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Profile of Versatile Rock Superstar Bruce Springsteen

By

Bruce Springsteen performing on stage, 1988.
Dave Hogan/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Born:

Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen on September 23, 1949 in Long Branch, New Jersey

Overview:

Throughout four decades within the ever-changing rock and roll genre, New Jersey's most famous pop culture figure, Bruce Springsteen, has produced a remarkably consistent, eclectic and deeply thoughtful, heartfelt body of work. Along the way, he has drawn tremendous levels of both critical and commercial acclaim as a major songwriter, tireless performer and conscientious social commentator. One reason for Springsteen's stunning level of success is his ability to straddle genres so effectively, from his early days playing an Americana style of progressive rock to his quieter singer-songwriter triumphs.

Early Years:

Springsteen grew up during tumultuous times, the son of working-class parents among similar folks often struggling to see evidence of the fabled American Dream. His upbringing could be austere at times, which may have bred a tendency toward rebellion that found perfect voice in rock and roll. By the late '60s Springsteen had become a full-time local musician, drawing a strong following on the Jersey Shore for his spirited live shows, songwriting and boundless energy. By 1972 the emerging artist would sign a deal with Columbia Records and begin forging a sound with the musicians that would become the E Street Band.

Original E Street Band Members Also Active During the '80s:

  • Bruce Springsteen - Lead vocals, primary songwriter, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, acoustic guitar, harmonica, piano
  • Clarence Clemons (born January 11, 1942 in Norfolk, Virginia) - Saxophone, percussion, backing vocals
  • Danny Federici (born Daniel Paul Federici on January 23, 1950, died April 17, 2008) - Organ, glockenspiel, accordion, keyboards
  • Garry Tallent (born October 27, 1949 in Detroit, Michigan) - Bass guitar

Other Core '80s E Street Band Members:

  • Roy Bittan (born July 2, 1949 in Rockaway Beach, Queens, New York City) - Piano, organ, accordion, synthesizers
  • Max Weinberg (born Maxwell Sachel Weinberg on April 13, 1951 in Newark, New Jersey) - Drums
  • Steven Van Zandt (born Steven Lento on November 22, 1950 in Winthrop, Massachusetts) - Rhythm guitar, harmony & backing vocals
  • Patti Scialfa (born Vivienne Patricia Scialfa on July 29, 1953 in Deal, New Jersey) - Backing vocals, guitar, percussion
  • Nils Lofgren (born June 21, 1951 in Chicago, Illinois) - Guitar, backing vocals

Superstardom & the Making of a Stadium Rock Legend:

Upon the release of Born to Run in 1975, Springsteen quickly transformed from a struggling critical favorite into an international superstar and concert attraction known for marathon shows brimming with epic energy and intensity. His appearance on the covers of both Time and Newsweek during the same week that same fall helped cement Springsteen as a cornerstone of rock and roll history. Although he released only one more album during the '70s, 1978's Darkness on the Edge of Town, which featured less expansive arrangements and more socially concerned lyrics, he and the band toured constantly and successfully.

Springsteen's Confessional Explorations Continue Into the '80s:

Springsteen made up for recording time lost during a dispute with his former manager during the latter '70s by releasing three critically acclaimed, eclectic records during the first half of the '80s. Each album sounded quite different from its predecessor, but all were thematically linked by a deep interest and concern with the struggles of the common man and an obsession with darker subject matter than he'd ever explored before. 1980's The River was a sweeping double album with a generally stripped-down sound, while 1982's Nebraska was a stunning and stark solo acoustic offering.

Embraced but Misinterpreted, the Icon Returns:

Where his previous two albums were viewed as departures and may have puzzled some long-time fans, 1984's Born in the U.S.A. represented a return to form for Springsteen. Music fans responded in kind by making it one of the top-selling albums of the decade, even though some of its tracks took a downcast approach ("Downbound Train" and "My Hometown") only moderately tempered by more upbeat-sounding but still inward-searching tunes like "Glory Days" and "Dancing in the Dark." Some listeners and even President Reagan missed the point of the title track entirely, mistaking the album's anthemic sound for rah-rah patriotism.

Intimate Personal Matters Inside the Tunnel of Love:

Although Springsteen had never been more popular than during the lengthy 1985 'Born in the U.S.A.' tour, his success was clouded somewhat by a crumbling marriage and the changing concerns brought on by the aging process. Consequently, 1987's Tunnel of Love not only sported a slightly different sound but a far more intense lyrical focus on matters of the heart than had ever come from his pen. Despite this confessional twist, fans rewarded Springsteen by making hits out of the title track and "Brilliant Disguise," demonstrating that his breadth and influence had not waned but simply grown more complex.

Springsteen Stays Vital Through the '90s Into a New Millennium:

Before the '80s came to a close, Springsteen's divorce from actress Julianne Phillips would become final and he would take another trip down the aisle with bandmate Scialfa, a union that has stood the test of time. Also during this period, Springsteen effectively put the E Street Band on hiatus, a move that generated some controversy among bandmates as well as fans. The rest of the '90s would be a bit spotty professionally for Springsteen, although he continued to release records at a generous clip. By 1995 a short E Street reunion proved that the singer's audience still remained strong and hungry for more.

Another reunion in 1999 proved far more lasting and has continued into the new millennium as sturdy as ever with the release of commercially and critically successful albums The Rising, Devils & Dust and, most recently, 2007's Magic and 2009's Working on a Dream. During this decade, the E Street Band has toured as tirelessly as ever to sold-out stadium crowds and, though now in his sixties, Springsteen has not yet slowed his concert intensity. Sadly, the band lost longtime keyboard player Danny Federici on April 17, 2008 after a long bout with melanoma, causing the postponement of some concerts and representing the band's first real brush with mortal tragedy.

Springsteen has proven himself over and over again to be one of those rarest of artists whose talents refuse to erode, and he remains one of rock music's biggest stars on the strength of new original music as well as his remarkable back catalogue. In many ways Springsteen epitomizes disparate styles ranging from acoustic singer-songwriter material to roots music to his legendary straight-ahead brand of rock and roll. Nearing four decades in the music business, Springsteen remains not only relevant but as active and focused as most artists half his age. A true treasure of Americana, Springsteen is undeniably an arts and entertainment marvel.

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