Bruce Springsteen - Biography

Bruce SpringsteenBruce Frederick Springsteen (born September 23, 1949) is an American rock and folk singer, songwriter, and guitarist. Springsteen has frequently recorded and toured with the E Street Band, in addition to recording and performing as a solo artist and with other musicians. An heir to Elvis Presley, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Eddie Cochrane and Bob Dylan, but also influenced by early 1960s rock and R & B, Springsteen is most widely known for his brand of heartland rock infused with pop hooks, poetic lyrics, and Americana sentiments centered around his native New Jersey. His eloquence in expressing ordinary, everyday problems has earned him numerous awards, including several Grammy Awards, an Academy Award, and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, along with a very large, devoted, and long-lasting fan base. His most famous albums, Born to Run and Born in the U.S.A., epitomize his penchant for finding grandeur in the struggles of daily life.

Springsteen's lyrics often concern men and women struggling to make ends meet. He has gradually become identified with progressive politics. Springsteen is also noted for his support of various relief and rebuilding efforts in New Jersey and elsewhere and for his response to the September 11, 2001 attacks, on which his album The Rising reflects.

Springsteen's recordings have tended to alternate between commercially accessible rock albums and somber folk-oriented works. Much of Springsteen's iconic status in America as well as his popularity abroad stems from his concert performances—marathon shows, up to four hours in length, in which he and the E Street Band energetically perform intense ballads, rousing anthems, and party rock and roll songs, with Springsteen telling long whimsical or deeply emotional stories in between.

Springsteen has long had the nickname The Boss, a term which he was initially reported to dislike but now seems to have come to terms with — he sometimes jokingly refers to himself as such on stage.

Early years

Bruce Springsteen was born in Long Branch, New Jersey, and grew up in Freehold Borough. His father, Douglas, was a bus driver of Dutch and Irish ancestry and his mother, Adele Zirilli Springsteen, an Italian-American legal secretary.

Growing up, Springsteen attended the St. Rose of Lima parochial school in Freehold, where he was at odds with both the nuns and other students. In ninth grade he transferred to the public Freehold High School, where again he failed to fit in. He completed high school but felt so uncomfortable that he skipped his own graduation ceremony. He then attended Ocean County Community College briefly but dropped out.

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 $18, then began studying with a local, relatively unknown guitarist. When he was 16, his mother took out a loan to buy him a $60 Kent guitar, an event he memorializes in his song "The Wish." 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 Castiles 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.  Bruce's sister, Pamela Sue Springsteen, had a brief film career, but walked away from acting for good to pursue her still photography career full time.

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

He began performing in New Jersey, in 1969 and through 1971 with Steve Van Zandt, Danny Federici and Vini Lopez in a band called Child, later renamed 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 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.

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. As a result, Springsteen is considered the foremost exponent of the Jersey Shore sound.

1972 - 1974

Springsteen signed a solo record deal with Columbia Records in 1972 with the help of John Hammond, who had signed Bob Dylan to the same record label a decade earlier. 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, though sales were slow. Because of his lyrics-heavy, folk rock-rooted music on tracks such as "Blinded by the Light" and "For You" and the Columbia and Hammond connections, critics frequently compared Springsteen to Bob Dylan in the early days of his recording career. "He sings with a freshness and urgency I haven't heard since I was rocked by 'Like a Rolling Stone'," wrote Peter Knobler in Crawdaddy, March 1973. Van Morrison was even more strongly an influence on "Spirit in the Night", and "Lost in the Flood" presented the first of his Vietnam veteran tales.

"Well the cops finally busted Madame Marie for tellin' fortunes better than they do / This boardwalk life for me is through / You know you ought to quit this scene too"

Later in 1973 his second album, The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle, came out again to critical acclaim but no commercial profit. Now the music was more operatic in form, although weakly recorded. "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)" and "Incident on 57th Street" would later became fan favorites, and the long, full-of-life "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)" would go on to become one of Springsteen's most beloved concert numbers.

