The Life And Career Of The Boss 

Bruce Springsteen turns 71 today

The Life And Career Of The Boss

He is known as The Boss and has been an enduring Rock music force over the last 40 years. A political and social voice and folk poet, Springsteen has come a long way since the release of his first record in 1973. We look back at his life and career.

“The Boss” was born Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen on September 23rd, 1949 in Long Branch, New Jersey, U.S. He became interested in being involved in music himself when, in 1956 at the age of seven, he saw Elvis Presley on The Ed Sullivan Show and in 1964 as a teenager when he saw The Beatles’ appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on TV. He played with several bands including The Rogues and The Castles during the 60’s and got to play venues such as the famous New York’s Cafe Wha?. Springsteen acquired the nickname “The Boss” during this period when he played club gigs with a band he took on the task of collecting the band’s nightly pay and distributing it among his bandmates.  Influenced by early Rock music and Folk, his prolific songwriting ability, with “More words in some individual songs than other artists had in whole albums”, as his future record label would describe it in early publicity campaigns, brought his skill to the attention of Columbia Records. Springsteen was signed to Columbia Records in 1972 by Clive Davis. By then, Springsteen was backed up by his own band which was named The E-Street Band, becoming one of the most famous bands in Rock music.

The 1970’s: Early Years

His debut album “Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.”, was released in January 1973 and despite not having been a record sales success established him as a solid name in Rock music. Because of Springsteen’s lyrical poeticism and folk rock-rooted music exemplified on tracks like “Blinded by the Light” and “For You” critics initially compared Springsteen to Bob Dylan. His home state of New Jersey has been often the center for many of his lyrics and even after Springsteen gained international acclaim, his New Jersey roots showed through in his music, and he often praised “the great state of New Jersey” in his live shows. In September 1973, Springsteen’s second album “The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle” was released, again to critical acclaim but no commercial success. Springsteen’s songs became grander in form and scope, with the E Street Band providing a less folky, more R&B vibe, and the lyrics often romanticized teenage street life. “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” and “Incident on 57th Street” would become fan favorites, and the long, rousing “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)” a concert staple to this day. With the release of his 3rd album “Born to Run” on August 25, 1975, Springsteen finally found success. The album peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard 200, and while reception at US top 40 radio outlets for the album’s two singles was not overwhelming, almost every track on the album received album-oriented rock airplay, especially “Born to Run”, “Thunder Road”, “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” and “Jungleland”, all of which remain perennial favorites on many classic rock stations. By the late 1970’s, Springsteen had earned a reputation in the Rock and Pop world as a songwriter whose material could provide hits for other bands. Among his most well-known hits for other artists is Manfred Mann’s Earth Band rearranged version of Greetings’ “Blinded by the Light” in early 1977 that reached No.1 and “Because the Night” by Patti Smith that reached No. 13.

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1980’s: Rise To Mainstream

Springsteen continued to focus on working-class life and New Jersey with the 20-song double album “The River” in 1980, highly acclaimed that finally gave him his first hit Top Ten single as a performer, “Hungry Heart”.  “The River” was followed in 1982 by the stark solo acoustic Nebraska. His full worldwide mainstream breakthrough happened in 1984 with “Born in the U.S.A.”  which sold 15 million copies in the U.S., 30 million worldwide, and became one of the best-selling albums of all time with seven singles hitting the Top 10. Some of Springsteen best-known hits included in the album are “Dancing In The Dark”, “Glory Days”, “Cover Me”, “My Hometown” and “Downbound Train”, but his signature song became the title track “Born In The U.S.A” which was a bitter commentary on the treatment of Vietnam veterans, some of whom were Springsteen’s friends. The lyrics in the verses were entirely unambiguous when listened to, but the anthemic music and the title of the song made it hard for many, from politicians to the common person, to get the lyrics—except those in the chorus, which could be read many ways. The song made a huge political impact, as he was advocating for the rights of the common working-class man. The song was widely misinterpreted as jingoistic, and in connection with the 1984 presidential campaign became the subject of considerable folklore. In 1984, conservative columnist George Will attended a Springsteen concert and then wrote a column praising Springsteen’s work ethic. Six days after the column was printed, in a campaign rally in Hammonton, New Jersey, Reagan said, “America’s future rests in a thousand dreams inside your hearts. It rests in the message of hope in the songs of a man so many young Americans admire—New Jersey’s own, Bruce Springsteen.” Two nights later, at a concert in Pittsburgh, Springsteen told the crowd, “Well, the president was mentioning my name in his speech the other day and I kind of got to wondering what his favorite album of mine must’ve been, you know? I don’t think it was the Nebraska album. I don’t think he’s been listening to this one.” He then began playing “Johnny 99”, with its allusions to closing factories and criminals. The “Born in the U.S.A”. the period represented the height of Springsteen’s visibility in popular culture and the broadest audience he would ever reach. From June 15 to August 10, 1985, all seven of his albums appeared on the U.K Albums Chart: the first time an artist had charted their entire back catalog simultaneously After this commercial peak, Springsteen released the much more sedate and contemplative “Tunnel of Love”in 1987, a mature reflection on the many faces of love found, lost and squandered. This was the period he started he divorced his first wife and started to date bandmate  Patti Scialfa. Springsteen met Patti Scialfa at The Stone Pony, a bar in New Jersey where local musicians regularly perform. they started spending time together and became friends. Early in 1984, Springsteen asked Scialfa to join the E Street Band for the upcoming “Born in the U.S.A.” Tour, after a first failed marriage Springsteen married Scialfa in 1991 with whom he remains till today.

