His authority in rock music is unshakeable. For two decades now he has been one of the most colourful personalities at the very centre of the genre, and he is an uncompromising steward of the essential qualities of rock: its heavy beat and “groovy” sound – a harsh sometimes crude but at the same time spiritual sound ideal rooted in black rhythm and blues. In his lyrics he focuses on the little man’s winding path through life with a certain melancholy and profound compassion. In a world of music where styles are fluctuating all the time, Bruce Springsteen stands with both feet firmly planted on the ground of rock’n’roll.
Bruce Springsteen grew up in Freehold, New Jersey. The Jersey Area including Freehold and Asbury Park and the people living there will always be omnipresent in his lyrics, music, private life and career.
The young musician
Bruce Springsteen was born on September 23, 1949, in Freehold, New Jersey, son of Douglas and Adele Springsteen. Freehold will during hos whole career be a significant symbol of his musical work, writing about the everyday life and ordinary people from his hometown, representing the average American town and its ordinary, “real” people.
An Elvis Presley appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1956 inspired young Bruce to get a guitar, and in 1965, he joined his first band, the Beatles-influenced Castiles.
He would then join keyboard player Danny Federici and drummer Vini Lopez in Steel Mill and move towards a harder rock genre. Steel Mill was later joined by guitarist Steve Van Zandt, but broke up in 1971. The constellation, completed by pianist David Sancious, bassist Garry Tallent and Clarence Clemons on saxophone, will remain, however, by Springsteen’s side under different names throughout his whole career. Springsteen started playing solo shows in New York City in the beginning of the 1970s and met his first manager, Mike Appel, who arranged an audition for legendary Columbia Records talent scout John Hammond.
Asbury Park and the E-street shuffle
When John Hammond auditioned Bruce Springsteen in his office in 1972, hearing some original songs only on guitar and piano, his response was simply “you’ve got to be on Columbia Records.” Springsteen gathered his previous back up band for the recording of his debut album Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J released in 1973. It went almost unnoticed at the release.
Lester Bangs in Rolling Stone said: “He’s been influenced a lot by The Band, his arrangements tend to take on a Van Morrison tinge every now and then, and he sort of catarrh-mumbles his ditties in a disgruntled mushmouth sorta like Robbie Robertson on Quaaludes with Dylan barfing down the back of his neck. It’s a tuff combination, but it’s only the beginning. Because what makes Bruce totally unique and cosmically surfeiting is his words. Hot damn, what a passel o’ verbiage!”
Manfred Mann’s Earth Band would turn its leadoff track, “Blinded by the Light”, into a number one hit though in 1976. Second album “The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle” also failed to sell despite very good reviews. Both albums have since gone platinum.
Born to run
In 1975, Born to Run, is released. It marks a turn in the so far poor commercial results, and the album goes gold in a matter of weeks, cementing Springsteen’s success for many years ahead. Despite this breakthrough, Springsteen was unable to follow up his groundbreaking third album due to legal disputes with former manager Appel. He brought in rock critic Jon Landau as his new manager but could not record new material until everything was settled. In the meantime, he wrote “Because the night” with Polar Music Prize Laureate Patti Smith, a Top 40 hit in the spring of 1978.
Finally, Darkness on the Edge of Town would mark Springsteen’s return on the record store shelves in June 1978. By then, he had to rebuild his career a bit. His “Heartland” soul rock sound with a social undertone had found other representatives in the record label offices, such as Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, and fellow Jersey Shore residents Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes. However, Darkness on the Edge of Town managed to get great reviews and put Springsteen back on top. Springsteen fully consolidated his status with his following album The River in October 1980, which hit number one and sold five million copies.
The E-street band
In the late 1960s and early 1970s there was a vibrant music scene in and around the City of Asbury Park on the Jersey Shore. Prominent in this scene were the early members of the E Street Band, some of them forming Child and Steel Mill with Springsteen in the late 60’s. Clarence Clemons, Danny Federici, Vini Lopez, David Sancious, Garry Tallent and Steve Van Zandt all played in numerous bands, both with and without Springsteen. The E Street Band was founded in October 1972, but it wasn’t formally named until September 1974.
