American rock singer, guitarist, and songwriter Nearly unrivaled as a singer-songwriter and live performer, Springsteen demonstrated uncompromising artistic integrity, commitment to his craft, and belief in the redemptive, life-changing power of music.
Born: September 23, 1949; Long Branch, New Jersey
Also known as: Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen (full name); the Boss Member of: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen was born into a working-class family, and he grew up in the factory town of Freehold, New Jersey, a blue-collar upbringing that stimulated his deep empathy for the tenacious underdogs who populate his lyrics. Uninterested in work or school, repressed at home, and alienated from most of his peers, Springsteen came alive when he began playing guitar at age sixteen. From that time, he dedicated himself obsessively to a career in music. After leading a series of increasingly successful bands (earning the nickname the Boss for his demands for perfectionism) and developing into a prolific songwriter, he was signed to a recording contract in 1972 by John Hammond, the executive who a decade earlier had discovered Bob Dylan. In 1985 Springsteen married model and actress Julianne Phillips, and they divorced in 1990. In 1991 he married Patty Scialfa, who had been singing backup vocals with his E Street Band since 1984.
They had three children: Evan James, Jessica Rae, and Sam Ryan. Springsteen's music has been recognized with numerous Grammy and Emmy Awards, and his song for the film Philadelphia, "Streets of Philadelphia", which adopts the point of view of a gay man dying of AIDS, won an Academy Award in 1994. The Music Early Works. The connection with Hammond led to the media labeling Springsteen "the new Dylan". With few songs suitable for hit singles, his first two albums proved to be commercial disasters. However, some visionary critics, such as Steve Simels, who put the first album on his best-of-the-year list,were quick to see his talent. The influential critic Jon Landau, who became Springsteen's manager and producer, famously declared after seeing him play in 1974, "I saw rock and roll's future and its name is Bruce Springsteen". Time would justify that prediction, as several songs from those first releases became classics, staples of his live shows decades later. Many critics would now rank the second record, The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle, among his best. Born to Run.
After two commercial failures, Springsteen set out to make the greatest rockand- roll record of all time. He succeeded with Born to Run, combining a guitar-driven wall of sound with passionate vocals and lyrics that reimagined the classic rock-and-roll themes of cars, romance, and dreams as adult, rather than exclusively adolescent, concerns. Even without a hit single, the record sold a million copies in the first year and became a staple of FM radio programming. Springsteen was the first musician to appear on the covers of Newsweek and Time in the same week. Nebraska. At the peak of his popularity-The River was his first album to reach number one on the charts and yielded his first hit single-Springsteen astonished critics and fans with his next release, the solo acoustic Nebraska.
Switching unexpectedly from electric to acoustic music, Springsteen produced in his listeners an intense response, similar to Dylan when he switched from acoustic to electric music in 1965. Recorded at Springsteen's home on a cassette deck, the album, with its primitive sound and bleak material (the title track is a study of a serial killer), showed the influences of country and folk music on his writing, and it revealed unsuspected depths of despair in Springsteen's generally optimistic mythology, whose protagonists were often downtrodden but seldom defeated like the isolated, psychically battered characters depicted in Nebraska. Born in the U.S.A. Springsteen's seventh album was a great commercial success, producing seven Top 10 singles by combining the social realism of Nebraska with the epic rock-and-roll music of Born to Run. The opening song, "Born in the U.S.A.", was often misinterpreted as a commercial for America's superiority by listeners who ignored the lyrics (Ronald Reagan briefly used it as a theme song for his presidential campaign).
Originally written for Nebraska, it was in fact a bitter reflection on the continuing human costs of the Vietnam War. As always, Springsteen's empathy for his characters transformed the political theme into a personal one, presenting it from the point of view of a disillusioned Vietnam veteran. Magic. Springsteen's work continued to earn critical praise and popular success, with Magic debuting as the best-selling album in the world and earning unanimous critical acclaim and four Grammy Award nominations. Hailed as a return to his classic form, and featuring the full E Street Band (most of whom had been playing with him, on and off, for thirty-plus years), the album successfully combined accessible pop tunes, hard-driving rock songs, and pointed political commentary. Just as his early work had explored the impact of the Vietnam War on the lives of average Americans, this album took the war in Iraq as its primary subtext.
Musical Legacy While many of the earlier giants of rock music had made their mark as innovators, Springsteen's trademark was his mastery of the traditional, as he worked to consolidate and extend what he saw as a valuable and distinctively American musical history. In an era when punk, new wave, and even discowere challenging the centrality of the rock tradition, Springsteen explored and revitalized the genre itself, a project that eventually took him beyond rock music into the folk and country traditions long ignored by most rock musicians. Springsteen's empathy for the problems and the everyday heroism of ordinary working people struggling to live meaningful lives in difficult times made his music important to his audience. The Beatles achieved such levels of popular and critical success, but for just a few years, while Springsteen has sustained it through four decades.