There’s a recently installed bust of Bruce Springsteen in Asbury Park, New Jersey, that’s getting the wrong kind of attention. That’s because the bust is just garish. The concrete statuary has a red bandana painted on it, and if people don’t know who he is, the placard says he’s a “soulful humanitarian.”
As numerous blogs have pointed out, Springsteen isn’t into this kind of attention. His hometown of Freehold once considered installing a ten-foot statue of him, and the town council decided no, which Springsteen thanked in a song called “In Freehold”:
“Well, I'd like to thank the Town Council, my friends, / For saving me from humiliation by displaying the good hard common sense / We Learned in Freehold.”
This whole issue has made me consider how Springsteen has influenced my life. Hundreds of thousands of people have felt touched by his music, and personal stories of him appear in various websites, including the one, For You, which has created a book of such stories.
So my story is just a pebble on a beach. I first heard his music in a disco in Denmark. I’d recently arrived in the country to spend much of my junior year abroad. This wasn’t the usual disco because Springsteen’s song from The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle was “Incident on 57th Street,” an eight-minute piece--not the three-minute high-energy tunes that discos typically played.
It opened a whole universe to me. It painted a gritty yet tender New York street scene and gave a narrative. This also came right after a huge love affair I had with a Dane had crashed--the whole reason I went to Denmark in the first place, and for some reason, I took hope from his music.
Later that same year, just after I returned from Denmark to go back to the University of Denver, his new third album, Born to Run, came out, and the title song became a clarion to my generation. While it suggested life’s harshness, it also had such drive and hope, that even now when I hear it, it reminds me to keep at what I love: writing. Perhaps in some way I, too, can lend hope to my readers.
My friend E., who had never been a Springsteen fan, nonetheless took my recommendation of watching the Springsteen documentary, The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town. The HBO special showed what happened after Springsteen had a monster hit with Born to Run, and then learned his manager, Mike Appel, owned Springsteen’s music and controlled every aspect of Springsteen’s career. Springsteen’s contract, signed when Springsteen was younger and more naïve, put everything under Appel’s purview. Springsteen had wanted to work with his producer, Jon Landau again, and Appel said no. Springsteen decided to not make another record rather than let Appel rule. Springsteen knew he’d lose all the momentum he’d built as an artist, but he didn’t care. He wanted his music back, and he wanted to create the way he wanted to create. Appel was adamant and was willing to crush Springsteen’s career. (Here’s a TV interview that was made to go hand-in-hand with the documentary.)
From this, E. decided that he, too, was going to start controlling his career better. He’d been a producer and writer on The Cosby Show, and had worked on many sitcoms, and now that he was writing young adult books, he wasn’t happy with his publisher, despite 40,000 in book sales for Never Slow Dance with a Zombie. He asked me if I’d publish him, even though my own imprint, White Whisker Books, was nothing in terms of scope and size of his present publisher. Yet, he felt, he’d be able to control his work better with me--and he has. We’re coming out with his paranormal romance, Boyfriend From Hell, in September. It’s funny and has a hell of a plot.
Myself, I ended up writing a comic novel Love at Absolute Zero, inspired not only from Springsteen’s constant focus on quality and emotion--I listen to his music when I need to remind myself to stay on task--but also loosely on my love affair that brought me to Denmark. Click here to read the novel’s premise.
The bust that sculptor Stephen Zorochin created for the park in Asbury Park was undoubtedly inspired by everything that inspired me--which shows how tenuous and subjective any art is, whether it’s mine, E’s, Zarochin’s, or Springsteen’s. Sometimes the art finds its audience.
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