In the May 22, 1974 issue of Boston's The Real Paper, music critic Jon Landau wrote after seeing a club performance, "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." Landau subsequently became Springsteen's manager and then producer, helping to finish Springsteen's epic new album that was underway. This was Springsteen's last-ditch effort to make a commercially viable record; its wall of sound production had an enormous budget and had become bogged down in the recording process.

Fed by release of an early mix of exciting new song "Born to Run" to progressive rock radio, anticipation built toward the new album's release.

1975 - 1981

On August 13, 1975, Springsteen and the E Street Band began a five-night, 10-show stand at New York's Bottom Line club; it attracted major media attention, was broadcast live on WNEW-FM, and convinced many skeptics that Springsteen was for real. (Decades later, Rolling Stone magazine would name the stand as one of the 50 Moments That Changed Rock and Roll.) With the release of Born to Run on August 25, 1975, Springsteen finally found success: while there were no real hit singles, "Born to Run", "Thunder Road" and "Jungleland" all received massive FM radio airplay and remain perennial favorites on many classic rock stations to this day. To cap off the triumph, Springsteen appeared on the covers of both Time and Newsweek in the same week, on October 27 of that year. So great did the wave of publicity become that Springsteen eventually rebelled against it during his first venture overseas, tearing down promotional posters before a concert appearance in London.

A legal battle with former manager Mike Appel kept Springsteen out of the studio for over two years, during which time he kept The E Street Band together through extensive touring across the U.S. Despite the optimistic fervor with which he often performed, the new songs he was writing and often debuting on stage had taken a more somber tone than much of his previous work. Reaching settlement with Appel in 1977, Springsteen finally returned to the studio, and the subsequent sessions produced Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978). Musically, this album was a turning point of Springsteen's career. Gone were the rapid-fire lyrics, outsized 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 best and most consistent record; tracks such as "Badlands" and "The Promised Land" became concert staples for decades to come, while the track "Prove it All Night" received a significant amount of radio airplay. Other fans would always prefer the work of the adventurous early Springsteen.

By the late 1970s, Springsteen had earned a reputation in the pop world as a songwriter whose material could provide hits for other bands. Manfred Mann's Earth Band had achieved a U.S. No. 1 pop hit with a heavily rearranged version of Greetings's "Blinded by the Light" in early 1977. Patti Smith reached number 13 with her take on Springsteen's unreleased "Because the Night" in 1978, while The Pointer Sisters hit No. 2 in 1979 with Springsteen's also-unreleased "Fire".

Springsteen continued to consolidate his thematic focus on working-class life with the double album The River in 1980, which finally yielded his first hit single of his own, "Hungry Heart", but also included a range of material from party rockers to intense piano ballads. The album sold well, and a long tour followed, featuring Springsteen's first extended playing of Europe and ending with a series of multi-night arena stands in major cities in the U.S.

1982 - 1989

Springsteen suddenly veered off the normal rock career course, following The River 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. The title track on this album is about the murder spree of Charles Starkweather. The album actually started (according to Marsh) as a demo tape for new songs to be played with the E Street Band - but during the recording process, Springsteen and producer Landau realized they worked better as solo acoustic numbers; several attempts at re-recording the songs in a studio led them to realize that the original versions, recorded on a simple, low-tech four-track cassette deck in Springsteen's kitchen, were the best versions they were going to get.

While Nebraska did not sell especially well, it garnered widespread critical praise (including being named "Album of the Year" by Rolling Stone magazine's critics). It also helped inspire the musical genre known as lo-fi music and became a cult favourite among indie-rockers and other listeners who might be averse to Springsteen's more mainstream work. Springsteen did not tour in conjunction with Nebraska's release.

