During my vacation, I read Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run”, the best-selling biography he released last year. At about the same time, there was also an accompanying documentary, Bruce Springsteen: In His Own Words, and an album, “Chapter and Verse”. The Boss may have grown up in New Jersey more or less poor, but he sure knows how to make money now. And he deserves it – this is still one hell of a performer. The book is a must for fans, chronicling Springsteen’s early days in New Jersey, how he became an artist and how he handled the subsequent fame. We learn about his bouts with depression, how he figured out the best way to manage his bands (there’s a reason why he’s called The Boss) and how he learned to be a better husband and father. Whole chapters are devoted to some albums where he writes about the process behind them; at other times, some of his albums are barely mentioned, a clear sign of dissatisfaction. One thing I really enjoyed was his command of the language; this is a person who gives a lot of thought to how he should express himself and it really serves the book well, especially in the beginning when he writes about his recollections of being a kid.
As I was reading the book, I started listening through Springsteen’s albums in the order of their release. So now I thought, why not share a few clips of how I experienced this great artist’s journey through his career?
Bruce Springsteen’s first album was “Greetings from Asbury Park” (1973) and in this early clip from a live performance, he and his band perform “Spirit in the Night”, the second single from the album and still a staple of The Boss’s live concerts. That’s Clarence Clemons on saxophone, the beginning of a long, beautiful friendship.
“Born to Run” (1975) became Springsteen’s great breakthrough. This clip is a powerful performance from a concert in Pennsylvania in 1976. Ironically, Springsteen had severe doubts about the album and was practically pushed into releasing what is now considered a masterpiece. But it made him famous and put him on the cover of prominent magazines, no small feat for a rock artist in those days.
In 1978, Springsteen released “Darkness on the Edge of Town”. In the book, he points out how many of the songs on the album are still featured in his live concerts. Indeed, this is one hit-packed album; “The Promised Land” is one of the best. And just look at Clemons and how he dominates the scene with his sax; this is a wonderful example of how dynamic The Boss was together with his E Street Band at this time.
Then came the 1980s, the decade when Springsteen started making serious money and became an increasingly international phenomenon. In 1980, “The River” was released, a mighty double album. “Hungry Heart” became a huge hit, but I selected a quieter number, “Drive All Night”. When I heard this song live, it was a revelation.
After a more low-key album, “Nebraska”, Springsteen delivered “Born in the USA” in 1984. This performance in Paris the following year shows two things. First of all, it’s a sign of how popular The Boss was becoming. Worldwide tours were now a familiar thing for Springsteen and his band. Secondly, Springsteen was learning how to master huge arenas as he moved away from smaller venues and clubs. Another thing of course is how dated parts of this performance has become; the style was firmly grounded in the 1980s and Springsteen wondered if some of the PR photos made him look gay.
“Tunnel of Love” (1987) had several great songs; “Human Touch” and “Lucky Town” (1992) were more forgettable. Springsteen stopped working with the E Street Band; after marrying Patti Scialfa, a singer who had become a part of the band, he became a dad. In 1994, he won an Oscar for “Streets of Philadelphia”, the song he wrote for Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia (1993). I love this song, one of my favorites, and there’s an amusing moment in the book when Springsteen shows his father the Oscar and the old man (who didn’t like his son’s career choice) decides that this is the moment when he’s finally learned not to give anyone advice what to do with their lives.
In 1999, Springsteen ran into trouble with the police because of his song “American Skin”. Written after the shooting of an immigrant in New York City, the song is actually fair to both the victim and cops, but this nuance was lost on some people on the right, including cops who simply refused to understand the lyrics. This performance is from 2000; boos frequently met The Boss when he was doing this song at that time.
“The Rising” (2002) was sort of a comeback for Springsteen. Reunited with the E Street Band on an album for the first time in 18 years, “The Rising” was written in the shadow of the September 11th attacks. A moving and powerful experience, with “My City of Ruins” as the climax. This clip shows The Boss and his band performing at the MTV Video Music Awards in New York in 2002.
In 2006, Springsteen released “We Shall Overcome: The Pete Seeger Sessions”, an album packed with folk music made popular by Seeger. Together with a phenomenal band, this is an incredibly engaging example of how The Boss has the capacity to blow life into any kind of material that’s more or less forgotten. Audiences and critics ate it up; the clip is from a 2007 concert in Indianapolis where “Old Dan Tucker” is performed.
In 2009, Springsteen and the E Street Band entertained America with a halftime show during Super Bowl; here’s the whole thing in one clip (the sound isn’t great though). In the book, Springsteen devotes a chapter to the experience and how complicated it was technically, with a very slippery stage. That moment when he hits the camera wasn’t exactly planned… All in all though, a knock-out concert.
In 2008, the E Street Band lost Danny Federici and in 2011 Clarence Clemons; especially the latter’s death was painful for Springsteen. In 2012, he released “Wrecking Ball”, another successful album. One of my favorites is the song that opens it, “We Take Care of Our Own”, which became a signature theme of Barack Obama’s reelection campaign. I have to say I like Springsteen’s cocky feelings about the album in the book; he recognizes the fact that it was a hit, but still complains that it should have garnered better reviews and become the kind of phenomenon that “Born in the USA” was. He considers this to be one of his very best albums.
Obviously, there are many other great moments and interesting details from the book, but I’ll leave that up to you, readers, to discover.