The 1990’s: Back To Roots and Academy Award

In 1992 Springsteen released two albums at once. “Human Touch” and “Lucky Town” were even more introspective than any of his previous work and displayed a newly revealed confidence. A multiple Grammy Award winner, Springsteen also won an Academy Award in 1994 for his song “Streets of Philadelphia” one of his biggest hits, which appeared on the soundtrack to the film “Philadelphia”. The video for the song shows Springsteen’s actual vocal performance, recorded using a hidden microphone, to a prerecorded instrumental track.  In 1995 he released his second (mostly) solo guitar album, “The Ghost of Tom Joad”. In 1999, Springsteen and the E Street Band reunited and began their extensive “Reunion Tour”, lasting over a year. Springsteen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999 by Bono, a favor he returned in 2005.

The 2000’s return of The E-Street Band

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. Many of the songs were influenced by phone conversations Springsteen had with family members of victims of the attacks who in their obituaries had mentioned how his music touched their lives. The title track gained airplay in several radio formats, and the record became Springsteen’s best-selling album of new material in 15 years. “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”. In April 2006, Springsteen released “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions”, an American roots music project focused around a big folk sound treatment of 15 songs popularized by the radical musical activism of Pete Seeger. It was recorded with a large ensemble of musicians including only Patti Scialfa, Soozie Tyrell, and The Miami Horns from past efforts. “Magic”, was released on October 2, 2007. Recorded with the E Street Band, it had 10 new Springsteen songs plus “Long Walk Home”, performed once with the Sessions band, and a hidden track (the first included on a Springsteen studio release), “Terry’s Song”, a tribute to Springsteen’s long-time assistant Terry Magovern. The end of the 2000’s end up with two longtime Springsteen friends and core members of the E-Street Band passing away, organist Danny Federici in 2008 and the charismatic Saxophonist Clarence Clemons in 2011. Springsteen’s Working on a Dream album, dedicated to the memory of Danny Federici, was released in late January 2009.

The 2010’s: An enduring force in music

Springsteen’s 17th studio album, “Wrecking Ball”, was released on March 6, 2012. The album consists of eleven tracks plus two bonus tracks. Three songs previously only available as live versions—”Wrecking Ball”, “Land of Hope and Dreams”, and “American Land” Following the release of the album, Springsteen and the E Street Band announced plans for the “Wrecking Ball Tour”, which began on March 18, 2012. As tickets for the first U.S. dates went on sale, many fans were unable to obtain tickets, much like for the 2009 “Working on a Dream Tour”, allegedly due to ticket scalpers. Shows sold out within minutes and many tickets appeared, at much higher prices, on resale websites such as StubHub less than an hour after the onsale time. Ticketmaster said web traffic was 2.5 times the highest level of the past year during the online sales and suggested that scalpers played a big role. On July 31, 2012, in Helsinki, Finland, Springsteen performed his longest concert ever at 4 hours and 6 minutes and 33 songs. Not included in this total time is a thirty-minute, five-song, solo acoustical set he did about two hours before the show. Springsteen released his eighteenth studio album, “High Hopes”, on January 14, 2014. The first single and video were of a newly recorded version of the song “High Hopes”, which Springsteen had previously recorded in 1995. The album was the first by Springsteen in which all songs are either cover songs, newly recorded outtakes from previous records, or newly recorded versions of songs previously released.”High Hopes” became Springsteen’s eleventh No. 1 album in the US and was his tenth No. 1 in the U.K. Announced as inductees in December 2013, Springsteen inducted past and present members of the E Street Band into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on April 10, 2014, with each member giving a speech and Springsteen and the band performing a three-song set of “The E Street Shuffle”, “The River” and “Kitty’s Back”. “The River Tour 2016″ began in January 2016 in support of  The Ties That Bind: The River Collection” box set As of July 2016, “The River 2016 Tour” has been the highest grossing worldwide tour with 1.1 million tickets sold and over $135 million in box office revenue.

