5 Questions About Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band Answered

Paul Kane/Getty Images
Paul Kane/Getty Images

Bruce Springsteen's debut album, Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J., hit shelves 45 years ago, and since then, The Boss has carved out a unique place in the music scene with the help of the E Street Band. He's sold millions of albums, yet he sticks to his working-class ethos; he's traveled all over the world, but his sound will never leave the Jersey Shore behind. His music crosses generations and seems to get more popular with each new album. But with that much history to explore, it's easy to have questions go unanswered. So whether you're a new fan or someone that's followed the band since those early Stone Pony days in Asbury Park, here's a quick Springsteen primer.

1. WHAT DOES "THEY BLEW UP THE CHICKEN MAN IN PHILLY LAST NIGHT" MEAN IN THE SONG "ATLANTIC CITY"?

The Chicken Man was Phil Testa, the underboss of the Philadelphia crime family under Angelo Bruno. Bruno was killed in 1980, and Testa, who got his nickname from his involvement in a poultry business, succeeded him as don of the family. His nine-month reign ended when conspirators in the family placed a nail bomb under his porch and detonated it when he walked out the front door.

2. IS THERE REALLY AN E STREET?

E Street runs northeast through the New Jersey shore town of Belmar. According to Springsteen lore, the band took its name from the street because original keyboard player David Sancious's mother lived there and allowed the band to rehearse in her house. The titular avenue of "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" is also in Belmar.

3. WHAT'S "TENTH AVENUE FREEZE OUT" ALL ABOUT?

"Tenth Avenue" tells the story of how the band was formed. The "Bad Scooter" that's searching for his groove is a young Springsteen in search of a new backing band; the "Big Man" in the third verse is saxophonist Clarence Clemons. Springsteen met him while playing in a club in Asbury Park. It was a stormy night with strong winds, and when Clemons opened the door to the club, it flew off its hinges. Clemons was a larger-than-life figure in the band, their personal Paul Bunyan, and Springsteen likes to use the story as proof that Clemons, who died in 2011, could blow the doors off any room he was in. The horn intro was proposed and arranged by guitarist Steven Van Zandt, and at several concerts it's been performed by the Miami Horns, a horn section that includes La Bamba and Pender from Late Night with Conan O'Brien.

4. WHAT DO THE E STREET BAND MEMBERS DO WHEN THEY'RE NOT PLAYING WITH BRUCE?

In the late '60s and early '70s, the Jersey Shore had a lively music scene, especially in Asbury Park, and almost all the E Street musicians got their start in various shore bands like Little Melvin & The Invaders, The Downtown Tangiers Band, The Jaywalkers, Steel Mill, and Dr. Zoom & The Sonic Booms. Springsteen himself cut his teeth in The Castiles, Steel Mill, and even played with Chuck Berry, who toured without a band in the early '70s to save money. He would pick up local musicians at each tour stop to do a show or two, and Springsteen performed with him when he came to New Jersey.

During lulls in E Street activity, and during the 10 years between the band's dissolution and 1999 reunion, all the musicians kept themselves busy. Drummer Max Weinberg, of course, led the Max Weinberg 7, the former house band on Late Night with Conan O'Brien. He was also a session drummer on Meat Loaf's Bat out of Hell (E Street pianist Roy Bittan also played on the album) and played on "Bat Out of Hell," "You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth," and "Paradise by the Dashboard Light," which gives him the honor of keeping the beat on two of the best selling rock albums of all time. He's also performed at the 1993 and 1997 Presidential Inauguration Galas, the 1995 Grammy Awards, the dedication of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and on albums by Sting, Paul McCartney, Peter Gabriel, Ringo Starr, and Barbra Streisand.

Steven Van Zandt took the role of Silvio Dante on The Sopranos, released some solo albums, hosts the syndicated garage rock radio show Little Steven's Underground Garage and, in 2006, assembled, and directed an all-star band to back Hank Williams, Jr. on the recording of "All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight" for the season premiere of Monday Night Football that included Little Richard, Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen, Aerosmith's Joe Perry, The Roots' Questlove, and Bootsy Collins. Van Zandt was also the director of the music selection committee that picked the songs for the video game Rock Band.

Before his death in 2011, Clarence Clemons made a brief foray into acting and appeared as one of the "Three Most Important People In The World" in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, and made a guest appearance on Diff'rent Strokes as a saxophonist who helps Arnold Jackson learn to play. He also appeared twice on The Wire as a Baltimore youth-program organizer. During the '80s, he also owned a Big Man's West, a nightclub in Red Bank, New Jersey.

5. OH, AND WHY IS HE "THE BOSS"?

Well, when Springsteen was playing with the E Street band in the early days, he was the point man for the band's money. He was in charge of collecting whatever the band was owed and distributing to everyone afterwards. Hence, he became, quite literally, The Boss. Of course, being a boss goes against what most of his songs are about, so Springsteen isn't too keen on the nickname.

