35 Facts About Bruce Springsteen

Chris Jackson/Getty Images for the Invictus Games Foundation
Chris Jackson/Getty Images for the Invictus Games Foundation

Today, Mr. Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen—"The Boss," the patron saint of the working man, the protector of all that is holy and righteous on E Street—turns 70 years old. To celebrate his big day, here are 35 things you need to know about the rocker and his E Street band.

1. Barack Obama is a big Bruce Springsteen fan.

Bruce Springsteen has fans in high places. Barack Obama has said that there are "a handful of people who enter into your lives through their music and tell the American people's story. Bruce Springsteen is one of those people." Obama also said that he ran for President because he couldn't be Bruce Springsteen.

2. Joe Strummer was also a fan.

Another major Springsteen fan was the late Joe Strummer. The Clash frontman was asked about the Boss for a TV documentary in the mid-1990s and responded with a fax that said, among other things, "Bruce is great ... If you don't agree with that, you're a pretentious Martian from Venus" and "The DJ puts on 'Racing in the Streets' and life seems worth living again."

3. Dr. Ruth had some songwriting advice for the musician.

Dr. Ruth Westheimer once visited Springsteen backstage at a show. She told him she liked what he said in his songs about love and sex, but she wished he would mention contraception once in a while. The Boss's reply? "Gee, it’s going to be tough to get the word contraception into a song."

4. He was close friends and collaborators with Warren Zevon.

The late Warren Zevon was Springsteen's friend, fan and collaborator. When Zevon was diagnosed with mesothelioma, he refused any treatment he thought would incapacitate him and headed to the studio—with plenty of friends in tow—to record his final album, The Wind. Springsteen provided background vocals and electric guitar for two songs, one of which won the Grammy for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocal. Springsteen later appeared on a tribute album to Zevon, performing his song "My Ride's Here."

5. As a kid, he was not a great student.

Springsteen had a bit of a hard time in school. "In the third grade, a nun stuffed me in a garbage can under her desk because she said that's where I belonged," Springsteen said. "I also had the distinction of being the only altar boy knocked down by a priest during mass." Years later, at Ocean County College, legend has it that his fellow students petitioned the administration to have him expelled.

6. He also had a bit of a following among his fellow students.

Of course, Springsteen had his fans, too. Some of the girls in his high school approached the administration with a petition demanding that Bruce's band at the time, the Castiles, be given more attention and respect.

7. He grew up surrounded by the sweet smells of chocolate.

When the Springsteens were living in Freehold, New Jersey, their house was near a Nestle's factory. When the wind was just right, they could smell chocolate and coffee all day long.

8. The first song he ever learned to play on the guitar was a Beatles song.

The first song Springsteen learned to play on the guitar was the Beatles' "Twist and Shout." He has played it hundreds more times over the years at concerts, often as an encore.

9. There really is an E Street.

It 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' mother lived there and allowed the band to rehearse in her house.

The titular avenue of "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" is also in Belmar.

10. "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" was guitarist Steven Van Zandt's debut with the E Street Band.

Van Zandt came up with the idea for the horn intro and became the de facto arranger when he sang the line for the horn section.

11. The working title for Darkness on the Edge of Town was American Madness.

American Madness was also the title of a 1932 Frank Capra movie.

12. He originally wrote "Hungry Heart" for The Ramones.

In 1979, Springsteen saw the Ramones play at the Fast Lane in Asbury Park, New Jersey. He met the band and Joey Ramone asked Springsteen to write a song for them. Springsteen wrote "Hungry Heart" with the intention of giving it to them, but hung on to it at the urging of his manager.

13. Springsteen originally saw his first wife in a music video.

The first place Springsteen saw his first wife, Julianne Phillips? In one of .38 Special's music videos. She later appeared toward the end of Springsteen's video for "Glory Days." She appears in the video with Patti Scialfa, Springsteen's second (and current) wife.

14. He went home from the movies with a random fan to prove a point.

Springsteen lore has it that the musician was once spotted in a movie theater watching Woody Allen's Stardust Memories (which comments on artist/fan relations). The fan who saw him challenged the singer to prove he didn't regard his own fans with the contempt as the Allen stand-in in the movie by coming to meet his parents ... so he did. "And for two hours I was in this kid’s house, talking with these people," Springsteen recalled. "They were really nice. They cooked me up all this food, watermelon, and the guy gave me a ride back to my hotel a few hours later."

