By Chris Jordan
September 22, 2019
Bruce Springsteen has a story to tell.
That’s one aspect of a young Springsteen that former manager Carl “Tinker” West noticed early on.
“He’s a good storyteller,” said West, who’s also a giant in the surfing world thanks to his founding of Challenger Eastern Surfboards in Ocean Township. “Vini (Lopez of the future E Street Band) brought him over to the shop (in Ocean Township). He was a smart kid, sort of quiet and he wrote songs. I said, 'You just keep writing something, you guys rehearse — work here all day, make surfboards and rock n’ roll.' ”
That was the plan. It worked.
Springsteen has sold millions of records, plays to stadiums around the world, is enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016, all for his rock ‘n’ rolling.
Now as Springsteen turns 70 on Monday, Sept., 23, he’s in an era of new artistic pursuits, new creative formats. The latest is the movie “Western Stars,” a filmed version of his latest album. He co-directed “Western Stars” with frequent collaborator Thom Zimny. The film features a performance of the folk-rock orchestral album, and vignettes starring a solo Springsteen.
The film follows the hit “Springsteen on Broadway,” which featured the Boss baring his life story, set to song and remembrance. “Springsteen on Broadway” ran from October 2017 to December 2018.
The music play was based on his New York Times best-selling memoir “Born to Run,” which was released in September 2016. Springsteen did a nine-city book tour, where he greeted thousands of fans in person for hours at a stretch in a feat of physical and mental stamina.
The Boss stood on a platform, under lights, while he met fans.
Cindy Marselis of Huntington Valley, Pennsylvania, was in tears after meeting Springsteen at the Freehold Barnes and Noble signing on Sept. 27, 2016.
“I met the person I always wanted to meet,” said Marselis, at the signing. “I got to kiss him. It was awesome.”
Springsteen is still telling stories, and still on stage. But now he’s exploring new formats for the stories, and the stories he’s telling are largely his own these days.
“I think he’s said this before, but he truly envisions himself as an artist and I feel that all of these projects are in service of him wanting to tap into all of the different facets of who he is,” said Caroline Madden, 26, of Toms River.
Madden is set to release a book on Springsteen’s music in films and TV, “Springsteen as Soundtrack: The Sound of the Boss in Film and Television,” from McFarland & Co. “That’s why he’s so unique and has endured as an artist for so long – he doesn’t settle. He's always looking to renew himself or try something new.”
West saw that creative energy up close when Springsteen fronted the band Steel Mill, which West managed and did sound for.
“I liked Springsteen because those guys would go in the back of the shop and they would rehearse,” West said. “Vini Lopez, Danny Federici, they would write lots of music and whenever we’d get a couple of songs together that were pretty good, we'd go and try it out at Pandemonium, right at the bottom of Sunset Avenue.”
The club was less than a mile from West’s surfboard factory.
“What changes his music is that he wants to write something different,” West said. “He writes some great stories. Stories to me are what makes great music, especially the early stuff. The first two albums (‘Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.’ and ‘The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle’), people are still asking for those songs. Even so, he’s written a lot of stuff after that’s pretty damn good.”
West and Springsteen’s enduring friendship is explored in the book “Born to Run” and, subsequently in “Springsteen on Broadway.” A highlight of the play is West, Springsteen and West’s dog driving out west in West’s 1950 Chevy flat-bed truck to play a concert and meet music industry contacts.
Springsteen didn’t know how to drive until he drove the Chevy truck with West in the passenger seat. West still owns the truck.
“He knew what he wanted to do, I’m pretty sure,” said West of Springsteen’s artistic drive. “He wanted to wow an audience and he did. He had a great band. Federici was great. Lopez was great. Little Vinnie Roslin was great.”
West used his connections and hustle to get a deal with Paramount Records.
“I finally found a deal that wouldn’t screw him over,” West said. “Then he said 'I don’t want to do Steel Mill anymore.' That’s up to you.”
“I introduced him to Mike Appel. He introduced him to John Hammond and the rest is history,” said West of Springsteen’s subsequent manager and the of the famed Columbia Records talent scout.
The stories Springsteen has been telling in recent years are stark, revealing and confessional.
“For a long time, if I loved you or if I felt a deep attachment to you, I would hurt you if I could,” says Springsteen in “Western Stars.”
He talked without censor of his troubled relationship with his father in “Springsteen on Broadway” and has been candid about his struggles with mental illness.
“I have come close enough to (mental illness) where I know I am not completely well myself,” Springsteen previously told Esquire. “I’ve had to deal with a lot of it over the years, and I’m on a variety of medications that keep me on an even keel; otherwise I can swing rather dramatically and ... just ... the wheels can come off a little bit. So we have to watch, in our family. I have to watch my kids, and I’ve been lucky there. It ran in my family going way before my dad.”
Springsteen is married to Patti Scialfa and they have three children, Evan, 29; Jessica, 27; and Sam, 25.
Springsteen’s non-rock ‘n’ roll work of the past few years has also framed the aging process for fans. He's showing the way to baby boomers about what to do, how to do it, and what's important in life when you get to a certain age.
The fans of his generation might have looked to John Lennon for the answers, but he didn’t get to grow old like Springsteen. Lennon would have been 78 if he were still alive.
"Aging is scary but fascinating, and great talent morphs in strange and often enlightening ways,” said Springsteen in "Born to Run."
There no official events planned to recognize Springsteen’s 70th birthday, but area venues do have Boss-themed shows, including the Brian Kirk and the Jirk’s-led “Born: Celebrating the Boss’ 70th” at the Count Basie Center in Red Bank on Wednesday, Sept. 25, and Thursday, Sept. 26. Visit thebasie.org for more info and tickets. There's also a dance party featuring all Springsteen music Monday at the Saint in Asbury Park. Visit thesaintnj.com for more info.
“Springsteen: His Hometown,” an exhibit presented by the Monmouth County Historical Association and the Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music at Monmouth University, opens Sunday, Sept. 29, at the historical association in Freehold.
Ticket information is at www.SpringsteenHisHometown.com.
Preview showings of “Western Stars” are scheduled for Oct. 19 and 23 in area movie theaters. Visit www.fathomevents.com for more info and tickets.