Watch John Krasinski Interview Steve Carell About The Office's 15th Anniversary

John Krasinski and Steve Carell in The Office.
John Krasinski and Steve Carell in The Office.
NBC Universal, Inc.

The Office just passed a major milestone: It has been 15 years since the American adaptation of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's hit British sitcom made its way to NBC, where it ran for nine seasons. To celebrate the show's big anniversary, former co-stars John Krasinski and Steve Carell reunited in the best way possible: Carell appeared as a guest on Krasinski's new YouTube show, where the two decided to spread some positivity.

Krasinski just launched his very own news show titled Some Good News, and it's exactly what we've all been needing. During this segment, he interviewed Carell via video call, and the two shared their favorite memories of working on the beloved workplace comedy.

"It's such a happy surprise," Carell said of The Office's continued success. "After all these years people are still tuning in and finding it." The two also addressed the question that's been on every fan's mind: is there a chance that we'll see the Dunder Mifflin crew reunite in some way?

"Listen, I know everyone's talking about a reunion," Krasinski said. "Hopefully one day we'll just all get to reunite as people."

You can watch the full episode below. (Carell joins the video around the 5:50 minute mark.)

15 Facts About John Brown, the Real-Life Abolitionist at the Center of The Good Lord Bird

John Brown, circa 1846.
John Brown, circa 1846.
Augustus Washington/Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Abolitionist John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry on October 16, 1859, was meant to start an armed slave revolt, and ultimately end slavery. Though Brown succeeded in taking over the federal armory, the revolt never came to pass—and Brown paid for the escapade with his life.

In the more than 160 years since that raid, John Brown has been called a hero, a madman, a martyr, and a terrorist. Now Showtime is exploring his legacy with an adaption of James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird. Like the novel it’s based on, the miniseries—which stars Ethan Hawke—will cover the exploits of Brown and his allies. Here's what you should know about John Brown before you watch.

1. John Brown was born into an abolitionist family on May 9, 1800.

John Brown was born to Owen and Ruth Mills Brown in Torrington, Connecticut, on May 9, 1800. After his family relocated to Hudson, Ohio (where John was raised), their new home would become an Underground Railroad station. Owen would go on to co-found the Western Reserve Anti-Slavery Society and was a trustee at the Oberlin Collegiate Institute, one of the first American colleges to admit black (and female) students.

2. John Brown declared bankruptcy at age 42.

At 16, Brown went to school with the hope of becoming a minister, but eventually left the school and, like his father, became a tanner. He also dabbled in surveying, canal-building, and the wool trade. In 1835, he bought land in northeastern Ohio. Thanks partly the financial panic of 1837, Brown couldn’t satisfy his creditors and had to declare bankruptcy in 1842. He later tried peddling American wool abroad in Europe, where he was forced to sell it at severely reduced prices. This opened the door for multiple lawsuits when Brown returned to America.

3. John Brown's Pennsylvania home was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The John Brown Tannery Site in Pennsylvania
The John Brown Tannery Site in Pennsylvania.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Sometime around 1825, Brown moved himself and his family to Guys Mills, Pennsylvania, where he set up a tannery and built a house and a barn with a hidden room that was used by slaves on the run. Brown reportedly helped 2500 slaves during his time in Pennsylvania; the building was destroyed in 1907 [PDF], but the site, which is now a museum that is open to the public, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Brown moved his family back to Ohio in 1836.

4. After Elijah Lovejoy's murder, John Brown pledged to end slavery.

Elijah Lovejoy was a journalist and the editor of the St. Louis/Alton Observer, a staunchly anti-slavery newspaper. His editorials enraged those who defended slavery, and in 1837, Lovejoy was killed when a mob attacked the newspaper’s headquarters.

The incident lit a fire under Brown. When he was told about Lovejoy’s murder at an abolitionist prayer meeting in Hudson, Brown—a deeply religious man—stood up and raised his right hand, saying “Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery."

5. John Brown moved to the Kansas Territory after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which decreed that it would be the people of Kansas and Nebraska who would decide if their territories would be free states or slave states. New England abolitionists hoping to convert the Kansas Territory into a Free State moved there in droves and founded the city of Lawrence. By the end of 1855, John Brown had also relocated to Kansas, along with six of his sons and his son-in-law. Opposing the newcomers were slavery supporters who had also arrived in large numbers.

6. John Brown’s supporters killed five pro-slavery men at the 1856 Pottawatomie Massacre.

A John Brown mural by John Steuart Curry
A John Brown mural by John Steuart Curry.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On May 21, 1856, Lawrence was sacked by pro-slavery forces. The next day, Charles Sumner, an anti-slavery Senator from Massachusetts, was beaten with a cane by Representative Preston Brooks on the Senate floor until he lost consciousness. (A few days earlier, Sumner had insulted Democratic senators Stephen Douglas and Andrew Butler in his "Crime Against Kansas" speech; Brooks was a representative from Butler’s state of South Carolina.)

