The man they call The Boss in rock music turns 69 today. For almost half a century now, Bruce Springsteen has been entrancing the world with his music which is a blend of rock, country and folk. His songs might not scale the charts, but it will move his audience, be it to tears, anger and sometimes even laughter. For, Bruce Springsteen is at the end of the day, as much a story teller as a rock star. Once considered the spiritual successor of Bob Dylan because he too wrote of the travails of the working person, Springsteen is now a legend in his own right, and is considered perhaps the greatest live performer of them all, with stage shows that still run into hours. He might be one of the best-known acts in rock history, but there is a lot about him that still remains relatively unknown. So what better way to mark his birthday than to highlight twenty relatively unknown facts about the Boss, including the fact that he initially did not even like that nickname:
A blend of Dutch, Irish and Italian
Springsteen’s father was of mixed Dutch and Irish ancestry. His name, Springsteen, actually refers to a sort of stone that is used in the streets of Holland! His mum, Adele Zirelli, was of Italian descent.
Influenced by Elvis and Ol’ Blue Eyes
A seven-year-old Bruce is supposed to have got his fascination for rock music when he saw Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1956. He is also believed to have heard a lot of Frank Sinatra on the radio.
Saw The Beatles, Bought a Guitar
The Ed Sullivan Show clearly was a major source of musical inspiration for Springsteen. A few years later, in 1964, he saw The Beatles on it. And went ahead and bought his first guitar – for all of USD 18.95!
His first band…kinda “Rogue”ish!
1964 also saw Bruce start playing for audiences. He was part of a band called the Rogues which used to play at local venues. His performances were enough to convince his mother to take a loan and get him a USD 60 Kent guitar later that year.
Mum had faith…
Remember Bruce Springsteen’s song “The Wish”? Well, that was dedicated to his mum for getting him that guitar: “Dirty old street all slushed up in the rain and snow/ Little boy and his ma shivering outside a rundown music store window/ That night on top of a Christmas tree shines one beautiful star/ And lying underneath a brand-new Japanese guitar…”
…but dad hated the “Goddamned guitar”!
His mother might have believed in his musical talent, but his father clearly was not a fan. At least not at first. He was always complaining about Springsteen’s long hair and “Goddamned guitar!”.
Getting into a studio finally
Damned by god or not, the guitar seems to have been a sound investment (pun intended) for within a few years, Bruce did his first public recording as lead guitarist and vocalist for a group called The Castilles. The recording was on May 18, 1966 and the two songs recorded were “Baby I” and “That’s what you got.” Very few copies of the songs were made, and only four of the original copies are known to exist.
Flunking his physical, bunking Vietnam…”That’s Good”
With the US mired in the Vietnam War, Springsteen was called up for conscription in 1967. However, he failed his physical test. His father had always said he wanted him to join the army because “they would cut off all that hair (Springsteen wore his hair long) and make a man out of you.” When he heard his son had failed his physical test for the Army, he just uttered two words: “That’s good.”
Band after band after band…
Springsteen was a member of a number of bands in his early musical years. These included Earth, Steel Mill, Dr Zoom and the Sonic Boom, the Sundance Blues Band and for a short period, even the Bruce Springsteen Band. What later became famous as the E Street Band (Springsteen’s best known accompanying band) was formed sometime in 1972-73, although no one is really sure as to the exact date.
The Dylan comparisons
Peter Knobler of Crawdaddy magazine is believed to have played a key role in making people realise the potential of Bruce Springsteen. He compared him to Dylan in his first major interview in 1973, shortly after the release of his debut album, Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ. Springsteen never forgot the favour and he and the band even gave a private performance for the magazine’s anniversary party.
Becoming “The Boss”…and not really liking it
Springsteen got the nickname of the Boss in the early seventies. This was because he used to collect the fees for his band after the shows and distribute them among the members. Springsteen himself is believed to have disliked the name, because of his well-known opposition to authority, but has since made his peace with it. In 2009, Barack Obama paid tribute to Springsteen with the words “While I am the President, he is the Boss.”
Hey, Newsweek, I got Time!
After tasting success with Born to Run, his third album, Springsteen made history when he became the first rock star to feature on the cover of both Newsweek and Time in the same week – October 27, 1975.
Tearing down his own posters
In 1975, Springsteen and the E Street Band travelled to play at the Hammersmith Odeon in London. It was their first overseas performance and a huge achievement, but Springsteen evidently was so enraged at the tone of the posters promoting the concert (“Finally London is Ready for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band” they are supposed to have read) that he is reported to have torn down every poster he saw!
Hey, Mr President, did you REALLY listen to Born in the USA?
Born in the USA, released in 1984, remains Springsteen’s best-known album. However, its title track, which was about the mistreatment of Vietnam War veterans by the administration, was often misunderstood by politicians, many of whom thought it was a patriotic song. The then-US President Ronald Reagan even referred to Springsteen’s songs in a campaign rally saying they carried a “message of hope.” Springsteen would later remark that he was not sure the President had been listening to the album!
Being Friendly with Courteney…before Friends!
One of the most popular songs of Born in the USA was Dancing in the Dark. In the video of the song, Springsteen asks a girl from the crowd to join him and dance on stage. The girl? Courteney Cox, who would later find fame as Monica Geller in Friends!
Saying Cheese to sis
Springsteen’s younger sister, Pamela, is a professional photographer and actually provided the photographs for three of his albums – Human Touch, Lucky Town and Ghost of Old Tom Joad.
Back and forth in the Hall of Fame with Bono!
In 1999, Bruce Springsteen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Handling the ceremony was U2’s lead singer, Bono. Six years later, U2 were inducted into the Hall of Fame, and doing the honors was…well, Bruce Springsteen!
Endorsing Presidential candidates…and not always winning
Never shy of showing his ideological alignments, Springsteen has openly supported the Presidential campaigns of Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton and John Kerry. That’s not a very high success rate, but give The Boss credit for being consistent.
Boss with a cause…many causes
Springsteen has been known for his work for civil rights and charity. He was part of the USA for Africa project and also performed for Amnesty International, and has also done work for the Vietnam veterans, the LGBT community and against Nuclear weapons.
The master of the long concert
Springsteen is known for his long concerts. No quick ten-minute performances from the Boss, who has often been found tired, dehydrated but exultant after a typical concert. His longest concert was on July 31, 2012 in Helsinki. It spanned four hours and six minutes, and Springsteen performed 33 songs in front of a delighted audience. He was all of 62 years old!