“I'm interested in what it means to be an American” Bruce Springsteen once said when asked why he writes the way he does. “I'm interested in what it means to live in America. I'm interested in the kind of country that we live in and leave our kids. I'm interested in trying to define what that country is.” Those interests have come to define Springsteen has arguably the Twentieth Century’s greatest chronicler of small-town America. His gift for unpicking the everyday and the ordinary and finding the romantic within it is what has made him so cherished; his effortless and uniquely American style made him iconic; his ability to both love and criticise the source of his inspiration is what made him great.
Springsteen grew up in Long Branch, New Jersey; his mother a secretary, whilst his father struggled to hold a steady job. He fell in love with rock and roll as a kid, watching Elvis Presley perform on TV. To Springsteen, Elvis epitomised the American Dream, both woven into the fabric of the country whilst simultaneously kicking against it - a philosophy he would bring to his own music. “Elvis never saw it coming,” he later wrote, “he was it coming.” Springsteen was raised in a Catholic school - Catholic guilt being another recurring figment in his songwriting - where he would also frequently get into trouble. In one notable incident, he was stuffed in a rubbish bin under a desk by a nun “because that’s where I belonged”. His youth was typified by regular fights with his father, later diagnosed as bipolar. "When I was growing up, there were two things that were unpopular in my house," Springsteen later recalled. "One was me, and the other was my guitar." Despite this, he later came to credit the friction he had at home - and his desire to escape it - as being the crucial motivator for his art for many years. He also eventually made amends with his father, after triumphantly walking into his house unannounced and placing his Oscar statuette (which he won for ‘Streets of Philadelphia’ in 1993) on his father’s table, who responded by saying that he would never tell anyone what to do ever again.
After finishing high school, Springsteen pursued music full time, releasing two studio albums that won critical acclaim but were largely commercial failures. In 1974, however, he had the good fortune to have music critic and manager Jon Landau attend one of his shows in Boston. Landau’s review of the show is the stuff of legend: “Last Thursday, at the Harvard Square Theatre, I saw my rock ’n’ roll past flash before my eyes. And I saw something else: I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen. And on a night when I needed to feel young, he made me feel like I was hearing music for the very first time.” Landau took over as Springsteen’s manager, guiding him through the difficult recording process of what would be his magnum opus, 1975’s Born to Run.