Ah, the Boss. Bruce Springsteen is one of the most notable singer-songwriters to come out of the 1970s. Perhaps his most well-known albums are Born to Run (1975) and Born in the USA (1984). Despite his associations with liberal politics and John Kerry in particular, his songs have sometimes been appropriated by conservative politicians, oftentimes without his permission. The most glaring example is the song "Born in the USA", which despite its title is not an unequivocal celebration of that country, but rather a condemnation of its treatment of Vietnam veterans. When Ronald Reagan tried to use the song for his reelection campaign in 1984, Springsteen famously told the President that he couldn't use it.Despite his most well-known work being produced in the '70s and '80s, he is still recording today. His latest album, Wrecking Ball, was released in 2012. He also campaigned for Barack Obama during the 2008 American presidential campaign and performed at the inauguration.Springsteen is also notable for helping to launch Courteney Cox's career when she appeared in his video for "Dancing in the Dark."Springsteen was honored at the 2009 Kennedy Center Honors, with the presentation done by Jersey native Jon Stewart.He once wrote a song about Harry Potter, after reading the books to his son, and tried to get it into the movie.
Aesop Amnesia: In 1984, President Reagan famously wanted to use "Born in the USA" his campaign song, prompting Springsteen to note that the song's lyrics weren't quite as upbeat many people believed the chorus to be and that it was actually a mournful song about veterans (including some of Bruce's friends) who went through the Vietnam War. In a similar vein, Independence Day celebrations have often used the song. And Bruce will publicly have to explain once again how the song is about how poorly Vietnam veterans (and the working class in general) were treated.
Age Progression Song: Arguably "Outlaw Pete", albeit slightly nastier than most of these usually are.
We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions. Bruce put together an entirely new band and recorded a selection of traditional folk songs like "Old Man Tucker", "Eyes on the Prize", "John Henry" and "Mary Don't You Weep". The end product is one of his most rocking albums in recent years.
His new Wrecking Ball album is proving to be quite a surprise for early listeners. Traces of gospel, Celtic folk, hip-hop beats and big horns collide in a messy combination, featuring some of his angriest lyrics in years. It just works.
And Starring: When he introduces the members of the E Street Band in concert, he always saves saxophone player Clarence Clemons ("The Big Man") for last, usually shouting, "And last but not least..." In his 2000 Live from New York City album, the band intros take place between verses two and three of "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out", as Springsteen shouts, "Do I have to say his name?" while the rest of the band leads the audience in chanting "CLAR-ence! CLAR-ence!", segueing seamlessly into the first line in verse three, "The change was made uptown and the Big Man joined the band!"
Clemons' untimely passing may mean the end of this tradition...
In performances since Clemons's death, the band stops playing after this line, giving way to a couple minutes of silent footage of Clemons performing on the overhead monitors.
Arc Words: 'Magic' reappears a lot throughout his discography, culminating in the album Magic and being mentioned in multiple songs therein (including the Title Track).
Big Name Fan: Being one of the most prominent singer-songwriters in America, Bruce not surprisingly has quite a few. Special mention goes to fellow New Jerseyans Jon Stewart (who provided the opening quote for this page when Bruce was being honored at the 2009 Kennedy Center Awards) and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who has attended more than 129 Spingsteen concerts and fanboys about Springsteen frequently. It's been said that Governor Christie had a huge fanboy reaction when Springsteen—in the wake of shared relief efforts after Hurricane Sandy—told Christie "Okay, we are officially friends."
Bruce himself is apparently this for the Harry Potter novels, and even wrote a ballad about Harry, and tried to get it into the movies, being unsuccessful only because of Harry Potter novelist/creator JK Rowling's contractual stipulation that no commercial songs of any type be used in the Harry Potter film series.
Breakout Character: E Street Band drummer Max Weinberg is probably the most successful, being just as well known for his work as bandleader of the house band for NBC's Late Night/The Tonight Show with Conan O Brien.
In addition, lead guitarist Steven Van Zandt is also pretty successful as well, being just as well known for his role as Silvio Dante on the HBO drama The Sopranos
Breakaway Pop Hit: "Streets of Philadelphia" is a well known and well received song, which won Springsteen an Oscar, in addition to being the song for the (also well received) movie Philadelphia.
Call Back: Possibly crossed with Book Ends, but on Born to Run the title track is a Call Back to "Thunder Road", albeit more upbeat and hopeful, whereas "Jungleland" is a Call Back to "Backstreets" although where "Backstreets" has a hopeful ending "Jungleland"... doesn't.
Cool Car: Cars are often means of escape and objects of desire for his protagonists.
"Ramrod": "She's a hot stepping hemi with a four on the floor / She's a roadrunner engine in a '32 Ford..."
"Cadillac Ranch": "Cadillac, Cadillac / Long and dark, shiny and black / Open up your engines, let 'em roar / Tearing up the highway like a big old dinosaur..."
"Pink Cadillac": "Crushed velvet seats, ridin' in the back, oozin' down the streets, wavin' to the girls, feelin' outta sight..."
Subverted in "Racing In The Streets", about a guy who's sunk all of his dreams in a Cool Car that's never going anywhere.
Inverted in "The Line", in which border police use their cars as weapons against illegal immigrants ("We'd rush 'em with our Broncos...") and "Balboa Park", in which the protagonist is hit and probably killed by a car.
Cool Old Guy: He's hit sixty-two years old, and he sounds as good as ever, if not better.
Clarence Clemons, who was still playing with the band right before he died at the age of 69, also counts.
Dying Town: "My Hometown" and "Youngstown". Based in large part on the economic turmoil that hit Bruce's hometown of Freehold, NJ and other towns that suffered with the loss of factory jobs during the postwar decades.
