Cuz tramps like us, baby, we were born to run.Bruce Springsteen
(born September 23, 1949), nicknamed "The Boss
", 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). Alongside his backing group the E Street Band, the membership of which has remained mostly constant throughout the years, Springsteen is best known for a "heartland rock" style that features themes of Americana, working-class desperation in an age of cynicism, and hope for a better life. 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
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, High Hopes
, was released in 2014. 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.
"Tropes like us, baby we were born to run!":
- Academy Award: Won one for his 1993 song Streets of Philadelphia, the title tune of the film Philadelphia.
- 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.
- All Drummers Are Animals: Averted with the chilled-out Max Weinberg, but the original E Street drummer, Vini Lopez, was nicknamed "Mad Dog".
- All Just a Dream: A verse in "Downbound Train"
- American Dream: Many of his songs embody Type 2.
- And Now For Something Completely Different: Nebraska was a departure: Three Chords and the Truth by Springsteen on his own instead of the earlier full band backing and dark, political songs. Not quite a New Sound Album, though, as it was followed by Born in the USA...
- 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.
- Wrecking Ball proved 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 saved 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).
- Artistic Stimulation: The Seeger Sessions is a mild form of this. The bonus DVD shows Bruce encouraging his fellow musicians to drink whiskey and beer so that their background vocals will sound "wild."
- Ballad of X: "Ballad of Elmer and Pea," "Ballad of Jesse James," "Ballad of the Self-Loading Pistol"
- Bawdy Song: "Red Headed Woman".
- 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 spoke in Bruce's honor 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." (This is kind of interesting, since Springsteen is well noted as being very liberal and a solid supporter of the Democrats—and gets super annoyed when Republicans use his music—while Christie is a Republican and as conservative as you can get and get elected in New Jersey. But then—it's clear both love their home state, so it really shouldn't be surprising.)
- 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.
- Bowdlerize: Tom Waits' "Jersey Girl" originally included the line "Don't want no whores on Eighth Avenue." Bruce changed it to "Or the girls out on the avenue."
- 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
- Breakthrough Hit: "Born to Run".
- 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.
- In "Long Time Comin'" from 2005's Devils and Dust, the narrator is married to a woman named Rosie. After the album's release, there was some speculation that "Rosie" is actually the title character from "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)"; she's just grown up now.
- Cheap Pop: Parodied with the joke song "In Michigan", performed at two shows there in September 1996.
- Christmas Songs: The Boss' cover of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town", based on Phil Spector's arrangement for the Crystals, is a classic rock radio standard during Christmastime.
- Ditto for "Merry Christmas, Baby!"
- Cliché Storm: Invoked and parodied with "My Best Was Never Good Enough," where the lyrics, except for the title and "Come'on pretty baby, call my bluff" are nothing but clichés, including a Take That to Forrest Gump.
"Now life's like a box of chocolates
You never know what you're gonna get
Stupid is as stupid does and all the rest of that shit."
- 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.
- Crapsack World: The overlying theme of his 1982 album Nebraska.
- Creator Breakdown: His 1987 album ''Tunnel Of Love" chronicles the falling apart of his first marriage to actress Julianne Phillips.
- Downer Ending: Several of his songs, notably Jungleland.
- 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.
- "Frankie" from Tracks contains the line, "Everybody's dying, this town's closing down."
- Eagleland: 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.
- Epic Rocking: Not so much with album versions, but there are some exceptions. "Drive All Night","Outlaw Pete" and "Jungleland" are all around the 8-minute mark, but his longest to date is "New York Serenade", at nearly 10 minutes long. Live performances are a different matter, though - live renditions of "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out", "E Street Shuffle" or especially "Kitty's Back" (their dedicated "jamming song", where everyone gets a chance to solo) can stretch to 20 minutes.
- Many songs are stretched out in live performances; some renditions of Tenth Avenue Freeze Out have been as long as 20 minutes.
- Everything's Better with Monkeys: "Part Man, Part Monkey"
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The album 18 Tracks, a collection of 18 tracks.
