You know you’re big time when a state tries to make one of your songs the official state song, which is just what New Jersey did in 1980 for native son Bruce Springsteen who by then was simply known as “The Boss”. The New Jersey State Asssembly passed a bill making Springsteen’s Born to Run “the unofficial youth anthem of New Jersey”. In 2002, the assembly shot down proposed legislation that would have made BTR the official state song. The legislators were only bowing to peer pressure from their state where Springsteen is synonymous with rock and roll.
Born September 23, 1949 in Freehold, New Jersey, Springsteen spent his childhood in South Jersey, trying to establish himself in different music genres, even blues and folk. That love of folk continued echoing throughout his career. One of Springsteen’s earliest heroes was the legendary Bob Dylan, a man whom Bruce would be compared to throughout his career. In a Rolling Stone article Springsteen has described the beginning of Like a Rolling Stone, which opens Dylan’s seminal Highway 61 Revisited, as the “snare shot that sounded like somebody’d kicked open the door to your mind.”
Signed by Columbia Records, Dylan’s own label, Springsteen released Greetings from Asbury Park, New Jersey in 1973 to critical but no popular fanfare. Despite a cover of Blinded by the Light by Manfred Mann and the story-book appeal of songs like The Flood and 4th of July Asbury Park (Sandy), Springsteen’s career seemed destined for obscurity or perhaps touring the Jersey shore and nearby cities.
Back in the studio for the third time, Springsteen and sax player Clarence Clemons were joined by pianist Roy Bittan, drummer Max Weinberg and (Little) Steven Van Zandt. What had previously been a group of top-notch northern musicians were replaced by this trio who, along with Clemons, jelled into the version of The E Street Band most music fans are familiar with. Even with later personnel changes such as Weinberg leaving for The Conan O’Brien Show or Van Zandt’s various projects including Sun City: Artists United Against Apartheid and a co-starring role in TV’s The Sopranos, The E Street Band is considered by most critics to be rock’s best backup band.
With long time collaborator John Landau producing, Springsteen and his new band churned out Born To Run and fan favorites such as Thunder Road, Tenth Avenue Freeze Out and Jungleland. Despite never having a number one hit, Springsteen regularly cranked out an album every other year for Columbia, and all were AOR hits. Even other artists jumped on the bandwagon, with Manfred Mann hitting with Blinded by the Light and Patti Smith and 10,000 Maniacs both having hits with Because The Night.
Lightning struck a second time in 1984. Already established as a star songwriter with a crack band that gave legendary, marathon performances, Springsteen recorded Born in the USA. As the Cold War ended, American nationalism was reaching an all-time high, a feeling perfectly captured by Springsteen’s Dylan-esque lyrics and Cafferty-like vocals. Fueled by numerous hits including the title track, Dancing in the Dark and Glory Days, Springsteen became America’s best-selling rocker.
Often writing songs drenched in sociological observation and commentary, Springsteen outdid his previous efforts when he won the 1994 Academy Award for Streets of Philadelphia from the Philadelphia soundtrack. The song highlighted the powerful film starring Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington and Antonio Banderas about a lawyer fired because he had AIDS. His 2002 recording of 41 Shots, a social commentary about the infamous shooting of Amadou Diallo in New York caused Springsteen some controversy, as some NYPD officers called for a boycott of Bruce’s Madison Square Garden concert.
“The Boss” has also shown a great care for social issues through generous philanthropy over the years. He has played various charity benefit concerts for groups such as Amnesty International, No Nukes and victims of 9/11. Springsteen has also contributed massive amounts of his own money to charitable causes in New Jersey and across the country; a true testament to the social conscience Springsteen has shown his whole career, Springsteen often requires no publicity be attached to his contribution.
In response to 9/11, Springsteen released The Rising in 2002. The somber and emotional album, one of the most important 9/11 inspired pieces of music, fetched Springsteen a Best Rock Album Grammy. Through early 2006, Springsteen had won 13 Grammy Awards, an Emmy for his 2001 tour DVD and an Oscar. His six chart-topping albums have spawned 11 Top Ten Billboard singles, however in one of the weirder quirks of rock history, he is still searching for that elusive number one single. In 1999, he was inducted into both the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame and the American Songwriters Hall of Fame.
One of the few artists of his generation to remain musically relevant through four generations, Springsteen’s somber Devils and Dust topped the album charts in 2005, thirty years after Born To Run’s release. Always conscious of his musical roots and role, he followed Devils in early 2006 with a tribute album to folk legend Pete Seeger.