When you consider American songwriting greats, the mind doesn’t reach much further than Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan. The two artists boast a poetic sensibility with the expertise to craft words from the heart, a skill that resonates deep within the soul. However, despite forging his own undeniable legacy, even ‘The Boss’ admits that Dylan opened his eyes to a writing style that he would replicate in his own unique way.
While his passion for music stems back to a time in which he fell in love with The Beatles as a child, it was Dylan who took that adoration to the next level. A contributing factor, it has to he said, is that Springsteen found it far easier to relate to the tales that the freewheeling troubadour told. The stories felt close to home, a feeling ‘The Fab Four’ simply couldn’t provide during his formative years.
Throughout his career, Springsteen has never shied away from expressing how much Dylan means to him. More often than not, he has opted to channel this through the art of covers and, over the years, The Boss has taken on plenty from Dylan’s vast repertoire, and Bruce has even seen the favour returned when his idol ran through a rendition of ‘Dancing In The Dark’ in 1990.
When Dylan shot to fame in the early 1960s, Springsteen was a couple of hours away from Greenwich Village. However, his surroundings in the industrial Asbury Park couldn’t have been any different from the artistic utopia that existed in the Manhattan neighbourhood. However, their different circumstances didn’t stop him from connecting with the material of Highway Highway 61 Revisited and Bringing It All Back Home, which was the first time that he had listened to an album tell stories that mirrored his own life.
“Bob Dylan is the father of my country. Highway 61 Revisited and Bringing It All Back Home were not only great records, but they were the first time I can remember being exposed to a truthful vision of the place I lived,” Springsteen said after Dylan received the Nobel Prize.
“The darkness and light were all there, the veil of illusion and deception ripped aside. He put his boot on the stultifying politeness and daily routine that covered corruption and decay. The world he described was all on view, in my little town, and spread out over the television that beamed into our isolated homes, but it went uncommented on and silently tolerated. He inspired me and gave me hope,” he continued.
“He asked the questions everyone else was too frightened to ask, especially to a fifteen-year-old: ‘How does it feel… to be on your own?’ A seismic gap had opened up between generations and you suddenly felt orphaned, abandoned amid the flow of history, your compass spinning, internally homeless.”
Springsteen concluded, “Bob pointed true north and served as a beacon to assist you in making your way through the new wilderness America had become. He planted a flag, wrote the songs, sang the words that were essential to the times, to the emotional and spiritual survival of so many young Americans at that moment.”
It’s impossible to say without those Dylan records coming into his life when he was 15 whether Bruce Springsteen would have still become ‘The Boss’. Undoubtedly, he had the talent bubbling inside, but these two albums made him realise how to utilise his skill, later becoming the songwriter that Springsteen was destined to be.