A Political And Social Voice

A long time politically outspoken figure, Springsteen always wrote about the impact of the politics in society and been highly critical of it in moments such as in “Born In The U.S.A” during Reagan’s America. In 2004, Springsteen and the E Street Band participated in the Vote for Change tour, along with John Mellencamp, John Fogerty, the Dixie Chicks, Pearl Jam, R.E.M., Bright Eyes, the Dave Matthews Band, Jackson Browne, and other musicians. All concerts were to be held in swing states, to benefit the progressive political organization group America Coming Together and to encourage people to register and vote. Springsteen supported Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, announcing his endorsement in April 2008 and going on to appear at several Obama rallies as well as performing several solo acoustic performances in support of Obama’s campaign throughout 2008, culminating with a November 2 rally at which he debuted the song “Working on a Dream” in a duet with Scialfa. Following Obama’s electoral victory on November 4, Springsteen’s song “The Rising” was the first song played over the loudspeakers after Obama’s victory speech in Chicago’s Grant Park. Springsteen was the musical opener for the Obama Inaugural Celebration on January 18, 2009, which was attended by over 400,000 people. He performed “The Rising” with an all-female choir. Later he performed Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” with Pete Seeger. Despite saying he would sit out the 2012 presidential election, Springsteen campaigned for President Barack Obama’s re-election in Ohio, Iowa, Virginia, Pittsburgh, and Wisconsin. At the rallies, he briefly spoke to the audience and performed a short acoustic set that included a newly written song titled “Forward”.Obama also used “We Take Care of Our Own” as one of his top campaign songs. Use of the song helped boost sales of the song by 409% On October 29, 2012, the New Jersey area was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. Two days later, Springsteen dedicated his performance at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, New York, to those affected by the storm and those helping to recover. Springsteen and the E Street Band performed “Land of Hope and Dreams” at a one-hour televised telethon called Hurricane Sandy: Coming Together, all money was donated to the American Red Cross. Springsteen supported Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign by performing an acoustic set of “Thunder Road”, “Long Walk Home” and “Dancing in the Dark” at a rally in Philadelphia on November 7, 2016. On November 22, 2016, Springsteen was presented—along with twenty other recipients—the Presidential Medal of Freedom award by Barack Obama. The award is the highest honor for a civilian to receive and is “presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”On January 12, 2017, Springsteen along with Patti Scialfa performed a special 15-song acoustic set for President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama at the White House’s East Room two days before the president gave his farewell address to the nation.

A Voice For The LGBT

Springsteen is an activist for LGBT rights and has spoken out many times as a strong supporter of gay marriage.  In April 1996, Springsteen gave an interview to LGBT magazine The Advocate writer Judy Wieder, in which he spoke of the importance of fighting for gay marriage. “You get your license, you do all the social rituals. It’s part of your place in society and in some way part of society’s acceptance of you.” In 2009, he posted the following statement on his website: “I’ve long believed in and have always spoken out for the rights of same-sex couples and fully agree with Governor Corzine when he writes that ‘The marriage-equality issue should be recognized for what it truly is—a civil rights issue that must be approved to assure that every citizen is treated equally under the law.’ In 2012, he lent his support to an ad campaign for gay marriage called “The Four 2012”. Springsteen noted in the ad, “I couldn’t agree more with that statement and urge those who support equal treatment for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters to let their voices be heard now.” In April 2016, Springsteen canceled a show in Greensboro, North Carolina days before it was to take place to protest the state’s newly passed Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, also referred to as the “bathroom law”. The law dictates which restrooms transgender people are permitted to use and prevents LGBT citizens from suing over human rights violations in the workplace. Springsteen released an official statement on his website. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) celebrated Springsteen’s statement and he has received much praise and gratitude from the LGBT community.

The Boss remains to this day one of Rock’s most influential names and an enduring force in Rock music, he keeps playing his marathon concerts of over 3 hours with the same energy he had when he first started, his new music is a reflection of his songwriting talent and the quality he wishes to provide to his fans rather than giving up to commercial mainstream.  We all hope The Boss will keep “in charge” of Rock music for years to come.

Watch the 1985 live music video for “Born To Run” by Bruce Springsteen

Listen to a retrospective of Bruce Springsteen’s career compiled by Pop Expresso on Spotify

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