Bruce Springsteen's Biographer on the Boss' Ten Most Pivotal Moments
There aren't many musicians who inspire serious scholarship, but Bruce Springsteen is one of them. The New Jersey native has sold more than 120 million albums over his four-decade-plus career. Although many acts that started in the 1960s or '70s still sell out arenas, most of these musicians (without naming names) have evolved into nostalgia acts. The Boss, however, continues to pump out new music, most recently January's High Hopes. Springsteen's music and life touch upon many critical historical and cultural moments of the past 60 years, from Ed Sullivan's weekly smiling face to the stresses of Vietnam and 9/11 to our tabloid obsession with celebrity.
To help navigate the pivotal moments in this Rock and Roll Hall of Famer's career, New Times turned to Jeff Burger, editor of Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches, and Encounters. To compile the collection, Burger did plenty of sleuthing to track down rare interviews with Springsteen.
The book, available on his website, includes an interview Burger himself conducted in March 1974 with a struggling Springsteen. "His second album had just come out. He spent most of the interview talking about how he couldn't afford to pay the members of the band. I told him I loved his second album but hadn't heard his first. He offered to send me his copy since he couldn't afford a record player to play it on." Things have changed for Springsteen and society (what's a record player?); let's go back in time to see how much.
1964: A 14-year-old Bruce Springsteen sees the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show in his childhood home in Freehold Borough, New Jersey. While Elvis Presley's appearance on the popular variety show eight years earlier first inspired young Bruce to be a musician, the Beatles gave him the courage to first play in front of an audience.
Burger's take: "His mother always had the radio and TV on, and this was the first thing he could really relate to. His mother then bought him his first guitar, which he ended up writing a wonderful song about called 'The Wish' on the Tracks collection about his mother having to borrow the 60 bucks to buy the guitar because they were so poor. It's one of my favorite obscure Springsteen songs."
1967: Bruce Springsteen fails the Army physical, meaning he will not have to go to war in Vietnam.
Burger's take: "His father was always very hard on him. He would say things like, 'You should join the Army; they'll make a man out of you.' But as the war went on, his father saw that his son would probably die in Vietnam. Springsteen stayed up a couple of days straight to fail the physical. When he came home and told his father, 'They didn't take me,' his father said, 'That's good.'"
1972: Springsteen's manager, Mike Appel, arranges for Springsteen to audition in front of Columbia Records talent scout John Hammond, the man who discovered Bob Dylan and Billie Holiday.
Burger's take: "Mike Appel was also very important. They later had a contentious relationship, and in spite of taking a big cut of everything Springsteen earned, Appel was Springsteen's biggest champion. Appel almost turned John Hammond off of Springsteen because he was giving him so much hype, but once Springsteen started singing, Hammond was sold."