Life and career
19491972: Early years
Springsteen was born in Long Branch, New Jersey, and spent his childhood and high school years in Freehold Borough. He lived off South Street in Freehold Borough and attended Freehold Borough High School. His father, Douglas Frederick Springsteen, was of Dutch and Irish ancestry and worked, among other vocations, as a bus driver; his surname is Dutch for stepping stone. His mother, Adele Ann (ne Zerilli), was a legal secretary and was of Italian ancestry. His grandfather was born in Vico Equense, a city near Naples. He has two younger sisters, Virginia and Pamela. Pamela had a brief film career, but left acting to pursue still photography full time; she took photos for the Human Touch and Lucky Town albums.
Raised a Roman Catholic, Springsteen attended the St. Rose of Lima Catholic school in Freehold Borough, where he was at odds with both the nuns and other students, even though much of his later music reflects a deep Catholic ethos and included many rock-influenced, traditional Irish-Catholic hymns.
In ninth grade, he transferred to the public Freehold Regional High School, but did not fit in there, either. Old teachers have said he was a “loner, who wanted nothing more than to play his guitar.” He completed high school, but felt so uncomfortable that he skipped his own graduation ceremony. He briefly attended Ocean County College, but dropped out.
Springsteen had been inspired to take up music at the age of seven after seeing Elvis Presley on The Ed Sullivan Show. At 13, he bought his first guitar for ; later, his mother took out a loan to buy the 16-year-old Springsteen a Kent guitar, as he later memorialized in his song “The Wish.”
In 1965, he went to the house of Tex and Marion Vinyard, who sponsored young bands in town. They helped him become lead guitarist and subsequently the lead singer of The Castiles. The Castiles recorded two original songs at a public recording studio in Brick Township and played a variety of venues, including Cafe Wha? in Greenwich Village. Marion Vinyard said that she believed the young Springsteen when he promised he would make it big.
Called for induction when he was 19, Springsteen failed his physical examination and didn’t serve in Vietnam. In an interview in Rolling Stone magazine in 1984, he said, “When I got on the bus to go take my physical, I thought one thing: I ain’t goin’.” He suffered a concussion in a motorcycle accident when he was 17, and this together with his “crazy” behaviour at induction and not taking the tests, was enough to get him a 4F.
New Jersey beach towns such as Asbury Park, New Jersey inspired the themes of ordinary life in Bruce Springsteen’s music.
In the late 1960s, Springsteen performed briefly in a power trio known as Earth, playing in clubs in New Jersey. Springsteen acquired the nickname “The Boss” during this period as when he played club gigs with a band he took on the task of collecting the band’s nightly pay and distributing it amongst his bandmates. Springsteen, however, has never liked this nickname, due to his dislike of bosses. Lately, however, he seems to have accepted the nickname. Many recent concerts have audiences making up various signs on banners, license plates and so on saying, “Boss Time”. Previously he had the nickname “Doctor”. From 1969 through early 1971, Springsteen performed with Steel Mill, which also featured Danny Federici, Vini Lopez, Vinnie Roslin and later Steve Van Zandt and Robbin Thompson. They went on to play the mid-Atlantic college circuit, and also briefly in California. In January 1970 well-known San Francisco Examiner music critic Philip Elwood gave Springsteen credibility in his glowing assessment of Steel Mill: “I have never been so overwhelmed by totally unknown talent.” Elwood went on to praise their “cohesive musicality” and, in particular, singled out Springsteen as “a most impressive composer.” During this time Springsteen also performed regularly at small clubs in Asbury Park and along the Jersey Shore, quickly gathering a cult following. Other acts followed over the next two years, as Springsteen sought to shape a unique and genuine musical and lyrical style: Dr Zoom & the Sonic Boom (earlyid 1971), Sundance Blues Band (mid 1971), and The Bruce Springsteen Band (mid 1971id 1972). With the addition of pianist David Sancious, the core of what would later become the E Street Band was formed, with occasional temporary additions such as horn sections, “The Zoomettes” (a group of female backing vocalists for “Dr Zoom”) and Southside Johnny Lyon on harmonica. Musical genres explored included blues, R&B, jazz, church music, early rock’n’roll, and soul. His prolific songwriting ability, with more words in some individual songs than other artists had in whole albums, brought his skill to the attention of several people who were about to change his life: new managers Mike Appel and Jim Cretecos, and legendary Columbia Records talent scout John Hammond, who, under Appel’s pressure, auditioned Springsteen in May 1972.