The original lineup included Tallent (bass), Clemons (saxophone), Federici (keyboards, accordion), Lopez (drums), and Sancious (keyboards). The band took its name from the street in Belmar, New Jersey, where Sancious’ mother lived and where they rehearsed. This lineup remained stable until the early 1980s when Van Zandt left to pursue his own career, and Nils Lofgren replaced him. Patti Scialfa (vocals, guitar), was also added to the lineup, that toured actively until 1989 when the band split for a while. The single “Tenth avenue freeze-out” from Born to run tells the story of the band according to Springsteen. When Springsteen reformed the E Street band in 1995 for a greatest hits album and tour, Van Zandt joined the crew again. By 2002, the band also included Soozie Tyrell on violin, guitar and vocals.
New Jersey shore sound
Springsteen and the E-street band actively participated in developing and representing the “New Jersey shore sound”, from back in the 1960s. As many genres and musical movements, the origins and exact characteristics are hard to define, but some say the sound is usually basic rock n roll with however more danceable melodies from soul and r & b. Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes is the other main representative of the genre who had its roots back in soul and blues from the 60’s. It shared characteristics and themes with the Heartland rock-genre also associated to Springsteen, telling the stories of everyday life and struggling in the industrial areas around Jersey.
In 2008 keyboardist Danny Federici who had followed the band and forged its sound since the beginnings passed away.
In June 2011 another founding member, Clarence Clemons, whose saxophone sound had followed Springsteen since day one and created his particular rock groove suffered a stroke and died a few days later. Clemons had been a strong pillar in the E Street sound and a very close friend to Springsteen.
80s: success and politics
Nebraska, a stripped down acoustic solo album from 1982 marked a major turn for the rock icon. The music captured on the record is what he originally recorded as demos on acoustic guitar and harmonica in January, 1982, although he had attempted to revisit the songs himself and with his band. Nebraska was acclaimed both from critics and the audience that came to see yet another side of “The Boss,” a nickname he got already in the 60’s.
Turn number two came to be in 1985 when Springsteen became “born in the USA” with the whole nation, a song that still today is mistaken for a patriotic anthem. The album became Springsteen’s most successful ever, with seven Top 10 hits.
It also arrived at a time when American politicians with Reagan as their leader wanted to create a “new form of patriotism” after the war and tragedies in Vietnam. Springsteen’s all American working class man image was perfect to use to get closer to the people: “It rests in the message of hope in songs so many young Americans admire: New Jersey’s own Bruce Springsteen.” Reagan said at a public speech in 1984. However, the song itself was telling the story of how (badly) the U.S treated its war veterans. Other republicans also tried to connect Springsteen to their campaigns, followed by an official negative response from Springsteen and his staff. Springsteen finally managed to reach out to an even bigger audience with this album, being true to his political and social convictions and remaining on “the ordinary people’s” side.
Springsteen split up The E Street band in 1989 and worked on the two albums Human touch and Lucky Town, released simultaneously in 1992. He also wrote the title song for Philadelphia from 1993, one of the first bigger Hollywood productions about AIDS. The song “Streets of Philadelphia” won the Best Original Song Academy Award that year, and Springsteen became the first rock artist to win an Oscar in this category. “This is the first song I ever wrote for a motion picture, so I guess it’s all downhill from here,” Bruce joked in his acceptance speech. Springsteens musical activities remained regular after Philadelphia with new albums, cover albums and greatest hits together with world tours for almost each new studio album release.
Social and political activism
Bruce Springsteen, with his social pathos, is also a singer of the people, a modern “bard” with lyrics about everyday struggling ordinary people. He has always stood up straight and always hit hard, with discretion and never without tenderness.
Politically he’s always shown an active support to the democrats in the USA and has participated in numerous benefit and socially engaged actions. Whether it is for his hometown, political ideas he believes in or benefits for human rights, justice or against poverty, Springsteen always takes a stand and speaks up.
Stockholm May 1997
As every year since the first prize in 1992, the ceremony was held at the Berwald Concert Hall in the area of Östermalm in Stockholm. Jennifer Brown, Robyn, Jerry Williams, Patricia Kaas, The Eric Ericson Chamber Choir and the Swedish Radio Choir performed. The other Laureate of 1998 was Swedish conductor Eric Ericson.