From Sun archives: Springsteen -- Superstar in the making?

March 12, 1975|By John Schulian

This article was originally published March 12, 1975.

Kids like Bruce Springsteen used to come out of the slums and fight four-rounders in arenas where you couldn't see the ring for the cigar smoke.

It was the obvious thing to do after a childhood spent rumbling in alleys, the way Springsteen did.

He was a tough kid, which boosted his chances of survival in Asbury Park, N.J., and it shows when you look at him. He bounces on his toes like a boxer waiting for an introduction and he swaggers like the toughest stud in some shrewd old manager's stable.

But the club fighter image evaporates because Bruce Springsteen does all of his bouncing and swaggering on a stage. At 25, he is supposed to be the hottest item in rock and roll, and there are people who insist he is the second coming of Bob Dylan.

The only things Springsteen shares with Dylan -- a welterweight's build, a ragged beard, a scratchy voice and a penchant for enigma -- are inconsequential to where his music is coming from, and Springsteen knows it.

"You saw the show, didn't you?" he asked the other night after bowling over 1,800 admirers at Painter's Mill Music Fair. "Did it sound anything like Dylan?"

"No it didn't, because I'm not on any Minnesota trip or whatever it is Dylan's on. How am I going to write about something when I've never been there? I write about what I know about."

One of Springsteen's specialties is the rock and roll of Chuck Berry and the Shirelles and his main man, Elvis Presley. He learned he had an ear for music just as they came along. Now his is paying them homage by having his E Street Band turn simple 50s melodies into music that is as much jazz as it is rock.

"We want to play stuff you can dance to," Springsteen grunted as he toweled the sweat from his gaunt face.

If the dancers sit down, though, they can hear stories culled from the other subject that Springsteen knows best -- the street.

In the world that he writes and sings about, you can see the July heat shimmering off the pavement and lovers trying to escape it by meeting on fire escapes.

There are no swimming pools, so the younger kids turn on the fire hydrants. There are no tennis courts, either, so the older kids play pinball machines.

Growing up teaches everyone the same lesson: Sorrow is one of the few elements of slum life that isn't seasonal. It can be a pink slip at the factory just before Christmas or a reporter waking a gang leader's mother at 3 in the morning to tell her that her son has been killed on his birthday.

It would seem almost theraputic to pour the hard times out on paper, but Springsteen doesn't look at it that way.

"Hey, man," he said. "I don't consider myself a writer, like a novel writer or a poetry writer. Writing songs is just something I do. It's a real, natural, basic urge. The only thing I can compare it to is when you get hungry. You feel it and you do something about it."

In the beginning, the question was whether Springsteen was getting back what he was putting into his music.

"You play the same joint for three or four months and you start wondering what's happening," said the bus driver's son who once was Dr. Zoom of Dr. Zoom and the Sonic Boom. "People are always making promises to you and they never come through."

"Like with me, I was really down and this guy Tinker -- I lived with him outside Asbury Park in the place where he built surfboards -- he said, 'Let's go to New York.'

"I said, 'No, no,' and he said, 'Come on, let's go to New York. There are some people I want you to meet."

"So we went to New York and I played some songs for these dudes and they liked them. Then I went to California -- I guess this was in '72 -- and when I came back, I went over to Columbia and signed a recording contract. Blop. Just like that."

Now Springsteen has two albums -- "Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J." and "The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle" -- and a loud cult behind him. On the horizon are a new album, due this spring, and all the hype that God allows. It is a combination that could make him very rich and very famous.

He isn't going to fight his inclusion in either of those categories, but just to maintain his record of amiable, mumbling obstinance, he wants the world to know they aren't foremost in his mind.

"I play for the thrill, man, just like I have since I picked up the guitar," he said. "Like tonight, I could have played forever if they didn't have to close the place down at midnight."

Late in the concert, two guys had jumped on stage, one in an outfit that inspired Springsteen to call him "The Freaky Friar."

"That was a crazy dude, man," he said. "And the other guy. I just turned around and there he was. He was beaming, man, and I was beaming because he looked so happy."

Springsteen caught the eye of one of his roadies. "Hey," he said, "you've got to tell the security dudes they don't have to use so much muscle on the guys coming on stage."

The pacifistic stance belied what Springsteen insists he would be doing if he wasn't about to get rich playing rock and roll: "Holding up banks."

Bob Dylan has never said anything like that.

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