Even after Springsteen gained international acclaim, his New Jersey roots showed through in his music, and he often praised “the great state of New Jersey” in his live shows. Drawing on his extensive local appeal, he routinely sold out consecutive nights in major New Jersey and Philadelphia venues. He also made many surprise appearances at The Stone Pony and other shore nightclubs over the years, becoming the foremost exponent of the Jersey Shore sound.
19721974: Initial struggle for success
Springsteen signed a record deal with Columbia Records in 1972, with the help of John Hammond, who had signed Bob Dylan to the same label a decade earlier. Springsteen brought many of his New Jerseyased colleagues into the studio with him, thus forming the E Street Band (although it would not be formally named as such for a couple more years). His debut album, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., released in January 1973, established him as a critical favorite, though sales were slow. Because of Springsteen’s lyrical poeticism and folk rockooted music exemplified on tracks like “Blinded by the Light” and “For You”, as well as the Columbia and Hammond connections, critics initially compared Springsteen to Bob Dylan. “He sings with a freshness and urgency I haven’t heard since I was rocked by ‘Like a Rolling Stone’,” wrote Crawdaddy magazine editor Peter Knobler in Springsteen’s first interview/profile, in March 1973. Crawdaddy “discovered” Springsteen in the rock press and was his earliest champion. (Springsteen and the E Street Band acknowledged by giving a private performance at the Crawdaddy 10th Anniversary Party in New York City in June 1976.) Music critic Lester Bangs wrote in Creem, 1975, that when Springsteen’s first album was released…..”many of us dismissed it: he wrote like Bob Dylan and Van Morrison, sang like Van Morrison and Robbie Robertson, and led a band that sounded like Van Morrison’s.” The track “Spirit in the Night” especially showed Morrison’s influence, while “Lost in the Flood” was the first of many portraits of Vietnam veterans and “Growin’ Up” his first take on the recurring theme of adolescence.
In September 1973 his second album, The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle, was released, again to critical acclaim but no commercial success. Springsteen’s songs became grander in form and scope, with the E Street Band providing a less folky, more R&B vibe and the lyrics often romanticizing teenage street life. “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” and “Incident on 57th Street” would become fan favorites, and the long, rousing “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)” continues to rank among Springsteen’s most beloved concert numbers.
In the May 22, 1974, issue of Boston’s The Real Paper, music critic Jon Landau wrote after seeing a performance at the Harvard Square Theater, “I saw rock and roll future, and its name is Bruce Springsteen. And on a night when I needed to feel young, he made me feel like I was hearing music for the very first time.” Landau subsequently became Springsteen’s manager and producer, helping to finish the epic new album, Born to Run. Given an enormous budget in a last-ditch effort at a commercially viable record, Springsteen became bogged down in the recording process while striving for a wall of sound production. But, fed by the release of an early mix of “Born to Run” to progressive rock radio, anticipation built toward the album’s release. All in all the album took more than 14 months to record, with six months alone spent on the song “Born To Run.” During this time Springsteen battled with anger and frustration over the album, saying he heard “sounds in [his] head” that he could not explain to the others in the studio. It was during these recording sessions that “Miami” Steve Van Zandt would stumble into the studio just in time to help Springsteen organize the horn section on “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” (it is his only written contribution to the album), and eventually led to his joining the E Street Band. Van Zandt had been a long-time friend of Springsteen, as well as a collaborator on earlier musical projects, and understood where he was coming from, which helped him to translate some of the sounds Springsteen was hearing. Still, by the end of the grueling recording sessions, Springsteen was not satisfied, and, upon first hearing the finished album, threw the record into the alley and told Jon Landau he would rather just cut the album live at The Bottom Line, a place he often played.
The woman in his life during this time was part-time-live-in 20-year-old Karen Darvin of Dallas, Texas, who was in New York City pursuing a career in dance.