in excess of three hours.

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Areas such as Asbury Park, New Jersey inspired the themes of ordinary life in Bruce Springsteen's music.

Even after gaining international acclaim, Springsteen's New Jersey roots would reverberate in his music, with him routinely praising "the great state of New Jersey" in his live shows. Drawing on his extensive local appeal, his appearances in major New Jersey and Philadelphia venues routinely would sell out for consecutive nights and, much like the Grateful Dead, his show's song lists would vary significantly from night to night. He would also make many surprise appearances at The Stone Pony and other shore nightclubs over the years.

He began his recording career with the E Street Band in 1973. He signed a solo record deal with Columbia Records in 1972 with the help of John A. Hammond, who signed Bob Dylan to the same record label. Springsteen brought many of his New Jersey-based musician friends, including guitarist Steven Van Zandt, into the studio with him, many of them forming the E Street Band. His debut album, Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J., from January 1973, established him as a critical favorite [3] (, though sales were slow. Manfred Mann's Earth Band subsequently turned one song from the album, "Blinded by the Light", into a number one hit. Later in 1973 his second album, The Wild, The Innocent, & The E Street Shuffle came out, again to critical acclaim but no commercial profit. The long, full-of-life "Rosalita" from this album would go on to become one of Springsteen's most beloved concert numbers.

 helped Springsteen gain popular recognition and commercial success.
Born to Run helped Springsteen gain popular recognition and commercial success.

Commercial success

In Boston's The Real Paper May 22, 1974, music critic Jon Landau wrote, "I saw rock and roll's future, and its name is Bruce Springsteen. And on a night when I needed to feel young, he made me feel like I was hearing music for the very first time" [4] ( (Landau subsequently became Springsteen's manager and producer). With the release of Born to Run in 1975, Springsteen made the covers of both Time Magazine and Newsweek the same week, on October 27 of that year. This was Springsteen's last ditch effort to make a commercially viable album; its wall of sound production had an enormous budget. It succeeded: while there were no real hit singles, the title track, "Thunder Road", and "Jungleland" all received massive FM radio airplay and remain perennial favorites on many classic rock stations to this day.

A legal battle with former manager Mike Appel kept Springsteen out of the studio for a while, and probably also contributed to the much more somber tone of his 1978 album, Darkness on the Edge of Town. Musically, this album was the turning point of Springsteen's career. Gone were the rapid-fire lyrics, out-sized characters, and long, multi-part musical compositions of the first three albums; now the songs were leaner and more carefully drawn and began to reflect Springsteen's growing intellectual and political awareness. Many fans consider Darkness Springsteen's most consistent and best record; tracks such as "Badlands" and "The Promised Land" became concert staples for decades to come. Other fans would always like the adventurous early Springsteen best. [5] (

Springsteen continued to consolidate his thematic focus on working-class life with the double album The River in 1980, which yielded his first hit single, "Hungry Heart".

He followed this with the stark solo acoustic Nebraska in 1982. According to the Marsh biographies, Springsteen was in a depressed state when he wrote this material, and the result is a brutal depiction of American life. While this album did not sell especially well, it garnered him widespread critical praise. Springsteen did not go on tour with the release of this album.

Springsteen is probably best known for the multi-million selling Born in the U.S.A.(1984), and the massively successful world tour that followed it. The title track was a tribute to Springsteen's buddies that had experienced the Vietnam War, some of whom did not come back. The song was widely mis-interpreted on release as nationalistic. In later years Springsteen performed the song accompanied only with acoustic guitar to restore the song's original meaning. "Dancing in the Dark" was the biggest of seven hit singles from Born in the U.S.A., peaking at number two on the Billboard music charts. The music video for the song featured a young Courteney Cox dancing on stage with Springsteen. This famous appearance helped launch Cox's career.

The Born in the U.S.A. period represented the height of Springsteen's visibility in popular culture and the broadest audience demographic he would ever reach (this was further helped by releasing dance mixes of three of the singles). The three-disc Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band Live/1975-85 summed up Springsteen's career to this point, and displayed some of the elements that made Springsteen shows so powerful to his fans: the switching from mournful dirges to party rockers and back; the communal sense of purpose between artist and audience; the long emotionally intense spoken passages before songs, including those describing Springsteen's difficult relationship with his father; and the instrumental prowess of the E Street Band, such as in the long coda to "Racing in the Street". Some felt the song selection on this album could have been better, but in any case, Springsteen concerts are the subjects of frequent bootleg recording and trading among fans.

After this commercial peak, Springsteen released the much more sedate and contemplative Tunnel of Love (1987), a mature reflection on the many faces of love found, lost and squandered. It coincided with the breakup of his first marriage to actress Julianne Phillips.

