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"I am not a music critic, nor historian, nor archivist. I cannot tell you where Bruce Springsteen falls in the pantheon of the American songbook. I cannot illuminate the context of his work, or its roots in the folk and oral history traditions of our great nation. But I am from New Jersey. So I can tell you what I believe. And what I believe is that Bob Dylan and James Brown had a baby. And they abandoned this child, as you can imagine at the time...interracial, same sex relationships being what they were... they abandoned this baby by the side of the road between the exit interchanges 8A and 9 on the Jersey Turnpike... that child was Bruce Springsteen..."—Jon Stewart, presenting Bruce Springsteen at the 2009 Kennedy Center Honors
Tramps like us, baby, we were born to run.
Ah, the Boss. Bruce Springsteen is one of the most notable singer-songwriters to come out of the 1970s. Perhaps his most well-known albums are Born to Run (1975) and Born in the USA (1984). Despite his associations with liberal politics and John Kerry in particular, his songs have sometimes been appropriated by conservative politicians, oftentimes without his permission. The most glaring example is the song "Born in the USA", which despite its title is not a celebration of that country, but rather a condemnation of the treatment of Vietnam veterans.
Despite his most well-known work being produced in the 70s and 80s, he is still recording today. His latest album, Wrecking Ball, was released in 2012. He also campaigned for Barack Obama during the 2008 American presidential campaign and performed at the inauguration.
Springsteen is also notable for helping to launch Courteney Cox's career when she appeared in his video for "Dancing in the Dark."
Springsteen was honoured at the 2009 Kennedy Center Honors, with the presentation done by Jersey native Jon Stewart.
His work features examples of:
- Age Progression Song: Arguably Outlaw Pete albeit slightly nastier than most of these usually are.
- And Now for Something Completely Different: Nebraska was a departure: Three Chords and the Truth by Springsteen on his own instead of the earlier full band backing and dark, political songs. Not quite a New Sound Album, though, as it was followed by Born in the USA...
- We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions. Bruce put together an entirely new band and recorded a selection of traditional folk songs like "Old Man Tucker", "Eyes on the Prize", "John Henry" and "Mary Don't You Weep". The end product is one of his most rocking albums in recent years.
- His new Wrecking Ball album is proving to be quite a surprise for early listeners. Traces of gospel, Celtic folk, hip-hop beats and big horns collide in a messy combination, featuring some of his angriest lyrics in years. It just works.
- And Starring: When he introduces the members of the E Street Band in concert, he always saves saxophone player Clarence Clemons ("The Big Man") for last, usually shouting, "And last but not least..." In his 2000 Live from New York City album, the band intros take place between verses two and three of "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out", as Springsteen shouts, "Do I have to say his name?" while the rest of the band leads the audience in chanting "CLAR-ence! CLAR-ence!", segueing seamlessly into the first line in verse three, "The change was made uptown and the Big Man joined the band!"
- Clemons' untimely passing may mean the end of this tradition...
- Bawdy Song: "Red Headed Woman"
- Breakout Character: E Street Band drummer Max Weinberg is probably the most successful, being just as well known for his work as bandleader of the house band for NBC's Late Night/The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien.
- Breakthrough Hit: "Born to Run"
- Christmas Songs: The Boss' cover of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town", based on Phil Spector's arrangement for the Crystals, is a classic rock radio standard during Christmastime.
- Cool Car: Cars are often means of escape and objects of desire for his protagonists.
- "Ramrod": "She's a hot stepping hemi with a four on the floor / She's a roadrunner engine in a '32 Ford..."
- "Cadillac Ranch": "Cadillac, Cadillac / Long and dark, shiny and black / Open up your engines, let 'em roar / Tearing up the highway like a big old dinosaur..."
- "Pink Cadillac": "Crushed velvet seats, ridin' in the back, oozin' down the streets, wavin' to the girls, feelin' outta sight..."
- Subverted in "Racing In The Streets", about a guy who's sunk all of his dreams in a Cool Car that's never going anywhere.
- Inverted in "The Line", in which border police use their cars as weapons against illegal immigrants ("We'd rush 'em with our Broncos...") and "Balboa Park", in which the protagonist is hit and probably killed by a car.
- Cool Old Guy: He's hit sixty-two years old, and he sounds as good as ever, if not better.
- Clarence Clemons, who was still playing with the band right before he died at the age of 69, also counts.