15. The "chicken man" he references in "Atlantic City" was a mob boss.

When Springsteen sings that "they blew up the Chicken Man in Philly last night" in "Atlantic City," he's referring to 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.

16. Springsteen caused a security scare at elvis presley's graceland.

After a 1976 concert in Memphis, a presumably inebriated Springsteen went to Graceland at three in the morning, jumped the wall, and ran to the front door. Security grabbed him before he could make it to the door and sent him packing. Knocking wouldn't have done much good, anyway. Elvis was in Lake Tahoe at the time.

17. He's a talented photographer.

According to Frank Stefanko, a photographer and friend Springsteen's, The Boss is a pretty talented photographer. "Riding in my car he'll notice unusual things—weird Jersey billboards, funny signs on the sides of diners—and it's all registering," Stefanko said. "A [nonphotographer] will just walk by and never see it. Bruce travels all over the world, taking pictures—it's quite a collection of work. Will he ever show it? I don't know. He doesn't make a fuss over it. But I know he has that artist's eye—his eyes, his brain, they're always working."

18. He has been heard in space.

In December 1999, the crew of the Space Shuttle Discovery was woken up with Springsteen's song "Rendezvous" on the day they were scheduled to rendezvous with the Hubble Space Telescope.

19. He wrote "Fire" for Elvis Presley.

In May 1977, Springsteen and Van Zandt went to an Elvis Presley concert in Philadelphia. A few days later Bruce wrote "Fire," and allegedly sent a demo of the song to Presley that summer, hoping he might cover it. Whether the tape got sent or not, Presley died that August and Springsteen wound up giving "Fire" to Robert Gordon. Gordon's version of the song was covered by the The Pointer Sisters, who made it a hit in 1979.

20. Monmouth University is home to an archive of Springsteen artifacts.

New Jersey's Monmouth University is home to The Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music which, according to the website, "serves as the official archival repository for Bruce Springsteen’s written works, photographs, periodicals, and artifacts." There are more than 35,000 pieces in the collection, which is available to view by appointment only.

21. "Kitty's Back" was inspired by a jersey shore strip club.

The title for "Kitty's Back," from The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle, was inspired by a neon sign Springsteen saw promoting the return of popular stripper a Jersey Shore club.

22. Someone may have paid a lot of money for Springsteen's screen door.

According to local legend, a fan bought the screen door of the house at 68 South Street in Freehold, New Jersey—a house Springsteen had once lived in—from the homeowner in the early '80s, thinking it was the screen door mentioned in "Thunder Road."

23. He played a concert in the gym of his former grammar school in 1996.

In November 1996, Springsteen played a benefit concert in the gymnasium of his former grade school, the St. Rose of Lima School in Freehold, New Jersey. Only Freehold residents were allowed to purchase tickets.

24. He's been the subject of a symposium for musicologists and educators.

In September 2005, and again in 2009, "Glory Days: A Bruce Springsteen Symposium" drew a crowd of 330 educators, journalists, historians, musicologists, and fans to hear more than 100 presentations on Springsteen scholarship.

25. He turned Asbury Park's The Stone Pony into a tourist attraction.

Thanks to the Boss, the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, New Jersey is one of the most famous music venues in the world. It's so closely associated with Springsteen that you might think he got his start at there, but the club only opened in 1974, when Springsteen already had two albums out.

26. He has a minor planet named after him.

It's technical designation is 23990 Springsteen.

27. The fortune teller in "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)" is real.

Madam Marie, the fortune-teller in "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)," is as real as E Street. Marie Castello told fortunes on the Asbury Park boardwalk from 1932 until her death in 2008 at age 93. The fortune-telling booth is still there and is run by Madam Marie's family.

28. There's a Muppet modeled after him.

Sesame Street has performed a couple of different Springsteen covers, including "Born to Add" and Barn in the USA." The tunes have been performed by a Muppet named Bruce Stringbean who is backed by the S Street Band.

