Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen’s career is a celebration of what Rock is all about. On record or in concert “The Boss” is among the most creative and electrifying performers. Why? As one of the best storytelling songwriters that Rock has produced, he invests his songs with raw power and emotion. As a performer, Springsteen is dynamic and energetic, with stage presence to burn.

As a New Jersey teen, Springsteen got his first guitar and starting learning Rock and Blues songs. His sister’s boyfriend was in a group and that gave Springsteen the “in” he needed. From there he traveled through a series of bands before signing what turned out to be a horribly unfair management contract. But that contract, bad as it was, served as Springsteen’s launching pad.

The Bruce Springsteen Band formed in ’71 as a ten-piece outfit with horns. After a couple of shows the female back-up singer and some horn players were gone. Fortunately, Clarence Clemons (sax) made the cut. But soon the group was on hiatus.

After unsuccessfully wandering around California, Springsteen signed a management contract with Mike Appel’s production company. Even though Appel got Springsteen an audition with legendary producer John Hammond the very next day, the contract proved disastrous. That audition led to a ten-year/ten album deal with Columbia Records. Springsteen was to get a paltry $25,000 advance per album. Also, Columbia saw Springsteen as a Folk act. Having other ideas he quickly re-formed his backing group naming them the E Street Band. “Greetings From Asbury Park” was the first offering but it failed to sell with the single “Blinded By The Light” sinking with hardly a trace. “The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle,” despite rigorous touring, also stalled.

The early Springsteen story can not be told without Rock journalist Jon Landau. He became a friend, confidant and co-producer. Landau saw Springsteen at a Cambridge, MA, show and wrote, “I have seen Rock ‘n’ Roll’s future – and its name is Bruce Springsteen.” The song that caught Landau’s ear was “Born To Run,” which turned out to be Springsteen’s first “hit.” The song and the album of the same name established Springsteen and the E Street Band. Of course, it didn’t hurt to have his mug on both Time and Newsweek in the same week. Some cried hype.

Many classic albums had inauspicious beginnings and “Born To Run” was one of them. Guitarist Steven Van Zandt’s involvement had been limited to arranging the horns for “10th Avenue Freeze Out.” “I was just in the studio, hanging around,” said Van Zandt. Springsteen asked what he thought of the album. ‘I think it sucks,’ answered Van Zandt. That might have got him tossed out of the studio but Springsteen challenged him to fix it. “So I went and fixed it,” said Van Zandt, who soon became a key member of the E Street Band.

Instead of working on a follow-up Springsteen was mired in legal troubles spending most of ’76 and a large chunk of ’77 trying to free himself from Appel’s grip. He was forced to the sidelines until the issue was settled. He also re-negotiated his Columbia deal. Meanwhile, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band rode to the top of the U.S. charts with a cover of “Blinded By The Light.” The Earth Band also recorded another Springsteen composition, “Spirit In The Night.”

Once the management case was settled, Springsteen was free to continue his career creating ’78’s “Darkness On The Edge Of Town” – a pivotal point in his career. Springsteen also launched a 109 show U.S. tour covering 86 cities.

Double album “The River” rolled out in ’80 (with the classic “Hungry Heart”). Reports at the time claimed Springsteen had composed sixty songs for the project. The man was certainly prolific with his songs being recorded by Robert Gordon, Natalie Cole, Pointer Sisters, Dave Edmunds and Gary “U.S.” Bonds. He followed “The River” with a total change of pace. “Nebraska” was nearly all-acoustic and was recorded on four track equipment.

“Born In The U.S.A.” launched Springsteen into the superstar realm. On the liner notes for his “Greatest Hits” collection he mentioned how weird it was to be a pop star (thanks to “Dancing In The Dark”) in his mid-30s. He also claimed he “loved” it. The fierce title track was nearly abducted by both ‘84 presidential candidates to be their campaign theme song. Apparently neither Ronald Reagan, Walter Mondale nor their handlers really listened to the song. Instead of being a joyous Beach Boy-type celebration of the good life, “Born In The U.S.A.” charted the dark underbelly of America – the pain, frustration and sense of hopelessness. Springsteen wisely refused overtures from both camps.