- Fan Disservice: The graphic sex scene in "Reno" is creepy and sad, and fully meant to be so.
- For the Evulz: The narrator of "The New Timer" blames his friend's murder on "somebody killing just to kill."
- 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."
- Glory Days: The Trope Namer. The song itself is a reflection on high school memories.
- Heavy Meta/"I Am" Song: "I'm a Rocker"
- Insult Backfire:
- 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 that Jersey 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.
- Knight in Sour Armor: Some characters, e.g. in "Highway Patrolman".
- 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!"
- "The heart-stopping, fun-loving, earth-quaking, love-making, record-breaking, air-conditioner-shaking, Viagra-taking, history-making E! STREET! BAND!"
- "What time is it?" "It's BOSS TIME!!!!!"
- 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.)
- Long Distance Relationship: "Save My Love".
- Long Title:
- The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle
- Darkness On the Edge of Town
- It's Hard To Be A Saint In The City
- Lyrical Dissonance: Probably the reason so many people misinterpret his songs:
- "Born in the USA" (although it depends on what version you're listening to; the versions on Tracks and Live In New York City are more obviously mournful and don't really fit this trope)
- "Born to Run"
- "Last to Die"
- "Hungry Heart"
- "Johnny 99"
- Lyrical Shoehorn: Bruce is prone to inserting the word "mister" into lines where he needs a couple of extra syllables to fill out the meter.
- The Mafia: "Atlantic City" opens by referencing the assassination of Philadelphia crime family boss Philip "the Chicken Man" Testa, and it seems that the viewpoint character is about to join the Mafia as a hitman (either taking a job in AC or, more likely, spending his last free weekend on the Shore).
- Mohs Scale of Lyrical Hardness: Since he's done everything from odes to old-fashioned Rock 'N' Roll, cars and love songs to serious political commentary, tales of working class struggle and the odd Murder Ballad, it's safe to say that he's gone all over it, from 2 to an 8 or even (arguably) a 9 in some cases.
- Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: All over the bottom half of the scale- his songs jump around between 1 and 5.
- Mood Whiplash: The River (the album; the title track is an unrelenting downer). Completely intentional, according to Word of God.
- Morality Ballad: "Born in the USA".
- 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".
- Murder Ballad:
- "Nebraska" - inspired by the real-life murder spree of Charles Starkweather.
- "Johnny 99"
- "Highway 29"
- Arguably "Atlantic City"
- Never Bareheaded: Steve Van Zandt was in a car accident a long time ago; his head broke the windshield and the hair on the top of his head never grew back. Consequently, he is always seen with a bandana tied around his head, except when he starred in The Sopranos and wore a pompadour wig instead.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: He once broke a football stadium. With rock'n'roll.
- Non-Appearing Title: "Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street?" "Incident On 57th Street," "Reno," "The Wrestler"
- Older Than They Look: He has aged remarkably well and looks very good despite being born in 1949.
- One Woman Song: "4th of July Asbury Park (Sandy)," "Candy's Room," "Cindy," "Janey Don't You Lose Hope," "Jeannie Needs a Shooter," etc.
- Outlaw: "Outlaw Pete"
- Outlaw Couple: "Nebraska", "Highway 29" and "Easy Money."
- Precision F-Strike: Springsteen doesn't usually use R-rated language in his songs, he saves it for special occasions:
- "Long Time Comin'": "Two kids in a sleeping bag beside / Reach 'neath your shirt, put my hands across your belly and feel / Another one kickin' inside / And I ain't gonna fuck it up this time!"
- "Queen of the Supermarket": "As I lift my groceries in to my car / I turn back for a moment and catch a smile / That blows this whole fucking place apart!"
- "My Best was Never Good Enough": "And the early bird catches the fuckin' worm..."
- Live versions of "Lost in the Flood": "Hey man, did you see that, those poor cats are sure fucked up"
- "Don't vote for that fuckin' Bush!"- during a concert at the Nassau Coliseum on April 1, 1988.
- Protest Song: "Born in the USA" again, which is about the treatment of Vietnam veterans. Many other songs also qualify, and The Ghost of Tom Joad is almost an entire album of protest songs.