In response to those events, Brown led a group of abolitionists into a pro-slavery settlement by the Pottawatomie Creek on the night of May 24. On Brown’s orders, five slavery sympathizers were forced out of their houses and killed with broadswords.

Newspapers across the country denounced the attack—and John Brown in particular. But that didn't dissuade him: Before his final departure from Kansas in 1859, Brown participated in many other battles across the region. He lost a son, Frederick Brown, in the fighting.

7. John Brown led a party of liberated slaves all the way from Missouri to Michigan.

In December 1858, John Brown crossed the Kansas border and entered the slave state of Missouri. Once there, he and his allies freed 11 slaves and led them all the way to Detroit, Michigan, covering a distance of more than 1000 miles. (One of the liberated women gave birth en route.) Brown’s men had killed a slaveholder during their Missouri raid, so President James Buchanan put a $250 bounty on the famed abolitionist. That didn’t stop Brown, who got to watch the people he’d helped free board a ferry and slip away into Canada.

8. John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry was meant to instigate a nationwide slave uprising.

On October 16, 1859, Brown and 18 men—including five African Americans—seized control of a U.S. armory in the Jefferson County, Virginia (today part of West Virginia) town of Harpers Ferry. The facility had around 100,000 weapons stockpiled there by the late 1850s. Brown hoped his actions would inspire a large-scale slave rebellion, with enslaved peoples rushing to collect free guns, but the insurrection never came.

9. Robert E. Lee played a part in John Brown’s arrest.

Artist Thomas Hovenden depicts John Brown after his capture.
Artist Thomas Hovenden depicts John Brown after his capture.
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

Shortly after Brown took Harpers Ferry, the area was surrounded by local militias. On the orders of President Buchanan, Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee entered the fray with a detachment of U.S. Marines. The combined might of regional and federal forces proved too much for Brown, who was captured in the Harpers Ferry engine house on October 18, 1859. Ten of Brown's men died, including two more of his sons.

10. John Brown was put on trial a week after his capture.

After his capture, Brown—along with Aaron Stevens, Edwin Coppoc, Shields Green, and John Copeland—was put on trial. When asked if the defendants had counsel, Brown responded:

"Virginians, I did not ask for any quarter at the time I was taken. I did not ask to have my life spared. The Governor of the State of Virginia tendered me his assurance that I should have a fair trial: but, under no circumstances whatever will I be able to have a fair trial. If you seek my blood, you can have it at any moment, without this mockery of a trial. I have had no counsel: I have not been able to advise with anyone ... I am ready for my fate. I do not ask a trial. I beg for no mockery of a trial—no insult—nothing but that which conscience gives, or cowardice would drive you to practice. I ask again to be excused from the mockery of a trial."

Brown would go on to plead not guilty. Just days later, he was found “guilty of treason, and conspiring and advising with slaves and others to rebel, and murder in the first degree” and was sentenced to hang.

11. John Brown made a grim prophecy on the morning of his death.

On the morning of December 2, 1859, Brown passed his jailor a note that read, “I … am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away, but with blood.” He was hanged later that day.

12. Victor Hugo defended John Brown.

Victor Hugo—the author of Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, who was also an abolitionist—penned an open letter on John Brown’s behalf in 1859. Desperate to see him pardoned, Hugo wrote, “I fall on my knees, weeping before the great starry banner of the New World … I implore the illustrious American Republic, sister of the French Republic, to see to the safety of the universal moral law, to save John Brown.” Hugo’s appeals were of no use. The letter was dated December 2—the day Brown was hanged.

13. Abraham Lincoln commented on John Brown's death.

Abraham Lincoln, who was then in Kansas, said, “Old John Brown has been executed for treason against a State. We cannot object, even though he agreed with us in thinking slavery wrong. That cannot excuse violence, bloodshed and treason. It could avail him nothing that he might think himself right.”

14. John Brown was buried in North Elba, New York.

John Brown's gravesite in New York
John Brown's gravesite in New York.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In 1849, Brown had purchased 244 acres of property from Gerrit Smith, a wealthy abolitionist, in North Elba, New York. The property was near Timbuctoo, a 120,000-acre settlement that Smith had started in 1846 to give African American families the property they needed in order to vote (at that time, state law required black residents to own $250 worth of property to cast a vote). Brown had promised Smith that he would assist his new neighbors in cultivating the mountainous terrain.

When Brown was executed, his family interred the body at their North Elba farm—which is now a New York State Historic Site.

15. The tribute song "John Brown's Body" shares its melody with “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

It didn’t take long for Brown to become a martyr. Early in the 1860s, the basic melody of “Say Brothers Will You Meet Us,” a popular camp hymn, was fitted with new lyrics about the slain abolitionist. Titled “John Brown’s Body,” the song spread like wildfire in the north—despite having some lines that were deemed unsavory. Julia Ward Howe took the melody and gave it yet another set of lyrics. Thus was born “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” a Union marching anthem that's still widely known today.

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