Born to working-class parents in a small New Jersey town, Bruce Springsteen rose to become arguably the biggest American superstar in Rock. Now in the fifth decade of a career that’s spanned incarnations as a bar-band guitar hero, Dylanesque street poet, chronicler of blue-collar American life, writer of anthemic radio hits, and Woody Guthrie-esque balladeer, Springsteen has an especially devoted base of fans, who hail “the Boss” for his anti-Rock-star populism and for intense, long-haul performances that reflect both a dogged work ethic and a belief in the power of music as a redemptive, uniting force.
A self-described loner and misfit as a youth, Springsteen was passionately devoted to music from the moment he saw Elvis Presley perform on The Ed Sullivan Show, at age 7. A square peg at his Catholic school, Bruce also butted heads with his father, a bus driver and factory worker prone to dark moods, who strongly disapproved of his Bruce’s desire to play music. Springsteen’s disinterest in formal education would culminate when he skipped his own high school graduation.
After high school, Springsteen developed his musical chops playing with bar bands on the Jersey Shore, (mostly in the fading resort town Asbury Park), and up and down the East Coast. During this time he met the veteran musicians who would form his E Street Band. He also came to the attention of legendary record executive John Hammond, who signed Springsteen to Columbia after an in-office audition.
Springteen’s first two albums, Greetings from Asbury Park and The Wild, The Innocent, & The E Street Shuffle were both released in 1973. Wordy and freewheeling, the records were well received by some critics, who tagged Springsteen with comparisons to Bob Dylan. Sales were slow, however.
Realizing his third album might make or break his career, Springsteen spent a full year in the studio, working obsessively. The result was the epic, cinematic Born To Run (1975), which made a star of Springsteen, yielding a hit in the title track and hitting No. 3 on the Billboard album chart.
Springsteen’s struggle to deal with his own success is reflected in the songs on his next few albums: Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978), The River (1980), and the dark, acoustic Nebraska (1982). But his biggest fame was yet to come. It arrived with 1984’s Born in the U.S.A., a juggernaut that topped charts around the world and spawned seven Top Ten singles. (One was the title track, a widely misunderstood song whose chorus was taken by many as a statement of jingoistic pride, but in fact was an ironic howl of anger from a disenfranchised Viet Nam veteran.) Springsteen emerged as a political voice during this period, taking aim at policies of then-president Ronald Reagan that he felt were destructive to America’s working- and middle-classes.
The next period in Springsteen’s life had its ups and downs. Springsteen married and divorced. He dissolved the E Street Band and left Jersey for Los Angeles. His records ventured into new sonic territory, alienating some longtime fans. He later described this as his “lost” period – but Springsteen found his way back. In 1991 he married a second time, to E Street Band singer Patti Scialfa; the couple had three children. Springsteen reunited with the E Street Band in 2002 and released The Rising, an emotional response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
Having passed his 60th birthday in 2009, Springsteen shows no signs of slowing down. He continues to experiment in the recording studio, support political and charitable causes he believes in, and to deliver impassioned performances, despite the passing of long time E Street Band members Danny Federici in 2008 and Clarence Clemons in 2011. His most recent record, High Hopes, was released in January 2014.