29. The E Street Band made their live debut in 1974.

The live debut of the E Street Band, with Max Weinberg on drums and Roy Bittan on piano, occurred on September 20, 1974 at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. That show marked the first time that Springsteen earned $5000 for a night's work.

30. It took 16 hours to create Clarence Clemons' "Jungleland" sax solo.

When the band was recording, "Jungleland," the epic that closes Born to Run, it took 16 hours (with no bathroom breaks, at least according to Clemons) to work out and record Clarence Clemons' sax solo. When the Boss pointed this out to Clemons, he was surprised. He thought it had only been five.

31. Springsteen and Clemons' first meeting is the stuff of legends.

According to Springsteen lore, Bruce first met Clarence "Big Man" Clemons while playing at a club in Asbury Park. “A rainy, windy night it was, and when I opened the door the whole thing flew off its hinges and blew away down the street," Clemons, who passed away in 2011, once recalled. "The band were onstage, but staring at me framed in the doorway. Bruce and I looked at each other and didn't say anything, we just knew. We knew we were the missing links in each other's lives. He was what I'd been searching for.”

Springsteen liked to use the story as proof that Clemons, the E Street Band's personal Paul Bunyan, could blow the doors off any room he was in.

32. One might consider October 19, 1984, "the night Rosalita died."

As far back as the song was written, almost every regular set at a Springsteen concert was closed with an extended version of "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)." But on that fateful night in Tacoma, Washington, Rosie was dropped from set list. Springsteen biographer Dave Marsh wrote that this was done to "disrupt the ritual expectations of the fanatic fans ... establishing through a burst of creativity just who was boss ... he'd liberated the show from an albatross, a song that was too long and had long since stopped breathing."

33. Ernest Carter made a memorable impact on "Born to Run."

Ernest "Boom" Carter doesn't have the same name recognition as some other E Streeters, but even if you're only a casual Springsteen fan, you've heard his work. Carter's only performance with Springsteen was his drum track on "Born to Run." Carter's successor to the drum throne, Max Weinberg, has said that he could never reproduce Carter's drum parts in concert and eventually stopped trying.

34. Max Weinberg isn't a fan of Darkness on the Edge of Town.

Weinberg isn't a fan of Darkness on the Edge of Town because his performance on "Something in the Night" bothers him. Toward the end of the song, the band cuts out and Bruce starts singing over Max's drums. A few seconds into it, Max loses the beat and noticeably slows down the song.

35. Stephen king thinks he's be perfect in The stand.

If you've ever read Stephen King's The Stand, you probably can't help but imagine Springsteen as the character Larry Underwood. Well, King felt the same way, saying the in the foreword for the reissue of the novel that Springsteen, based solely on his music videos, would've been a perfect choice for an adaptation of the book.

In related news: It was announced earlier this year that The Stand will be adapted into a TV series. The series' current working title? "Radio Nowhere," which is a track off Springsteen's 2007 album Magic.

This story has been updated for 2019.

Hee-Haw: The Wild Ride of "Dominick the Donkey"—the Holiday Earworm You Love to Hate

Delpixart/iStock via Getty Images
Delpixart/iStock via Getty Images

Everyone loves Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. He’s got the whole underdog thing going for him, and when the fog is thick on Christmas Eve, he’s definitely the creature you want guiding Santa’s sleigh. But what happens when Saint Nick reaches Italy, and he’s faced with steep hills that no reindeer—magical or otherwise—can climb?

That’s when Santa apparently calls upon Dominick the Donkey, the holiday hero immortalized in the 1960 song of the same name. Recorded by Lou Monte, “Dominick The Donkey” is a novelty song even by Christmas music standards. The opening line finds Monte—or someone else, or heck, maybe a real donkey—singing “hee-haw, hee-haw” as sleigh bells jingle in the background. A mere 12 seconds into the tune, it’s clear you’re in for a wild ride.

 

Over the next two minutes and 30 seconds, Monte shares some fun facts about Dominick: He’s a nice donkey who never kicks but loves to dance. When ol’ Dom starts shaking his tail, the old folks—cummares and cumpares, or godmothers and godfathers—join the fun and "dance a tarentell," an abbreviation of la tarantella, a traditional Italian folk dance. Most importantly, Dominick negotiates Italy’s hills on Christmas Eve, helping Santa distribute presents to boys and girls across the country.