“Born In The U.S.A.” had a no shortage of great songs. “Dancing In The Dark,” “Glory Days,” “I’m Goin’ Down,” “Cover Me” and even the ballads “My Hometown” and “I’m On Fire” showed man at the height of his songwriting and performing powers.

An outstanding live set hit in ’86 featuring several new and previously unreleased tracks. Though a bit subdued, Springsteen’s next effort was the brilliant “Tunnel of Love” album. The main theme was love’s trials and tribulations. In the early ’90s Springsteen had just about finished his “Human Touch” album when a burst of creativity hit and he wrote and recorded the “Lucky Town” CD. Packaged together, then separately, each sold over a million copies. “Lucky Town” had the harder edge of the two. The introspective “Human Touch” and the Rockin’ “Better Days” were released as singles.

Springsteen continued to record and tour in the ‘90s but spent more time focused on parenthood and the domestic life. But twenty-seven years after hitting the cover of Time, Springsteen made the cover of Time again (a record period between first and second cover appearances) on the strength of “The Rising.” Though some songs were completed before 9/11/01, they bare the mark of that horrific day and reflect the loss. Occasionally, the lyrics gloss over the tragedy but frankly, it would be too difficult otherwise. It’s near impossible to grasp the full impact unless you were at ground zero when the Trade Center towers came down. Springsteen still had the ability to see the world through the eyes of everyman but musically he seemed stuck in the “Lucky Town” mode. It was not a bad rut to be in but it was certainly well furrowed.

Springsteen changed course for his ’05 release “Dust & Devils.” The stripped down acoustic arrangements left plenty of room for sober lyrics dealing with life’s trepidations. In the same vein, but with a much different outcome, he released “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions” a year later. The tribute to Folk legend, Pete Seeger, was a welcome celebration.

“Magic,” the 11-track ’07 album, was Springsteen’s first with the E Street Band in five years (since ’02’s “The Rising”). “You could say that it’s a little more sonically guitar-driven than any past Bruce album,” said Landau. “Radio Nowhere,” was initially available as a free download exclusively on iTunes. The next year, the song won Solo Rock Vocal Performance and Rock Song Grammy Awards.

Not surprisingly, Springsteen was an active participant in the ’08 elections. Nearly 50,000 fans attended Springsteen’s free performance in Philadelphia, the first of a three-rally series at which he appeared in support of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama. “(Our country) needs someone with Senator Obama’s understanding, temperateness, deliberateness, maturity, compassion, toughness, and faith, to help us rebuild our house once again,” said the Boss during his seven-song set. Springsteen also played at Obama events in Columbus, OH, and Ypsilanti, MI.

Springsteen (U2 and John Mellencamp) appeared at the pre-inaugural concert We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. And in the midst of the post-election celebrations, he picked up a Golden Globe award for his song “The Wrestler,” from the Mickey Rourke movie of the same name.

A week after the D.C. appearance, Springsteen released, “Working On A Dream,” his 16th studio album. Produced by longtime collaborator Brendan O’Brien, the set was recorded with the E Street Band during downtime on their tour. “All the songs were written quickly [and] we usually used one of our first few takes,” said Springsteen. The album contained “The Last Carnival,” a song that paid tribute to late E Street Band member Danny Federici. “It started out as a way of making sense of his passing,” explained Springsteen. “He was a part of that sound of the boardwalk the band grew up with.”

Just days following the album’s debut Springsteen and The E Street Band performed during halftime at Super Bowl XLIII (43) in Tampa. They played “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out,” “Born To Run,” “Working On A Dream” and “Glory Days.”

Tickets for a Springsteen show are always difficult to acquire but ’09 proved exceptionally tough. Online ticket purchasing glitches angered fans and Springsteen lashed out against Ticketmaster. New York Senator Charles Schumer joined New Jersey congressman Bill Pascrell in calling for the Federal Trade Commission to look into Ticketmaster’s handling of the sales. Springsteen fans trying to buy tickets were redirected to the broker’s TicketsNow subsidiary, which sold ducats above face value. “It was a classic bait-and-switch,” said Schumer.

