Bruce Springsteen Induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 1999
Bruce is a very unusual rock star, really, isn't he? I mean, he hasn't done the things most rock stars do. He got rich and famous, but never embarrassed himself with all that success, did he? No drug busts, no blood changes in Switzerland. Even more remarkable, no golfing! No bad hair period, even in the 80's. No wearing of dresses in videos. No embarrassing movie roles, no pet snakes, no monkeys. No exhibitions of his own paintings. No public brawling of setting himself on fire on the weekends.
Rock stars are supposed to make soap operas of their lives, aren't they? If they don't kill themselves first. Well, you can't be a big legend and not be dysfunctional. It's not allowed. You should at least have lost your looks. Everyone else has. Did you see them? It's like Madame Tussaud's back there.
Then there's Bruce Springsteen. Okay-- Oh! Handsome, handsome mother with those brooding brown eyes, eyes that could see through America. And a catastrophe of great songs, if you were another songwriter. Bruce has played every bar in the USA and every stadium. Credibility-- you couldn't have more unless you were dead. But Bruce Springsteen, you always knew, was not gonna die stupid. He didn't buy the mythology that screwed so many people. Instead, he created an alternative mythology, one where ordinary lives became extraordinary and heroic. Bruce Springsteen, you were familiar to us. But it's not an easy familiarity, is it? Even his band seems to stand taller when he walks in the room. It's complex. He's an American writer, and critic. It's like in "Badlands", he's Martin Sheen and Terrence Malick. To be so accessible and so private... there's a rubric. But then again, he is an Irish-Italian, with a Jewish-sounding last name. What more do you want?! Add one big African sax player, and no one in this room is gonna fuck with you!
In 1974, I was 14. Even I knew the '60s were over. It was the era of soft-rock and fusion. The Beatles were gone. Elvis was in Vegas. What was going on? Nothing was going on. Bruce Springsteen was coming on, saving music from the phonies, saving lyrics from the folkies, saving leather jackets from the Fonz. "Now the greasers, they tramp the streets and get busted for sleeping on the beaches all night. And them boys in their high heels, ah Sandy, their skins are so white. Oh, Sandy, love me tonight, and I promise I'll love you forever." In Dublin, Ireland I knew what he was talking about. Here was a dude that carried himself like Brando, and Dylan, and Elvis. If John Steinbeck could sing, if Van Morrison could ride a Harley Davidson It was something new, too. He was the first whiff of Scorsese, the first hint of Patti Smith, Elvis Costello and the Clash. He was the end of long hair, brown rice, and bell bottoms. He was the end of the 20-minute drum solo. It was goodnight, Haight-Ashbury, hello Asbury Park. C'mon!
America was staggering when Springsteen appeared. The president just resigned in disgrace, the U.S. had lost its first war. There was going to be no more oil in the ground. The days of cruising and big cars were supposed to be over. But Bruce Springsteen's vision was bigger than a Honda, it was bigger than a loss and defeat. hey had to be braver, not just bigger. He was singing, "Now you're scared and you're thinking that maybe we ain't that young anymore" because it took guts to be romantic now. Knowing you could lose didn't mean you still didn't take the ride. In fact, it made taking the ride all the more important.
Here was a new vision and a new community. More than a community. Because every great rock group is kind of like starting a religion... sort of. And Bruce surrounded himself with fellow believers. The E Street-- it was just a great rock group, or a street gang. It was a brotherhood. Zealots like Steve Van Zandt, the bishop Clarence Clemmons, the holy Roy Bittan, crusaders Danny Federici, Max Weinberg, Garry Tallent, and later, Nils Lofgren. And Jon Landau, Jon Landau, Jon Landau, Jon Landau. What do you call a man who makes his best friend his manager, his producer, his confessor? You call him the Boss. And Springsteen didn't just marry a gorgeous , redheaded woman from the Jersey shore. She could sing, she could write, and she could tell the Boss off. There's Patty right there.
For me and the rest of the U2ers, it wasn't just the way he described the world. It was the way he negotiated it. It was a map, a book of instructions on how to be in the business but not out of it. Generous is a word you could use to describe the way he treated us. Decency is another. But these words can box you in. I remember when Bruce was headlining Amnesty International's tour for prisoners of conscience, I remember thinking, "Wow, if there ever was a prisoner of conscience, it's Bruce Springsteen." Integrity can be a yoke, a pain... when your songs are taking you to a part of town where people don't expect to see you.
At some point I remember taking an elevator with gentleman Bruce, where he just started straight ahead of himself, and completely ignored me. I was crushed. Only when he walked into the doors as they were opening, did I realize the impossible was happening. My God, Bruce Springsteen, the Buddha of my youth, is plastered! Drunk as a skunk! Is this a farce I have to go back to the book of instructions, scratch the bit out about how you held yourself in public. By the way, that was a great relief.
Something was going on, though. As a fan I could see that my hero was beginning to rebel against his own public image. Things got even more interesting on Tunnel of Love , when he started to deface it. A remarkable bunch of tunes. Where our leader starts having a go at himself, and hypocrisy of his own heart, before anyone else could. But the tabloids could never break news on Bruce Springsteen. Because his fans-- he had already told us everything in the songs. We knew he was spinning. We could feel him free-falling. But it wasn't in chaos or entropy. It was in love.
They call him the Boss. Well, that's a bunch of crap. He's not the boss. He works FOR us. More than a boss, he's the owner, because more than anything else Bruce Springsteen owns America's heart. I'm proud to introduce to you Bruce Springsteen, member of the E Street band!