Reflecting the challenges of love, on Tunnel of Love's title song, Springsteen famously sang:

"Ought to be easy, ought to be simple enough. Man meets woman, and they fall in love. But the house is haunted, and the ride gets rough. You got to learn to live with what you can't rise above."


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Bruce Springsteen won an Academy Award and multiple Grammy Awards for his song "Streets of Philadelphia" on the Philadelphia soundtrack.

In 1992, three years after breaking up with most of the E Street Band (Roy Bittan remained) and risking charges of "going Hollywood" by moving to Los Angeles (a radical move for someone so linked to the blue-collar life of the Jersey Shore), Springsteen released two albums simultaneously. Human Touch and Lucky Town were even more introspective than any of his previous work. Also different about these albums was the confidence he displayed. As opposed to his first two albums, which dreamed of happiness, and his next four, which showed him growing to fear it, these albums saw a finally satisfied and mature Springsteen. However, most fans view these albums (especially Human Touch) and the "Other Band" tour that followed as the low point in Springsteen's career; it was also during this tour that Springsteen first began using a teleprompter so as to not forget his lyrics, a practice he has continued with ever since. An abortive acoustic band appearance on the MTV Unplugged televison program that was later released as In Concert/MTV Plugged further cemented fan dissatisfaction.

Springsteen seemed to realize this dissatisfaction a few years hence when he spoke humorously of his late father during his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame acceptance speech: "I've gotta thank him because -- what would I conceivably have written about without him? I mean, you can imagine that if everything had gone great between us, we would have had disaster. I would have written just happy songs -- and I tried it in the early '90s and it didn't work; the public didn't like it." [6] (

A multiple Grammy Award winner, Springsteen also won an Academy Award in 1993 for his song "Streets of Philadelphia," which appeared in the soundtrack to the film Philadelphia. The song, along with the film, was applauded by many for its sympathetic portrayal of a gay man dying of AIDS, especially coming from a mainstream, heterosexual musician. Unusually, the music video for the song shows Springsteen's actual vocal performance, recorded using a hidden microphone, as he refused to lip-sync to a prerecorded vocal track.

In 1995, after temporarily re-organizing the E Street Band for a few new songs recorded for his first Greatest Hits album (a recording session that was chronicled in the documentary Blood Brothers), he released his second solo guitar album, The Ghost of Tom Joad. This was less well-received than the similar Nebraska, due to the minimal melody, twangy vocals, and didactic nature of most of the songs. The small-venue solo tour that followed successfully featured many of his older songs in drastically reshaped acoustic form, although Springsteen had to explicitly remind his audiences to be quiet during the performances.

In 1998, another precursor to the E Street Band's upcoming re-birth appeared in the form of a sprawling, four-disc box set of out-takes, Tracks.

In 1999, the E Street Band officially re-united and went on an extensive world tour, lasting over a year in length and finishing with ten sold out shows at New York's Madison Square Garden. The E-United World Tour resulted in an HBO Concert, with corresponding DVD and album releases as Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band: Live In New York City.

Drawing on his strong fan base in Philadelphia, Springsteen chose to celebrate his 50th birthday in September 1999 with a live show at the Philadelphia Spectrum, which he opened with his hit "Growing Up." Closing the song on that night, he quoted W. C. Fields: "All things being equal, I'd rather be in Philadelphia". This fantastic show also included a rare performance of "The Fever."


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Springsteen rose to prominence again after the September 11th attacks and the release of The Rising, the first album he recorded with The E Street Band since 1984.

In 2002, Springsteen released his first studio effort with the full band in 18 years, The Rising, produced by Brendan O'Brien. The album, mostly a reflection on the September 11 attacks, was a critical and popular success, and hailed the return of "The Boss". A massive tour was made to promote The Rising. While Springsteen's popularity has dipped over the years in some southern and midwestern regions of the U.S., it is still strong along the coasts, and he played an unprecedented 10 nights in outdoor football Giants Stadium in New Jersey, a ticket-selling feat that no other musical act can come close to. [7] ( During these shows Springsteen thanked those fans who were attending multiple shows and those who were coming from long distances or out of the country; the advent of robust Bruce-oriented online communities had made these practices easier. The final Giants Stadium show concluded with an even better thank you: a performance of "Jersey Girl". The Rising tour would come to a final conclusion with 3 nights in Shea Stadium. Bruce Springsteen lost his police escort for the second night after performing "American Skin (41 shots)", a song about the police shooting of Amadou Diallo. Bob Dylan was a surprise guest on the last night, the two performing "Highway 61 Revisited" together.

During the 2000s Springsteen has become a visible advocate for the revitalization of Asbury Park, and has played an annual series of winter holiday concerts there to benefit various local businesses, organizations, and causes. These shows are explicitly intended for the faithful, featuring numbers such as the unreleased (until Tracks) E Street Shuffle out-take "Thundercrack", a rollicking group participation song that casual Springsteen fans would be mystified by. He also frequently rehearses for tours in Asbury Park; his most devoted followers stand outside the building to hear what fragments they can of the upcoming shows.