- Several of the songs on Wrecking Ball, particularly "Shackled and Drawn" and "Death To My Hometown."
- Rearrange the Song: Notably, "Youngstown" was reworked from a mournful acoustic ballad to furious rocker capped by possibly the wildest guitar solo in Springsteen's entire catalogue.
- The "Live In Dublin" album contains several classic Springsteen songs that have been rewritten to sound like folk songs (this was right after his folk album We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions was released and he was on tour with the Sessions Band).
- Recycled Lyrics: Nebraska has some examples: "Atlantic City" and "Johnny 99" both have the narrator mention having "debts no honest man can pay". "State Trooper" and "Open All Night" share the couplet "in the wee wee hours your mind gets hazy / radio relay towers lead me to my baby". In "State Trooper", the "radio's jammed up with talk show stations", whereas in "Open All Night" it's "jammed up with gospel stations".
- "Spanish Eyes" and "I'm On Fire" both start with the lines "Hey little girl is your Daddy home, did he go away and leave you all alone?"
- "Further On Up The Road" and "Maria's Bed" both contain the lines, "Got on my dead man's suit and smiling skull ring, lucky graveyard boots and a song to sing." There's also a line in both songs about being "out in the desert, doing my time."
- Repurposed Pop Song: Barack Obama used "The Rising" in his campaign, and Springsteen himself played it at a few rallies.
- Ronald Reagan rather famously tried to do this to "Born in the USA" apparently mistaking it for a (somewhat jingoistic) hyper patriotic anthem. It's not.
- Rhyming with Itself: "County Fair": "County fair, county fair / Everybody in town'll be there / So come on, hey we're goin' down there"
- "I'll Work For Your Love": "The late afternoon sun fills the room / With the mist of the garden before the fall / I watch your hands smooth the front of your blouse / and seven drops of blood fall"
- Run for the Border: Frankie in "Highway Patrolman"
- Sarcastic Title: "Born In The U.S.A." is one of the most well-known examples of this trope.
- Scotland Yard: From "Blinded by the Light":
"Yes and Scotland Yard was trying hard, they sent a dude with a calling card, he said, do what you like, but don't do it here"
- Self-Backing Vocalist: Springsteen sang all the background vocals on Nebraska. This is particularly noticeable in "Atlantic City."
- Self-Deprecation: Usually his musical comedy routines with Jimmy Fallon on Jimmy's talk show. Usually exaggerated parodies of Bruce's songs (or hit songs of the day) with Bruce and Jimmy using exaggerated "Springsteen" costumes and singing voices.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: "Shut Out The Light" (Vietnam) and "Devil's Arcade" (Iraq)
- 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 reference Elvis Presley 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.
- Shout-Out: The Ghost of Tom Joad references The Grapes of Wrath.
- "Ain't Good Enough For You" contains the lyrics "And babe I tried to make the latest scene, hitting cool just like Jimmy Iovine." Iovine is a record producer who worked on Born To Run.
- In the liner notes of his greatest hits album, Bruce mentions that he got the title of "Thunder Road" from a Robert Mitchum movie.
- Shown Their Work: The Ghost of Tom Joad has a bibliography. The "Jenny" of "Youngstown" is also not a woman, but rather the nickname of the Blast Furnace at the steelworks in Youngstown, Ohio.
- Silly Love Songs: The Tunnel of Love album, among many others.
- Steel Mill: "Youngstown"
- Something Blues: "California Blues"
- The Something Song: "Seaside Bar Song"
- Technology Marches On: There are a lot more than just "57 Channels (And Nothin' On)" today.
- Three Chords and the Truth: Especially on Nebraska, The Ghost of Tom Joad, and Devils & Dust.
- 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.
- Wham Line: On "The River"
"Then I got Mary pregnant, and man, that was all she wrote."
- Why Do You Keep Changing Jobs?: The protagonist of "Downbound Train" moves through three different places.
- A Wild Rapper Appears: The song "Rocky Ground" features a rapped verse by gospel singer Michelle Moore.