Rock stars and singers pick up some pretty silly nicknames during their time in the limelight. Whether it’s like Jim Morrison’s slithering desert body which coined him the nickname The Lizard King or a penchant for space travel which gave David Bowie his Starman moniker, being given a nickname can sometimes be a little trite. For Bruce Springsteen, a man firmly known as The Boss, it was a rather innocuous affair.
As the leading man of The E Street Band, Springsteen wasn’t just the man in the spotlight and the voice of the group on stage, off stage too, he was the band’s proverbial leader. It meant that as part of his duties he collected the money from venues and paid the band individually. It is through this simple act that he gained his lasting nickname—but he’s done a lot to keep it too.
As well as arriving in the seventies and still managing to draw crowd some near-50 years later, Springsteen earned his nickname The Boss by being an all-round great guy. Far from being the white-collared suit in an office you’re never allowed to see the inside of, Springsteen was the blue-collar work, happy to share a beer, a joke and most certainly a song.
Springsteen has spent his time in the limelight churning out some of rock’s most beloved albums, proving himself to be a gifted songwriter capable of blending his rock ‘n’ roll roots with sincere balladry and poetic intent. Offstage he has spent his time giving to charity, spending time with his fans and generally being a man of the people.
So, in celebration of his birthday, we’re looking back at seven times that Bruce Springsteen proved he was The Boss.
Standing up for the oppressed
One thing that Springsteen can be extremely proud of outside of his excruciatingly successful singing career is that, when given the opportunity, The Boss always sticks up for the people. Just recently, The Boss proclaimed the Black Lives Matter movement to be a “tremendous hope,” stating, “White supremacy and white privilege have gone much deeper than I thought they did. I think my feeling previously to the past three or four years was that racism and white supremacy and white privilege were veins in our extremities, rather than an aorta that cuts through the very heart of the nation, which I feel it is now. So that was eye-opening, whether I was previously stupidly innocent to that or not.”
Throughout his years, Springsteen has never been afraid to highlight the issues Black Americans face. When performing in New York City shortly after the murder of 22-year-old Amadou Diallo by plainclothes police officers in 1999, The Boss performed his song about the tragedy ‘American Skin (41 shots)’—a track named after the number of shots fired at Diallo.
He was met with widespread protestations about the song, even New York’s Mayor Rudi Giuliani condemned both Springsteen and the track. Many assumed he would avoid the pressure and the song entirely on that night. Instead, he picked up his guitar and spoke his truth. Diallo’s parents were in the room that evening and thanked The Boss for his thoughts.
Visiting the parents
Just picture your favourite rock star (assuming he’s not Springsteen) and now just try and imagine them going to the cinema alone. Now, imagine they sat down with a pleasant young couple and started chatting about the film. Can you see them going one step further and going home with a couple to meet their parents and share some laughs? No? Us neither.
However, Springsteen made this dream come true reality for one fan who spotted The Boss attending a showing of Woody Allen’s film Stardust Memories. The couple struck up a conversation and even sat with The Boss during the film. Afterwards, they chatted through the plot and, chancing his arm, the fan offered Bruce back to his parents’ house for some coffee. He accepted.
A true man of the people, Springsteen appreciated the gesture hugely, recounting: “I felt so good that night. Because here are these strange people I didn’t know, they take you in their house, treat you fantastic, and this kid was real nice. They were real nice. That’s something that can happen to me that can’t happen to most people. And when it does happen it’s fantastic.”
Getting dumped is never fun. We’ve all been there and it hurts like hell. But it shouldn’t stop you from attending your favourite show because, as one lucky fan found out, doing so could prove to be one of the best moments of your life.
Springsteen was performing in Ontario during the Wrecking Ball Tour in 2012 when he spotted a fan wearing a T-shirt which said: “Hey Bruce, I just got dumped, I’m Going Down.” It was enough to pique The Boss’ interest and he asked the fan to join him on stage where he not only sang the requested ‘I’m Going Down’ but offered some of his own experiences.
