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.

If You’ve Always Wanted to Learn to Play the Guitar or Ukulele, Fender Is Offering Free Online Lessons

"Anyway, here's 'Wonderwall,'" this man might shout to his entire neighborhood from the balcony of his apartment.
"Anyway, here's 'Wonderwall,'" this man might shout to his entire neighborhood from the balcony of his apartment.
BartekSzewczyk/iStock via Getty Images

Self-isolation might be the perfect opportunity for you to finally become the guitar-shredding rock star you’ve always dreamed of being. To help you get there, Fender is offering three months of free online lessons.

People reports that the deal is open to the first 100,000 users who create a new account on Fender Play, the online learning platform available to use on phones, tablets, and computers. You’ll get to choose from lessons for acoustic, electric, or bass guitars—or even the ukulele—but it does depend on what you already have (or are able to buy), since all users must provide their own instruments.

The lessons are organized into bite-sized, high-quality videos featuring instructors who have graduated from world-class music programs at places like Berklee College of Music. Not only will you learn from the best, you’ll also get to practice some of the best rock ‘n’ roll songs of all time. If you put in a little time each day, you’ll probably be able to strum an impressive rendition of ZZ Top’s “La Grange” before long (which you can—and should—show off to all your friends during your next video chat).

The three-month deal is a big step up from Fender Play’s customary 14-day free trial for new users, and it might even be enough to convince you to stick with your subscription even after your free lessons are finished; the monthly subscription costs $10, or you can buy a full year for $90 (which will save you $30).

Set up an account and claim your free lessons here.

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[h/t People]

The Stories Behind 6 Classic Stephen Sondheim Songs

Composer Stephen Sondheim speaks at the Great Writers Thank Their Lucky Stars annual gala hosted by The Dramatists Guild Fund on October 21, 2013 in New York City.
Composer Stephen Sondheim speaks at the Great Writers Thank Their Lucky Stars annual gala hosted by The Dramatists Guild Fund on October 21, 2013 in New York City.
Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for Dramatists Guild Fund

Composer, lyricist, and Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim was born on March 22, 1930. Celebrate with a look back at a few of the many iconic songs he has written in his career.

1. “Maria” // West Side Story (1957)

Though Sondheim enjoys composing music much more than writing lyrics, he came on board Arthur Laurents’ Romeo and Juliet update to write lyrics for music composed by Leonard Bernstein. The song “Maria” happens when Maria and Tony— sister of the leader of a Puerto Rican gang called the Sharks and a former member of a rival gang called the Jets, respectively—meet at a school dance. There, they exchange a few words, dance, and fall in love.

“The problem here,” Sondheim writes in Finishing the Hat, “was how to write a love song for two people who have just met. They have exchanged exactly 10 lines, but they have encountered each other in a surreal, dreamlike dance sequence, so that the audience believes that they have an intimate, even mystical, connection. Nevertheless, when the gymnasium set dissolves into the street outside Maria’s house and Tony is back in reality, he has to sing something real.” The only things Tony knows about Maria at this point are her name, and that she’s Puerto Rican—so, says Sondheim, the only thing he could think to make him sing rapturously about was her name.

There was another reason for “Maria,” too: Originally, Tony had been “a blond Polish Catholic, in order to contrast him as much as possible with the Puerto Ricans,” Sondheim writes. “This gave the name ‘Maria’ a religious resonance, which I pushed with the line ‘Say it soft and it’s almost like praying.’” The Polish-Catholic thing was eventually dropped, though, and Sondheim laments that now, the line “makes little sense and merely contributed a kind of overall wetness to the lyric—a wetness, I regret to say, which persists throughout all the romantic lyrics in the show, but which appealed to my collaborators and which may very well have contributed to the score’s popularity.”

2. “Rose’s Turn” // Gypsy (1959)

Though he was worried that writing lyrics would pigeonhole him as a lyricist, Sondheim picked up his pen again to write the lyrics for the Ethel Merman vehicle Gypsy, with a book by Laurents and music by Jule Styne. Sondheim called the musical, which was loosely based on the memoirs of famous burlesque entertainer Gypsy Rose Lee (aka Louise) and focusing on her domineering stage mother, Rose, “the show where I came of age—lyrically, at any rate.”