- Crapsack World: The overlying theme of his 1982 album Nebraska.
- Creator Breakdown: His 1987 album Tunnel Of Love" chronicles the falling apart of his first marriage to actress Julianne Phillips.
- Dying Town: "My Hometown" and "Youngstown". Based in large part on the economic turmoil that hit Bruce's hometown of Freehold, NJ and other towns that suffered with the loss of factory jobs during the postwar decades.
- Eagle Land: Most of his songs are meditations on American small towns, culture, politics etc. Usually coming in type 3 but with a few songs like "Born in the USA" closer in tone to 2 when discussing topics like the ill treatment received by the Vietnam Veterans or the existence of political corruption. That being said, his recent album "Wrecking Ball" goes back to Type 3: Despite the existence of corrupt powers-that-be, the album ultimately suggests that in the end the good will triumph, and Bruce celebrates the American small towns and urban centers that he hopes will recover from the current economic turmoil.
- Epic Rocking: "Outlaw Pete" and "Jungleland".
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The album 18 Tracks, a collection of 18 tracks.
- Fan Disservice: The graphic sex scene in "Reno" is creepy and sad, and fully meant to be so.
- Five-Man Band: Originally there were only five members of the E-Street Band.
- The Hero: Springsteen, natch.
- The Lancer: "Little" Steve Van Zandt.
- The Big Guy: Clarence "Big Man" Clemons. He was referred to as "The Big Man," after all.
- The Smart Guy: Drummer Max Weinberg and pianist Roy Bittan both qualify.
- The Chick: Originally Patti Scialfa, now violinist Soozie Tyrell.
- Sixth Ranger: Nils Lofgren.
- Foreshadowing: A number of songs on The River. The title track, for example, presaged the themes he would devote Nebraska to.
- Fortune Teller: "4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)": "The cops finally busted Madame Marie, for telling fortunes better than they do." This referred to a real-life Asbury Park fortune teller named Marie Castello, who once told Springsteen he would be a great success as a musician.
- "Brilliant Disguise": "We stood at the altar / the gypsy swore our future was right / But come the wee wee hours / Well maybe baby the gypsy lied."
- Glory Days: The Trope Namer. The song itself is a reflection on high school memories.
- Joisey: Where Bruce was born, raised, and has usually drawn a lot of his inspiration from. The loss of many industrial jobs in Springsteen's hometown of Freehold and in other parts of New Jersey informed a lot of his lyrics and beliefs right from the start of his career, and his singing about this issue obviously found a sympathetic audience in the parts of the state that were suffering from the loss of jobs. Scenery from the Jersey Shore (no, not that Jersey Shore) are often used as imagery in his lyrics and song titles. And Bruce--loyal to his roots--always makes sure to have concerts in Jersey throughout his tours. It's no wonder that--although he's honored and adored by fans throughout America--it's in New Jersey where Bruce is the most beloved.
- After Bruce and Patti began having children, Bruce decided to move the family out of Beverly Hills to get away from that kind of environment. So where did he and Patti go to raise their kids? Back home to Jersey of course. To a town merely 15 minutes from Freehold, in fact.
- Knight in Sour Armor: Some characters, e.g. in "Highway Patrolman".
- Large Ham: "The E Street Band has traveled thousands of miles, to fulfill their solemn vow...TO ROCK THE HOOOOOOOOUUSE!!!"
- From his intro to their Super Bowl gig: "Ladies and gentlemen! Tonight we are bringing the righteous and the mighty power of the E Street Band into YOUR beautiful home! So I want you to to step back from the guacamole dip! I want you to put the chicken fingers down! And turn your televisions ALL the way up!..."
- "The heart-stopping, fun-loving, earth-quaking, love-making, record-breaking, air-conditioner-shaking, Viagra-taking, history-making E! STREET! BAND!"
- Legacy Character: Max Weinberg was replaced by his son on the most recent tour for some shows that conflicted with his commitments to The Tonight Show. Danny Federici's son also played on the most recent album following his death.
- Long-Distance Relationship: "Save My Love".
- Long Title:
- The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle
- Darkness On the Edge of Town
- It's Hard To Be A Saint In The City
- Loads and Loads of Characters: The current band has eight permanent members, along with two semi-permanent members, with a rotation for some of the permanent members. Fortunately, Bruce always introduces everyone on stage each concert.