“I got dumped plenty of times myself,” he said. “Oh, they’re regretting it now! She’ll be regrettin’ it. That’s right, they left too soon, man. Too soon, they quit! Ahuh, they missed that record company advance money, they left too soon!”—another gentlemanly act from The Boss.
Helping friends and strangers alike
Most rock stars, especially form the 20th century when record sales actually meant money in the bank, have found themselves a charitable cause here and there. The Boss is no different, contributing to countless organisations with anonymous donations and benefits. For a time he was the main man in New Jersey providing the funs for low-income housing repairs across the state.
The Boss is also an avid donator to Light of Day Foundation, a charitable organisation that focuses on Parkinson’s Disease. However, perhaps the most remarkable thing about Bruce is that he’s just as happy to help his friends too. That might sound the wrong way round but in our experience, you’re more likely to see a star donate to a charity (and get a tax write-off) than you are to see them help out a friend in need.
While money is always welcomed when it is needed, for his longtime friend Steve Eitelberg, it was the personal touch that really made a difference. Eitelberg’s wife was struggling with cancer when Bruce made special arrangements to visit her in the hospital. He spent the whole day telling stories and singing songs and returned the next day to draw portraits. He returned again on the third day only to find that she had slipped into a coma, passing away a few days later.
On the anniversary of her death for some years, Springsteen returns to Eitelberg’s clothes shop, sets ups, drinks some beer and shares some time together. In a world where bank transfers can be made in a second, this act of kindness really proved his character.
Tearing down his own hype
In 1975, as Springsteen’s mega-hit album Born To Run hit the shelves and proved that the New Jersey singer and his band were a forced to be reckoned with, the singer achieved a then unmatched feat: he made the front cover of both Time magazine and Newsweek.
It was an unprecedented move which showed just how widely the star was being championed. He was America’s new voice and although we’re sure he was happy to be it, he didn’t want to play along with the hype machine.
It meant when he landed in London for his first overseas show and began seeing posters of his face everywhere, something snapped. As the posters became more and more obvious, all proclaiming him to be some kind of saviour for rock ‘n’ roll, Springsteen lost his cool and began tearing down the posters by hand. Naturally, the band would eventually live up to the hype, but it proved that Springsteen wasn’t about to buy his own merchandise.
$2 million and an equal share of the gate
If there’s one note more so than any other that proves what a stand-up guy Springsteen is, then it has to be how he has treated his group, the E Street Band. The group had been together for so long that by 1989, with Steven Van Zandt already out of the band, they all needed a break, especially Bruce.
The Boss was keen to explore other musical endeavours but not all the members of the group were happy to be losing their meal ticket. Springsteen recognised that with his profile he would be able to do whatever he pleased in the industry but that many of his band wouldn’t be afforded such luxuries. He decided to sweeten the deal and provide them all with an equal severance package. A package of a whopping $2 million each.
It should also be noted that when the group were on tour together, each member of the band got an equal share of the gate. It was a point that Springsteen insisted upon whenever their tour contract was put in front of them. Again, considering that it was his name up in lights, there is a lot to be said of this kind act.
Taking music to the streets
It’s always good to end with a smile and we can’t imagine smiling any more than if we were strumming our guitars only to see The Boss walking over happy to join in. That’s exactly the scenario two lucky buskers have found themselves. The first was in 1988 with Springsteen nearing the peak of his fame, in Copenhagen.
The story goes that Springsteen was enjoying some time off before performing in the city and was walking the streets relatively untroubled. He saw a busker performing and began watching him. Naturally, the man recognised Springsteen and asked whether he would like to join in. Within minutes, ever the performer, Springsteen was taking requests and delivering unforgettable moments.
The same happened again in Boston when Springsteen came across David Gonzalez playing his guitar. The Boss stopped to talk with the busker with Gonzalez explaining that he once travelled for thirty-two hours on a cargo train to catch a Springsteen show only to miss it completely. The singer dropped a $20 bill in Gonzalez’ cup, joined him for a song and accepted a signed CD from the busker, only to return some time later with a far more sizeable tip for “the trip he never made.”