Originally, the scene featuring Rose’s breakdown wasn’t going to be a song at all, but “a surreal ballet, in which Rose would be confronted by all the people in her life,” according to Sondheim. But a week into the rehearsals, choreographer Jerome Robbins said he wouldn’t have time to teach Merman a ballet. So it would have to be a song. Styne had a prior engagement that night, so Sondheim sat down with Robbins to discuss what the number should be. “I suggested to Jerry that since he wanted all the people in the story to collide in a ballet, perhaps if Rose’s breakdown were to be sung rather than danced it could comprise fragments of all the songs associated with her and the people in her life; the songs we’d heard all evening, colliding in an extended surreal medley consisting of fragments of the score.” As Sondheim improvised on the piano, Robbins danced across the stage, “like a stripper, but a clumsy one: like Rose doing a strip,” Sondheim writes. “That was the beginning of three exhilarating hours of musical and choreographic improvisation, as we shaped and constructed the number to be a summary of the score. I even improvised lyrics, something which was anathema to me.”

The next day, Sondheim and Styne filled out the number, then played it for Merman at rehearsal. She was unsure: “It’s sorta more an aria than a song,” she said, but Sondheim was able to assure her that “it was merely a collage of songs that she had either sung or heard during the course of the show. That seemed to calm her.”

During previews, “Rose’s Turn” ended on a much different note. “I had persuaded Jule to end the number on a high, dissonant chord of eerie violin harmonics: a woman having a nervous breakdown would not wind up on a triumphant tonic chord,” Sondheim writes. But when his mentor, Oscar Hammerstein, came to see the show, he suggested that the song end in a show-stopping climax. Otherwise, he argued, the audience would be waiting for the curtain call, when they could give Merman the ovation she deserved, instead of listening to the scene that followed the song, in which Rose and Louise reconciled and made the point that all children become their parents. “Gently chastened, I gave up and we affixed a big ending and a tonic chord to the song,” Sondheim writes. “Ethel got an enormous ovation and the audience listened to the last scene in rapt silence. Lesson learned.”

3. “Ladies Who Lunch” // company (1970)

Company’s Joanne—a cynical older woman who is friends with the show’s main character, Robert—was based on the legendary Elaine Stritch, “or at least on her acerbic delivery of self-assessment,” Sondheim writes in Finishing the Hat.

The song “Ladies Who Lunch” marked the third time (after Gypsy and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) that the lyricist/composer had to write music and lyrics for a specific personality playing a character. “The song fit her perfectly, the only problem occurring when, in all innocence, she asked me what kind of pastry ‘a piece of Mahler’s’ referred to.” Stritch would later recount how she thought Mahler’s was “a pastry shop on Broadway ... The ladies had lunch, they went to see a matinee, they saw a Pinter play, and then afterwards, they went around the corner and had a cup of tea and a piece of Mahler’s. Made perfect sense to me. When I brought it up to Stephen Sondheim, he said, ‘Elaine, I have to go to the bathroom.’” (Gustav Mahler was a Jewish composer.)

Sondheim had hoped that the number would be a showstopper, and the audience would actually stand up when Stritch said “Rise!” over and over and give the performer a standing ovation. “It was a showstopper, but not quite that big,” he wrote. “My hope was probably a holdover from my Hollywood fantasies in which one opening night's black-tied men and bejeweled women stood up at anything—much as they do nowadays, where standing ovations are a forgone conclusion, it being necessary for audiences to remind themselves that they’ve had a live experience by participating in it.”

4. “Send In The Clowns” // A Little Night Music (1973)

A Little Night Music, with lyrics and music by Sondheim, was based on Ingmar Bergman’s 1955 film Smiles of a Summer Night. The song that appeared in this second act scene was supposed to belong to the male lead, Fredrick, a middle-aged lawyer in an unconsummated marriage with a much younger woman. He is tempted to reignite an affair with Desiree, an older actress, “since the action is his, the passive reaction being Desiree’s, and I started to write one,” Sondheim writes. But Desiree had only two songs in the first act, neither a solo, so director Hal Prince suggested that the scene might be the ideal place to give Desiree a solo, and that “he had directed it so that the thrust of the action came from her rather than from Fredrik. I went skeptically to see a rehearsal, and he had indeed accomplished what he had promised.”