Springsteen probably is best known for his album Born in the U.S.A. (1984), which sold 15 million copies in the U.S. alone and became one of the best-selling albums of all time with seven singles hitting the top 10, and the massively successful world tour that followed it. The title track was a bitter commentary on the treatment of Vietnam veterans, some of whom were Springsteen's friends and bandmates. The song was mis-interpreted by some as nationalistic, and in connection with the 1984 presidential campaign became the subject of considerable folklore. Springsteen also turned down several million dollars offered by Chrysler Corporation for using the song in a car commercial. (In later years, Springsteen performed the song accompanied only with acoustic guitar to more explicitly make clear 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 No. 2 on the Billboard music charts. The music video for the song featured a young Courteney Cox dancing on stage with Springsteen, an appearance which helped kickstart 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 Arthur Baker dance mixes of three of the singles). Live/1975-85, a five-record box set (also released on three cassettes or three CDs), was released near the end of 1986 and and also became a huge success, selling 13 million units in the U.S. and becoming the first box set to debut at No. 1 on the U.S. album charts. It is one of the best selling live albums of all time. It summed up Springsteen's career to that point and displayed some of the elements that made his 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 fans and critics 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 presaged 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.

The subsequent Tunnel of Love Express tour shook up fans with changes to the stage layout, favorites dropped from the set list, and horn-based arrangements; during the European leg in 1988, Springsteen's relationship with E Street Band backup singer Patti Scialfa became public. Later in 1988, Springsteen headlined the truly worldwide Human Rights Now! Tour for Amnesty International. In the fall of 1989, Springsteen dissolved the E Street Band, and he and Scialfa relocated to California.

1990s

Springsteen married Scialfa in 1991; they had three children born between 1990 and 1994.

In 1992, after 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) and working with session musicians, Springsteen released two albums at once. 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, at points during the Lucky Town album, Springsteen actually claims happiness for himself.

Some E Street Band fans voiced (and continue to voice) a low opinion of these albums (especially Human Touch) and did not follow the subsequent "Other Band" Tour. For other fans, however, who had only come to know Springsteen after the 1975 consolidation of the E Street Band, the "Other Band" Tour was an exciting opportunity to see Springsteen develop a working onstage relationship with a different group of musicians, and to see him explore the Asbury Park soul-and-gospel base in some of his classic material.

It was also during this tour that fans generally became aware of Springsteen using a teleprompter so as to not forget his lyrics, a practice that he may have begun on the Tunnel of Love Express but in any case has continued ever since. An electric band appearance on the acoustic MTV Unplugged television 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."

A multiple Grammy Award winner, Springsteen also won an Academy Award in 1994 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, particularly coming from a mainstream, heterosexual musician. The music video for the song shows Springsteen's actual vocal performance, recorded using a hidden microphone, to a prerecorded vocal track. This was a technique developed on the "Brilliant Disguise" video.

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 (mostly) 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 lengthy, worldwide, small-venue solo acoustic Ghost of Tom Joad 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 Springsteen and the E Street Band officially came together again and went on the extensive Reunion Tour, lasting over a year. Highlights included a record sold-out, 15-show run at Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

2000s

Springsteen's Reunion Tour with the E Street Band ended with a triumphant 10-night, sold-out engagement at New York City's Madison Square Garden in mid-2000 and controversy over a new song, "American Skin (41 Shots)", about the police shooting of Amadou Diallo. The final shows at Madison Square Garden were recorded and resulted in an HBO Concert, with corresponding DVD and album releases as Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band: Live In New York City.

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". The title track gained airplay in several radio formats, and the record became Springsteen's best-selling album of new material in 15 years. The Rising Tour commenced at the same time, barnstorming through a series of single-night arena stands in the U.S. and Europe to promote the album in 2002, then returning for large-scale, multiple-night stadium shows in 2003. While Springsteen had maintained a loyal hardcore fan base everywhere (and particularly in Europe), his general popularity had dipped over the years in some southern and Midwestern regions of the U.S. But it was still strong in Europe and along the U.S. coasts, and he played an unprecedented 10 nights in Giants Stadium in New Jersey, a ticket-selling feat to which no other musical act has come close. During these shows Springsteen thanked those fans who were attending multiple shows and those who were coming from long distances or another country; the advent of robust Bruce-oriented online communities had made such practices more common. The Rising Tour came to a final conclusion with three nights in Shea Stadium, highlighted by renewed controversy over "American Skin" and a guest appearance from Bob Dylan.