Amid the controversy, Springsteen got some good news. He earned $156 million in ’08 music sales and tour revenue placing him third on Billboard’s Moneymakers list (behind Madonna and Bon Jovi, respectively).

There was more. Springsteen received Best Rock Song award at the 51st Grammy Awards for “Girls In Their Summer Clothes.” But he had no clue. “I opened the newspaper on Monday and saw that I had won, and thought, ‘Well, that’s great,’ said The Boss.

Back performing live, Springsteen found that being a local hero counted for something. Since the New York Giants actually played their games in East Rutherford, NJ, it made perfect sense to have Springsteen play 5 sold-out shows in ‘09 to close out the life of Giants Stadium, which is set for demolition at the end of the NFL season. On the opening night, Springsteen sang a new song, the appropriately titled, “Wrecking Ball.” Also, during each concert he performed one of his classic albums – “Born To Run” (2x), “Darkness On The Edge Of Town” and “Born In The U.S.A.”(2x) – in their entirety.

Springsteen kept his Grammy streak alive when he picked up the Best Solo Rock Performance trophy in ’10 for “Working On A Dream.”

Months later, The Promise: The Making Of Darkness On The Edge Of Town was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival. According to festival documentary programmer Thom Powers, the film was markedly different from other musician documentaries. “What’s missing from those films is an emphasis on what makes us interested in this artist, their creative process,” explained Powers. “The strength of this movie is that it just concentrates on the making of just one album.”

Springsteen made his only performance to promote the “Darkness On The Edge Of Town” box set (released on 11/16/10) on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. He was backed by The Roots, E Street Band guitarist Steve Van Zandt and E Street keyboardist Roy Bittan. The package included a set of tunes called “The Promise” – a compilation of tracks from the ’78 “Darkness” recording sessions. Among the 21 songs was the Springsteen-penned track “Because The Night,” which was a hit for the Patti Smith Group.

Though the past is the past, the future was about to execrably change. Clemons had been an integral part of the E Street Band since its inception. Springsteen was leaning on Clemons for the “Born To Run” cover. And that seemed symbolic of their relationship – in the studio and especially on stage. So it was hard to comprehend that age and time would conspire to take the “Big Man” down. On June 12, ‘11, Clemons suffered a stroke at his home in Florida. The 69-year-old musician was initially listed as “responsive and in stable condition” after two brain surgeries. But six days later, he was gone.

“{Clarence} loved the saxophone, loved our fans and gave everything he had every night he stepped on stage,” said Springsteen. “His loss is immeasurable and we are honored and thankful to have known him and had the opportunity to stand beside him for nearly forty years. He was my great friend, my partner.”

“We will continue to make music and perform,” wrote bandmate Steve Van Zandt on his website. “But it will be very different without him.”

The songs on Springsteen’s 17th album had “social overtones” and economic justice themes (that’s no surprise) that were written before Occupy Wall Street movement captured headlines. Concurrently, Springsteen laid plans for a ’12 U.S./Europe tour with the E Street Band – the first since Clemons’ passing the previous summer.

Produced by Ron Aniello, “Wrecking Ball” dropped in March, 12.

Less than two years later, Springsteen returned with “High Hopes,” a collection of covers and originals. The album was mistakenly put on sale via Amazon, a little over two weeks ahead of its official release date. Although the online retailer corrected the error quickly, the set circulated via filesharing networks.

When it was finally released, “High Hopes” became Springsteen’s 11th #1 on the U.S. Billboard 200. Opening week sales totaled 99,000 copies.

Somewhat surprisingly, the next move was a trip down memory lane. “Bruce Springsteen: The Album Collection Vol. 1 1973-1984,” a ’14 box set of his first seven albums, included a 60-page book of vintage press clippings, photos and memorabilia.

The world had to wait five years for Springsteen’s next original effort. “Western Stars,” covered a “sweeping range of American themes, of highways and desert spaces, of isolation and community and the permanence of home and hope.” The album debuted at #2 on the Billboard 200 (behind Madonna).