At the Grammy Awards in February 2003, Springsteen performed London Calling along with Elvis Costello, E-street band member Steven van Zandt, Dave Grohl, Pete Thomas, and Tony Kanal in tribute to Joe Strummer.

In 2004, Springsteen announced that he and the E Street Band would participate in a politically motivated "Vote for Change" tour, in conjunction with John Fogerty, the Dixie Chicks, R.E.M., Jurassic 5 and other musicians. All concerts were to be held in swing states, to benefit and encourage people to vote against George W. Bush. A finale was held in Washington, D.C., bringing many of the artists together. Several days later, Springsteen held one more such concert in New Jersey when polls showed that state surprisingly close. While in past years Springsteen had played benefits for causes he believed in — against nuclear energy, for Vietnam veterans, Amnesty International, and the Christic Institute — these shows were the first time he was explicitly endorsing a candidate for political office, and this led to both criticism and praise from the expected partisan sources. Springsteen's "No Surrender" became the main campaign theme song for John Kerry's unsuccessful presidential campaign. In the last days of the campaign, he performed acoustic versions of a few of his songs at Kerry rallies. Whether Springsteen's stance causes a reduction in his fan base (now an older, more affluent demographic) remains to be seen as of 2005.

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Springsteen performing during his solo Devils & Dust tour, May 2005

Springsteen's most recent album, Devils & Dust, was released on April 26, 2005 and was recorded without the E Street Band. It is a low-key, mostly acoustic album, in the same vein as Nebraska and The Ghost of Tom Joad although with a little more instrumentation. Some of the material was written almost ten years earlier during the Tom Joad tour, a couple of them being performed then but never recorded. [8] ( The title track concerns an ordinary soldier's feelings and fears during the Iraq War. Starbucks rejected a co-branding deal for the album, not only due to some sexually explicit content, but also because of Springsteen's anti-corporate politics. Nonetheless, the album entered the album charts at number 1 in ten different countries (United States, Austria, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, Italy, Germany, The Netherlands, The United Kingdom, and Ireland).

Springsteen began a small-venue solo tour at the same time as the album's release. It has quickly become a success, with most shows selling out in minutes. Unlike his previous solo tour, he performs on piano, electric piano, pump organ, banjo, electric guitar, and stomping board, as well as acoustic guitar and harmonica, adding variety to the solo sound. (Offstage synthesizer, guitar, and percussion are also used for some songs.) Unearthly renditions of "Reason to Believe", "The Promised Land", and Suicide's "Dream Baby Dream" have jolted audiences to attention, while rarities appearing at many of the performances have kept his loyal audiences happy.

E Street Band

The E Street Band is considered to have started in October 1972, even though it wasn't officially billed and known as such until September 1974. [9] ( The E Street Band was inactive from the end of 1988 through early 1999, except for a brief reunion in 1995.

Current members

  • Springsteen himself does all lead vocals, some lead guitar parts (especially in the earlier years), harmonica, and occasional piano.

Former members



For a detailed discography, see Bruce Springsteen discography.

Awards and recognition

Grammy Awards:

Springsteen has won 12 Grammy Awards, with the first coming for the year 1984 and the most recent for 2004. The most notable of these are:

Academy Awards:

Emmy Awards:

Other recognition:

  • Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1999
  • Inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, 1999
  • "Born to Run" named "The unofficial youth anthem of New Jersey" by the New Jersey state legislature (something Bruce always found to be ironic, considering that the song "is about leaving New Jersey.") [10] (


  • Alterman, Eric. It Ain't No Sin To Be Glad You're Alive : The Promise of Bruce Springsteen. Little Brown, 1999. ISBN 0316038857.
  • Eliot, Marc with Appel, Mike. Down Thunder Road. Simon & Schuster, 1992. ISBN 0671868985.
  • Hilburn, Robert. Springsteen. Rolling Stone Press, 1985. ISBN 0684184567.
  • Marsh, Dave. Bruce Springsteen: Two Hearts : The Definitive Biography, 1972-2003. Routledge, 2003. ISBN 041596928X. (Consolidation of two previous Marsh biographies, Born to Run (1981) and Glory Days (1987).)
  • Cross, Charles R. Backstreets: Springsteen - the man and his music Harmony Books, New York 1989/1992. ISBN 051758929X Contains 15+ interviews, complete list of all Springsteens songs ever (also the hundreds of unreleased). Complete lising of all concerts 1965-1990 - most of them with tracklists. Hundreds of previously unreleased highquality colour pictures.

See also

External links

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