A singer/songwriter who founded the band Orleans, he's in his second term as Democratic U.S. representative from New York's 19th Congressional District, in the Hudson Valley.
"When Bruce and I were starting out, I was in a band called Kangaroo, and Bruce was the leader of a band called the Castilles. We used to do six shows a day, starting about two in the afternoon at Café Wha?, a Greenwich Village coffeehouse where kids from Long Island and New Jersey would come in and hear up-and-coming rock bands. We would alternate, six sets each, going on into the night. I think each man got paid six dollars a day and all the potato chips he could eat.
"Looking back, was there something that would indicate success and the longevity of his career and the standards that he has lived up to? Sure there was. Every step of the way he ignored trends and what record executives were telling him, instead following his own inspirations. It's been evident in how long he takes to make a recording, because he doesn't rush them out. He's notorious for taking his time until it's perfect. He works like an artist and performs like one, and that's what kept him the loyal audience that he has had all these years.
"I think Bruce has been very careful to pick and choose when to advocate the cause. When we did the No Nukes concerts in 1979, Bruce was responsible for selling out two or three of those nights. It is a tough tight rope to walk. Bruce has been more veiled and subtle and artistic in his way of doing it, and that's the sign of an artist, to be able to say something and leave blanks for the listener to fill in."
In 1978, the Pointer Sisters, looking to move from a jazz-R&B sound into pop, recorded "Fire," written by Springsteen. The song became the Pointers' first-ever gold single.
"We were surprised a little because the song is a bit sexual and a bit not. We got different reactions, but mostly people wondering, what did you mean by that? You could take it any number of ways, not only sexually. People just need gentleness in their lives, they need to be touched—babies, seniors, animals. People like to be touched softly. In the gentleness of that song is something every living thing can relate to: with the slow hand and a gentle approach you can aspire to do anything. That's the way I look at the song, and it lets me know that Bruce has a lot of gentleness in his heart."
"Bruce was just so sweet when I met him. I went to a big concert of his in Chicago, and I sent a note backstage saying 'Anita Pointer is here.' We had just done 'Fire,' and I was so nervous to meet him: it was like I was going to meet God. There was a mob of people waiting. Finally, he signaled for me and my friend to come in first—and I was so thrilled. Oh my God, me, Anita Pointer, 'Come back in here, yeah you, Anita Pointer, you come on in.' Oh, wow! We went into the dressing room and he was just finishing his massage. He was so sweet. He gave me a note saying something like, 'I love the way you did the song,' and that he was glad I'd come to see him. I still have that note.
"I just hugged him and thanked him for getting us that song and letting us record it. We never had a gold single till 'Fire,' and it just sent us sailing. I love Bruce. I wish he would give me the publishing [royalties] on 'Fire' for one year. Now that would be nice!"
Earle says Springsteen inspired him to write the songs for Guitar Town, the first of his 13 albums. Known for his opposition to the death penalty, Earle contributed "Ellis Unit One" to the Dead Man Walking soundtrack, which featured Springsteen's title track.
"I was in Nashville for 12 or 13 years and never got a record deal. Then, in 1985, I saw something on the 'Born in the USA' tour that made everything click for me. I watched Bruce turn a 20,000-seat arena at Middle Tennessee State University into a coffeehouse. He brought everything down to this conversational level. He told stories. I realized that I could apply skills that I had learned in coffeehouses to a bigger audience and to fronting a band. I went home and wrote 'Guitar Town' to be the opening of that record. I finally got a record deal and had a career.
"I didn't meet Bruce until 1988 when my third record came out. We were playing the Palace in L.A. Someone said 'Springsteen and John Fogerty just came in.' I'd been playing [Springsteen's] 'Nebraska' encores on that tour. My steel player came back and said, 'You're not going to play "Nebraska," are you?'
" 'F_ _ yeah, I'm going to play it,' I said. And I did.
"Afterward, Bruce walks into my dressing room and the first thing he says to me was, 'Ballsy cover, man.' It was pretty overwhelming.
"Bruce was the last man standing in the '80s. I think we could have forgotten about how powerful songs were, as disco had a stranglehold on everything. I think Bruce being there, pounding away at it and making those records during that era, sort of helped the idea of the singer/songwriter survive."
President William Jefferson Clinton
A sax player himself, Clinton became a Boss fan early in his political career.
"Bruce Springsteen's music has influenced generations and provided an authentic soundtrack to the lives of hardworking Americans for decades. But equally as iconic as his anthology is his enormous support for progressive causes, from giving back to the communities in his home state of New Jersey to advocating for issues such as poverty or human rights globally. He's always willing to lend his talents and music to support the good causes of others, and arguably has done even more for the world than he has for rock and roll."
The widow of firefighter Dave Fontana, who died at age 37 in the World Trade Center attack (on the couple's eighth wedding anniversary), Marian founded the September 11th Families Association. Now 43, she wrote a 2005 memoir, A Widow's Walk, with a novel, The Middle of the Bed, due for release in 2010.