During the 2000s, Springsteen became a visible advocate for the revitalization of Asbury Park, and he's 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 outtake "Thundercrack", a rollicking group-participation song that would mystify casual Springsteen fans. He also frequently rehearses for tours in Asbury Park; some of his most devoted followers even go so far as to stand outside the building to hear what fragments they can of the upcoming shows.

At the Grammy Awards of 2003, Springsteen performed The Clash's "London Calling" along with Elvis Costello, Dave Grohl, and E Street Band member Steven van Zandt in tribute to the late Joe Strummer; Springsteen and the Clash had once been considered multiple-album-dueling rivals at the time of the double The River and the triple Sandinista!.

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 Mellencamp, John Fogerty, the Dixie Chicks, R.E.M., Jurassic 5, Dave Matthews Band, Jackson Browne and other musicians. All concerts were to be held in swing states, to benefit MoveOn.org and to 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 in which he believed – against nuclear energy, for Vietnam veterans, Amnesty International and the Christic Institute – he had always refrained from explicitly endorsing candidates for political office (indeed he had rejected the efforts of Walter Mondale to attract an endorsement during the 1984 Reagan "Born in the U.S.A." flap). This new stance led to 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 the song and some of his other old songs at Kerry rallies. Springsteen's stance coincided with a reduction in his fan base (now an older, more affluent demographic) over the next two years, but how much was due to his politics versus his uncommercial music choices was unclear.

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 10 years earlier during, or shortly after, the Ghost of Tom Joad Tour, a couple of them being performed then but never released. The title track concerns an ordinary soldier's feelings and fears during the Iraq War. Starbucks rejected a co-branding deal for the album, due in part to some sexually explicit content but also because of Springsteen's anti-corporate politics. Nonetheless, the album entered the album charts at No. 1 in 10 countries (United States, Austria, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, Italy, Germany, The Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Ireland).

Springsteen began the solo Devils & Dust Tour at the same time as the album's release, playing both small and large venues. Attendance was disappointing in a few regions, and everywhere (other than in Europe) tickets were easier to get than in the past. Unlike his mid-1990s solo tour, he performed on piano, electric piano, pump organ, autoharp, ukulele, banjo, electric guitar and stomping board, as well as acoustic guitar and harmonica, adding variety to the solo sound. (Offstage synthesizer, guitar and percussion also are used for some songs.) Unearthly renditions of "Reason to Believe", "The Promised Land", and Suicide's "Dream Baby Dream" jolted audiences to attention, while rarities, frequent set list changes, and a willingness to keep trying even through audible piano mistakes kept most of his loyal audiences happy.

In November 2005, New Jersey Senators Frank Lautenberg and Jon Corzine sponsored a U.S. Senate resolution to honor Springsteen on the 30th anniversary of the release of his Born to Run album. In general, resolutions honoring native sons are passed with a simple voice vote. For unstated reasons, this resolution was killed in committee. Eonline story, 11/2005 Also in November 2005, Sirius Satellite Radio started a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week radio station on Channel 10 called "E Street Radio." This channel, which has since been discontinued, featured commercial-free Bruce Springsteen music, including rare tracks, interviews and daily concerts of Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band recorded throughout their career.

In April 2006, Springsteen released his latest album, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, an American roots music project focused around a big folk sound treatment of 15 songs popularized by Pete Seeger. It was recorded with a large ensemble of musicians, including only Patti Scialfa, Soozie Tyrell, and the Miami Horns from past efforts. In contrast to previous albums, this was recorded in only three one-day sessions, and frequently one can hear Springsteen calling out key changes live as the band explores its way through the tracks. The Bruce Springsteen with The Seeger Sessions Band Tour began the same month, featuring the 18-strong ensemble of musicians dubbed the Seeger Sessions Band. Seeger Sessions material was heavily featured, as well as a handful of (usually drastically rearranged) Springsteen numbers. The tour proved very popular in Europe, selling out everywhere and receiving some excellent reviews, but newspapers have reported that attendance at U.S. shows has often been sparse. The group had a very successful performance at Jazzfest 2006 in New Orleans where Springsteen voiced discontent over government handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina much to the satisfaction of the crowd.

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