Desiree was played by Glynis Johns, whose voice, Sondheim wrote, was “small but silvery, musically and smokily pure,” and whose biggest limitation was her inability to hold a note. “The solution was to write short breathy phrases for her, which suggested to me that they should be questions rather than statements,” Sondheim writes. “Once I’d reached that conclusion, the song wrote effortlessly … The song sat so well in Glynis’s voice that at the recording session, even though she’d been in a recording studio only once before (for the Disney movie of Mary Poppins), she did it perfectly in one take.”

“Send in the Clowns” was a huge hit for the composer/lyricist. “Why so many fine (and not so fine) singers have recorded ‘Send in the Clowns’ is a mystery to me,” he writes. “For two years after A Little Night Music opened, the only even faintly known vocalist who took an interest in it was Bobby Short, a singer and piano player who performed it in nightclubs, where it made no impression on even that tiny and dwindling audience. Then Judy Collins recorded it in England, where it incomprehensibly became a hit, after which Frank Sinatra’s recording made it an even bigger one, and soon enough virtually everybody in the pop field climbed on the bandwagon. … It even won a Grammy Award as Song of the Year in 1975, amid rock and pop contenders—a song from a musical, no less. (It’s the last one that did.)”

5. “On The Steps Of The Palace” // Into The Woods (1986)

After his first collaboration with book-writer James Lapine, Sunday in the Park with George, Sondheim suggested that they “write a quest musical along the lines of The Wizard of Oz, the one movie musical I loved in which the songs not only defined the characters and carried the story forward but were wonderful stand-alone songs as well.” Lapine combined all of the classic Grimm fairy tale characters and added a Baker and his Wife, who are unable to conceive, thanks to a curse put on his family by a Witch.

The story, of course, included Cinderella. “The story of Cinderella has always struck me as the most incomprehensible of all the moral fables known as fairy tales,” Sondheim writes in Look, I Made a Hat. “Here is a plain, depressed slave of a girl, beaten and maltreated by her [stepfamily who] … suddenly finds herself magically transformed into a radiant, opulently dressed beauty, sought after by the Prince of the Kingdom, who three times flees the palace where she is the belle of the ball to return to the hole in a corner of the house where she is a virtual prisoner. And she can’t decide which place to choose?”

Lapine came up with a twist that makes sense: The accident of leaving her slipper behind isn’t an accident at all; Cinderella chooses to leave it there. “She knows she’s an imposter and doesn’t want willingly to mislead the Prince (and the world),” Sondheim writes. “She figures that if the Prince really cares to see her again, he’ll follow the clue she has left.” Cinderella’s big song in Into the Woods, “On the Steps of the Palace,” shows the future princess coming to the decision to leave her shoe behind. Writes Sondheim, “No one, as far as I know, has ever made this observation, and if there were no other reason to write this book, the opportunity for me to point out James’s insight would be justification enough.”

6. “How I Saved Roosevelt” // Assassins (1990)

This musical—with a book by John Weidman, and based on an idea by Charles Gilbert, Jr.—featured all of the 13 people who have tried (or succeeded) to kill American Presidents. “How I Saved Roosevelt” is about a 1933 assassination attempt on Franklin D. Roosevelt, which occurred in Miami; instead of hitting the President-elect, unemployed brick layer Giuseppe Zangara, who fired six rounds, hit Chicago mayor Anton Cermak, who later died from his wounds.

Sondheim painstakingly researched to write the song. “There were in fact five bystanders who claimed to take the actions described in the song, although no one deflected Zangara by pushing his arm in the air,” Sondheim writes. “He had the misfortune to be only five feet tall and had arrived too late at the arena to get a seat close to the front. Roosevelt’s speech was unusually brief, and, as he started to sit down, Zangara was hastening to shoot when the entire audience rose to its feet in applause and blocked his view, forcing him to stand on his seat, which wobbled just enough to ruin his aim. Thus Roosevelt was indeed saved.”

There was also a song about the time Teddy Roosevelt was shot, but it was cut. “The bullet would have pierced Roosevelt’s heart were it not for the steel eyeglass case and the fifty-page speech lodged in the breast pocket of his jacket,” Sondheim writes. “So one Roosevelt was saved by being long-winded and the other by being terse, a ripe opportunity for a song if I ever heard one.”

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