"I heard a lot of 9/11 songs after 9/11, obviously, but I just felt that his were so much more poetic and subtle lyrically. It wasn't blatant, but he really captured the sadness and united feeling that everybody was having at that time. Springsteen made 'The Rising' a personal love story. He gets into people's shoes, whether they have AIDS or whatever it is he's writing about. The songs are so personal that if you were involved in 9/11, you can go, 'Oh, I get it, empty sky means the World Trade Towers are gone.' I read it on the literal level of the firefighters going into the building, but also on a metaphoric level—that people carry things on their back and act heroically in life. When he sings in 'Empty Sky,' 'In the bed where you used to be,' of course I heard it the 9/11 way and was very emotionally moved by it—and continue to be.
"I was really surprised by how tuned in he was, not just to the event itself, but politically and emotionally in ways that I didn't originally think he was when I first heard him on the radio as a kid. It's interesting to see how he's evolved. We're such an ageist society, but I really believe that you get more interesting, especially creatively, as you get older. He's just gotten better and better. We've only begun to see all the things Bruce Springsteen can do."
Kristofferson and Springsteen have met many times over the years and share a great deal of mutual respect, but have never recorded or performed together.
"It's hard for me to believe that Bruce is 60. But he's as fresh today as when he was a kid. I was just thinking how great it is that somebody as popular and powerful as he is has devoted as much time as he has to good causes.
"The volume of his work is really incredible for one person, but it's so powerful that it has been a positive force for the side of the angels. 'The Rising' is just one signal moment among many, I would say. 'Born in the U.S.A.'—that was a step [forward] because it was a perfect blend of a message song that just lifted your spirits and your heart. It was as stirring as the national anthem. It's the best of that kind of music, which can be preachy or boring like a classroom lecture. Bruce struck a chord with the people and never lost it.
"I'm very inspired by his stuff, and I'm sure Bruce knows it. I say, 'Happy Birthday, Bruce.' I expect him to sound just as good and be writing just as powerfully when he's 120."
The former Credence Clearwater Revival songwriter, guitarist, and lead singer (and for many years since, a solo act), participated in the 2004 Vote for Change concerts that featured Springsteen and a number of other top acts.
"With Bruce, it's all about doing the best job you can possibly pull out of yourself, and so everybody around him catches that spirit. In 2004, that was no ragtag band of ruffians barnstorming the country. We weren't—how do I say this delicately?—a bunch of hippies driving around in Ken Kesey's bus. Bruce was remarkably calm shouldering the weight of that whole thing. He never let on that it was sort of all on his head, even though if it didn't work out there were many, many forces poised to just lambaste him. He was the face, the name on the tour, and he would take the brunt of that criticism. God knows, you can't look silly or flippant or like an airhead. There was a lot of rehearsing, a lot of getting things right so that we wouldn't crumple in front of people. Bruce just led by example, and he finished that project with a lot of grace.
"The morning after the election, he called me. I was in an airport off for somewhere, and I think he was, too. It was the last thing in the world I expected—a very sweet moment that meant a lot. George Bush had won again, and the fact that he took the time to commiserate about what we had worked to keep from happening again told me he felt possessive of it. He took ownership of the fact that all these people had worked so hard for a good common cause. It would be like two players after a tough football game looking at each other, going, 'Well, we got another game next week, let's go try again.' "
Mark Quandt, executive director, Regional Food Bank, northeastern New York
Springsteen has long supported food banks, raising funds and asking fans to contribute canned goods at his concerts. Quant's food bank benefited from auctioning four tickets donated by Springsteen to his May 2009 concert in Albany.
"Bruce donated four tickets and a backstage pass to the E Street Lounge—including meeting Little Stevie. Then he offered to do a meet-and-greet himself for the top bidder above $10,000—a 15-minute meet-and-greet, not just like a 'Hi, how are you, thanks for coming' kind of thing. He threw that in this year because this is the most difficult period we've experienced, with our needs greater than ever.
"The winning bid hit $15,000, which Bruce matched. In addition, part ofour requirement for being involved was that we would provide volunteers to solicit donations from fans before and after the concert. [Bruce's people] said, 'This is an expectation, you have to do it, and we want you to be very active and aggressive in asking for donations.' We raised another $4,200—a tremendous night for us. Plus, Bruce mentioned our food bank during the encore—that we've been around since 1982, how a lot of hungry people need a helping hand, and how important nutritious meals are for kids. We serve about 200,000 people a year working through 1,000 agencies in eastern New York State. That $35,000—that's thousands and thousands of meals.
"And he was doing this for every food bank along his itinerary. He latched on as an advocate for the issue of hunger, and that commitment has not wavered in all these years. On Long Island, he made the same offer—four tickets, meet-and-greet. They had two people going at it. Finally, one offered $20,000. The other bidder said, 'I'll match that donation if I can get four more tickets.' So they call up Springsteen's people, explain the situation; they said sure. They ended up with two winning $20,000 bids—and Bruce matched them both. That's $80,000, plus our $32,400—$112,400 for just two food banks. Unbelievable."