- Lyrical Dissonance: Probably the reason so many people misinterpret his songs:
- "Born in the USA" (although it depends on what version you're listening to; the versions on Tracks and Live In New York City are more obviously mournful and don't really fit this trope)
- "Born to Run"
- "Last to Die"
- "Hungry Heart"
- "Johnny 99"
- Lyrical Shoehorn: Bruce is prone to inserting the word "mister" into lines where he needs a couple of extra syllables to fill out the meter.
- Mood Whiplash: The River (the album; the title track is an unrelenting downer). Completely intentional, according to Word of God.
- Morality Ballad: "Born in the USA".
- Many of Springsteen's songs could be described, to paraphrase Max Frisch, as morality ballads without a moral. His characters find themselves bewildered and torn by their actions, but it is clear they would do the same things again, for instance in "Hungry Heart".
- Murder Ballad:
- "Nebraska" - inspired by the real-life murder spree of Charles Starkweather.
- "Johnny 99"
- "Highway 29"
- Arguably "Atlantic City"
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: He once broke a football stadium. With rock'n'roll.
- Non-Appearing Title: "Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street?" "Incident On 57th Street," and "Reno."
- Outlaw Couple: "Nebraska" and "Highway 29".
- Precision F-Strike: Springsteen doesn't usually use R-rated language in his songs, he saves it for special occasions:
- "Long Time Comin'": "Two kids in a sleeping bag beside / Reach 'neath your shirt, put my hands across your belly and feel / Another one kickin' inside / And I ain't gonna fuck it up this time!"
- "Queen of the Supermarket": "As I lift my groceries in to my car / I turn back for a moment and catch a smile / That blows this whole fucking place apart!"
- "My Best was Never Good Enough": "And the early bird catches the fuckin' worm..."
- Live versions of "Lost in the Flood": "Hey man, did you see that, those poor cats are sure fucked up"
- Protest Song: "Born in the USA" again, which is about the treatment of Vietnam veterans. Many other songs also qualify, and The Ghost of Tom Joad is almost an entire album of protest songs.
- Repurposed Pop Song: Barack Obama used "The Rising" in his campaign, and Springsteen himself played it at a few rallies.
- Ronald Reagan rather famously tried to do this to "Born in the USA" apparently mistaking it for a (somewhat jingoistic) hyper patriotic anthem. It's not.
- Rhyming with Itself: "County Fair": "County fair, county fair / Everybody in town'll be there / So come on, hey we're goin' down there"
- "I'll Work For Your Love": "The late afternoon sun fills the room / With the mist of the garden before the fall / I watch your hands smooth the front of your blouse / and seven drops of blood fall"
- Run for the Border: Frankie in "Highway Patrolman"
- Sarcastic Title: "Born In The U.S.A." is one of the most well-known examples of this trope.
- Self-Backing Vocalist: Springsteen sang all the background vocals on Nebraska. This is particularly noticeable in "Atlantic City."
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: "Shut Out The Light" (Vietnam) and "Devil's Arcade" (Iraq)
- Shoot the Television: His song "57 Channels (And Nothin' On)" is about a man who, after his investments in television, cable, satellite dishes, and home entertainment fail to bring him happiness, takes out his frustration by shooting the television set. The lyrics reference Elvis Presley in this regard.
So I bought a .44 magnum, it was solid steel cast,
And in the blessed name of Elvis, well, I just let it blast.
- This visual is also present in the song's Music Video.
- Shout-Out: The Ghost of Tom Joad references The Grapes of Wrath.
- Shown Their Work: The Ghost of Tom Joad has a bibliography. The "Jenny" of "Youngstown" is also not a woman, but rather the nickname of the Blast Furnace at the steelworks in Youngstown, Ohio.
- The Something Song: "Seaside Bar Song".
- Three Chords and the Truth: Especially on Nebraska, The Ghost of Tom Joad, and Devils & Dust.
- Took a Level In Badass: Springsteen put on muscle and shed his earlier "new Bob Dylan" image for Born in the USA. It worked.
- Unplugged Version: Subverted on Bruce Springsteen's MTV Unplugged appearance. He first played an acoustic version of "Born to Run," which is this trope played straight. Then, he turned to his band, shrugged, and they all plugged in and played an electric set. The album MTV released for the show had the "Un" of "Unplugged" scratched out.
- The Vietnam War: Appears frequently in his characters' backstories.