And of course, "Death to my Hometown" from 2012's Wrecking Ball.
Eagle Land: Most of his songs are meditations on American small towns, culture, politics etc. Usually coming in type 3 but with a few songs like "Born in the USA" closer in tone to 2 when discussing topics like the ill treatment received by the Vietnam Veterans or the existence of political corruption. That being said, his recent album "Wrecking Ball" goes back to Type 3: Despite the existence of corrupt powers-that-be, the album ultimately suggests that in the end the good will triumph, and Bruce celebrates the American small towns and urban centers that he hopes will recover from the current economic turmoil.
The rest of the usual band — Garry Tallent and the late Danny Federici — don't fit the trope so well.
Foreshadowing: A number of songs on The River. The title track, for example, presaged the themes he would devote Nebraska to.
Fortune Teller: "4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)": "The cops finally busted Madame Marie, for telling fortunes better than they do." This referred to a real-life Asbury Park fortune teller named Marie Castello, who once told Springsteen he would be a great success as a musician.
"Brilliant Disguise": "We stood at the altar / the gypsy swore our future was right / But come the wee wee hours / Well maybe baby the gypsy lied."
His 1984 hit "Born In the USA" is about the negative effect the Vietnam War had on working class Americans and criticizes how the US government feels it needs to "police the world". However, it has been frequently misinterpreted as a patriotic anthem and was embraced by a number of nationalist figures during The Eighties who were oblivious to the song's true meaning. Most notably, Ronald Reagan wanted to use the song for his 1984 reelection campaign (which Springsteen openly mocked him for) and Lee Iacocca wanted to use the song in a patriotically themed advertising campaign for Chrysler automobiles. Naturally, Springsteen refused to allow either to use the song.
His song Glory Days is often used at high school reunions and is embraced as a lighthearted tale of those reminiscing of their youth. However, the song is really about a group of high school classmates who are down-on-their-luck losers that have gone nowhere in life since their graduation. However, all of them were popular and really had things going for them back during their school days, so they regularly get together, get drunk and reminisce about their time in high school to feel better about themselves and forget about how pitiful their lives currently are.
I Thought It Meant: Sweet Jenny, whom Bruce mentions in his song "Youngstown" is not the protagonist's wife or girlfriend, but a blast furnace. The song is about demise of the steel industry in Youngstown, Ohio, and Jeannette Furnace, nicknamed "Sweet Jenny", was a real blast furnace.
Joisey: Where Bruce was born, raised, and has usually drawn a lot of his inspiration from. The loss of many industrial jobs in Springsteen's hometown of Freehold and in other parts of New Jersey informed a lot of his lyrics and beliefs right from the start of his career, and his singing about this issue obviously found a sympathetic audience in the parts of the state that were suffering from the loss of jobs. Scenery from the Jersey Shore (no, not thatJersey Shore) are often used as imagery in his lyrics and song titles. And Bruce—loyal to his roots—always makes sure to have concerts in Jersey throughout his tours. It's no wonder that—although he's honored and adored by fans throughout America—it's in New Jersey where Bruce is the most beloved.
Large Ham: "The E Street Band has traveled thousands of miles, to fulfill their solemn vow...TO ROCK THE HOOOOOOOOUUSE!!!"
From his intro to their Super Bowl gig: "Ladies and gentlemen! Tonight we are bringing the righteous and the mighty power of the E Street Band into YOUR beautiful home! So I want you to to step back from the guacamole dip! I want you to put the chicken fingers down! And turn your televisions ALL the way up!..."
Jon Stewart, a life-long Springsteen fan, provided an Affectionate Parody the next day; "You are about to witness the righteous power of the Daily Show! I want you to step away from your remote... wha, no? It was cool when Springsteen did it!"
Legacy Character: Max Weinberg was replaced by his son on the most recent tour for some shows that conflicted with his commitments to The Tonight Show. Danny Federici's son also played on the most recent album following his death. After Clarence Clemons death, his son Jake joined the band on sax.
Loads and Loads of Characters: The current band has eight permanent members, along with two semi-permanent members, with a rotation for some of the permanent members. Fortunately, Bruce always introduces everyone on stage each concert.
Also, all the different characters in the songs (various women named Mary, Spanish Johnny, Hazey Davey, Jimmy the Saint, Go-Cart Mozart, Early Pearly, Bad Scooter, Wild Billy, Sandy, Kitty, Rosalita, Wendy, etc. etc., and those are just the ones with names.)
Many of Springsteen's songs could be described, to paraphrase Max Frisch, as morality ballads without a moral. His characters find themselves bewildered and torn by their actions, but it is clear they would do the same things again, for instance in "Hungry Heart".
Shoot The Television: His song "57 Channels (And Nothin' On)" is about a man who, after his investments in television, cable, satellite dishes, and home entertainment fail to bring him happiness, takes out his frustration by shooting the television set. The lyrics referenceElvisPresley in this regard.
So I bought a .44 magnum, it was solid steel cast, And in the blessed name of Elvis, well, I just let it blast.
Took a Level in Badass: Springsteen put on muscle and shed his earlier "new Bob Dylan" image for Born in the USA. It worked.
Unplugged Version: Subverted on Bruce Springsteen's MTV Unplugged appearance. He first played an acoustic version of "Born to Run," which is this trope played straight. Then, he turned to his band, shrugged, and they all plugged in and played an electric set. The album MTV released for the show had the "Un" of "Unplugged" scratched out.
It's gotten to the point where "Born in the USA" is almost always played acoustically, as some people still simply do not get the meaning and need to have it explained to them slowly and clearly.