And not just any presents: Dominick delivers shoes and dresses “made in Brook-a-lyn,” which Monte somehow rhymes with “Josephine.” Oh yeah, and while the donkey’s doing all this, he’s wearing the mayor’s derby hat, because you’ve got to look sharp. It’s a silly story made even sillier by that incessant “hee-haw, hee-haw,” which cuts in every 30 seconds like a squeaky door hinge.

There may have actually been some historical basis for “Dominick.”

“Travelling by donkey was universal in southern Italy, as it was in Greece,” Dominic DiFrisco, president emeritus of the joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, said in a 2012 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times. “[Monte’s] playing easy with history, but it’s a cute song, and Monte was at that time one of the hottest singers in America.”

Rumored to have been financed by the Gambino crime family, “Dominick the Donkey” somehow failed to make the Billboard Hot 100 in 1960. But it’s become a cult classic in the nearly 70 years since, especially in Italian American households. In 2014, the song reached #69 on Billboard’s Holiday 100 and #23 on the Holiday Digital Song Sales chart. In 2018, “Dominick” hit #1 on the Comedy Digital Track Sales tally. As of December 2019, the Christmas curio had surpassed 21 million Spotify streams.

“Dominick the Donkey” made international headlines in 2011, when popular BBC DJ Chris Moyles launched a campaign to push the song onto the UK singles chart. “If we leave Britain one thing, it would be that each Christmas kids would listen to 'Dominick the Donkey,’” Moyles said. While his noble efforts didn’t yield a coveted Christmas #1, “Dominick” peaked at a very respectable #3.

 

As with a lot of Christmas songs, there’s a certain kitschy, ironic appeal to “Dominick the Donkey.” Many listeners enjoy the song because, on some level, they’re amazed it exists. But there’s a deeper meaning that becomes apparent the more you know about Lou Monte.

Born Luigi Scaglione in New York City, Monte began his career as a singer and comedian shortly before he served in World War II. Based in New Jersey, Monte subsequently became known as “The Godfather of Italian Humor” and “The King of Italian-American Music.” His specialty was Italian-themed novelty songs like “Pepino the Italian Mouse,” his first and only Top 10 hit. “Pepino” reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1963, the year before The Beatles broke America.

“Pepino” was penned by Ray Allen and Wandra Merrell, the duo that teamed up with Sam Saltzberg to write “Dominick the Donkey.” That same trio of songwriters was also responsible for “What Did Washington Say (When He Crossed the Delaware),” the B-side of “Pepino.” In that song, George Washington declares, “Fa un’fridd,” or ‘It’s cold!” while making his famous 1776 boat ride.

With his mix of English and Italian dialect, Monte made inside jokes for Italian Americans while sharing their culture with the rest of the country. His riffs on American history (“What Did Washington Say,” “Paul Revere’s Horse (Ba-cha-ca-loop),” “Please, Mr. Columbus”) gave the nation’s foundational stories a dash of Italian flavor. This was important at a time when Italians were still considered outsiders.

According to the 1993 book Italian Americans and Their Public and Private Life, Monte’s songs appealed to “a broad spectrum ranging from working class to professional middle-class Italian Americans.” Monte sold millions of records, played nightclubs across America, and appeared on TV programs like The Perry Como Show and The Ernie Kovacs Show. He died in Pompano Beach, Florida, in 1989. He was 72.

Monte lives on thanks to Dominick—a character too iconic to die. In 2016, author Shirley Alarie released A New Home for Dominick and A New Family for Dominick, a two-part children’s book series about the beloved jackass. In 2018, Jersey native Joe Baccan dropped “Dominooch,” a sequel to “Dominick.” The song tells the tale of how Dominick’s son takes over for his aging padre. Fittingly, “Dominooch” was written by composer Nancy Triggiani, who worked with Monte’s son, Ray, at her recording studio.

Speaking with NorthJersey.com in 2016, Ray Monte had a simple explanation for why Dominick’s hee-haw has echoed through the generations. “It was a funny novelty song,” he said, noting that his father “had a niche for novelty.”

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