* Rock musician, singer-songwriter and guitarist
* Raised funds for the Sandinista Marxist-supporting Christic Institute
* Participated Vote for Change concert opposing President George W. Bush in 2004
Bruce Frederick Springsteen was born on September 23, 1949 in Long Branch, New Jersey, the first child of Irish-American bus driver Douglas Springsteen and his Italian-American wife Adele Zirilli. “I didn’t grow up in a very political household,” Springsteen said in a 2004 Rolling Stone interview, recalling that when he was in grade school his mother told him: “We’re Democrats, ’cause Democrats are for the working people.” “I was politicized by the Sixties,” Springsteen elaborated.
But a more revealing version of how this high-school dropout was radicalized comes from author Dave Marsh’s 1987 biography Glory Days: Bruce Springsteen in the 1980s. “Springsteen grew up in a classically anti-intellectual environment,” wrote Marsh. “When he signed his first record contract, he claimed the only two books he’d read were The Godfather and Tony Scaduto’s biography of Bob Dylan. But after Brandeis-educated Jon Landau [a music critic/record producer who served as Springsteen’s manager] gave Bruce a couple of pushes in the right direction, the singer responded with the voraciousness of the born autodidact.”
A noteworthy influence who pulled Springsteen to the political left was childhood friend and on-again, off-again guitarist for his E Street Band, Steven (“Little Steven”) Van Zandt, a Noam Chomsky acolyte who viewed the United States as nation infested with white racism. Van Zandt persuaded Springsteen to perform the Artists United Against Apartheid song “Sun City.”
In 1975, the young Springsteen was simultaneously on the covers of Time and Newsweek magazines. He was being marketed as the next Bob Dylan, who in turn was a great admirer of the Marxist “Dust Bowl” folksinger Woody Guthrie. Before long, Springsteen identified himself with Guthrie also. According to a 2004 Newsmax.com story, “Springsteen’s mind was marinated in left-wing social commentary such as the class warfare novel The Grapes of Wrath and its movie version starring radical Jane Fonda’s liberal father Henry.”
In 1979 Springsteen performed at the MUSE (Musicians United for Safe Energy) anti-nuclear power concert, whence came the album No Nukes. This concert — which was the first of many rock concerts organized to raise money and popular support for leftwing causes — featured other leftist musicians such as Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt and James Taylor.
Springsteen also began studying the History of the United States by Henry Steele Commager and Allen Nevins, a pair of New Deal leftists who portrayed the United States as a nation steeped in race- and class-based oppression. “I’m thirty-one now and I just started to read the history of the United States,” he told a cheering 1980 audience in Paris, according to Dave Marsh. “I started to learn about how things got to be the way they are today, how you end up a victim without even knowing it. And how people get old and just die after not having hardly a day’s satisfaction or peace of mind in their lives.”
Landau introduced Springsteen to Bob Muller, who had been an activist with Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Springsteen’s popular 1984 song, “Born in the U.S.A.,” articulated a negative view of America from the perspective of a Vietnam vet. When conservative columnist George Will persuaded President Ronald Reagan to praise the song as pro-American, Springsteen disavowed the compliments of Will and Reagan.
In 1990 Springsteen did a fundraiser for the Christic Institute, which claimed that the Central Intelligence Agency was flooding America’s inner cities with cocaine to raise money for the anti-Marxist contras in Central America.
In June 2000 Springsteen debuted a song that referenced the fatal New York City police shooting in 1999 of Amadou Diallo, an illegal immigrant from Africa who the officers mistakenly thought was reaching for a gun. The song carried the provocative refrain of “41 shots, 41 shots.”
In September 2013, Springsteen recorded, in Spanish, an Internet version of the song Solo le pido a Dios (I only ask of God) (Solo le pido a Dios), which he said he had learned from the late Argentine folk singer Mercedes Sosa, who initiated the “Nuevo Cancion” (“New Song”) movement — songs that often expressed themes of social justice and political and personal struggle in metaphoric style. Nuevo Cancion became closely linked to the socialist revolutionary movements of the 1960s, 70s and 80s.
In November 2015 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, Springsteen performed in a a 2-hour television special titled Shining a Light: A Concert for Progress on Race in America. Others who participated in the event included Pharrell Williams, Sting, the Zac Brown Band, John Legend, Pink, Ed Sheeran, Sia, Jamie Foxx, Eric Church, Miguel, Jill Scott, Tori Kelly, and Rhiannon Giddens.
In early April 2016, Springsteen canceled a scheduled concert in North Carolina, as an act of protest against that state’s recent passage of the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, which made it illegal for transgender men identifying as women to use women’s restrooms in public places. “Just as important, the law also attacks the rights of LGBT citizens to sue when their human rights are violated in the workplace. No other group of North Carolinians faces such a burden,” Springsteen wrote. “To my mind, it’s an attempt by people who cannot stand the progress our country has made in recognizing the human rights of all of our citizens to overturn that progress.” He continued: “Taking all of this into account, I feel that this is a time for me and the band to show solidarity for those freedom fighters. As a result, and with deepest apologies to our dedicated fans in Greensboro, we have canceled our show scheduled for Sunday, April 10th. Some things are more important than a rock show and this fight against prejudice and bigotry — which is happening as I write — is one of them. It is the strongest means I have for raising my voice in opposition to those who continue to push us backwards instead of forwards.” Other celebrities who announced that they would be boycotting North Carolina included: Jimmy Buffet, Ringo Starr, Cyndi Lauper, Laura Jane Grace, Brandi Carlile, Nick Jonas, Michael Moore, and musical writer Stephen Schwartz.
During an April 15, 2016 concert in Michigan, Springsteen condemned lrgislators in that state for their plan to pass a bathroom law similar to North Carolina’s Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act. The Michigan law would prohibit schools from permitting children to share a bathroom or locker room with fellow students of the opposite biological sex. “We hope the bill doesn’t pass, ’cause we love playing in Michigan,” he said.
During a September 2016 concert in Pittsburgh, Springsteen granted a song request from a concertgoer who handed him a pocket-sized copy of the U.S. Constitution with the words “Fuck Trump” written on it. “Well, somebody gave me a copy of the Constitution of the United States,” Springsteen told the crowd. “It does say ‘Fuck Trump’ on the front of it. And this was his request.” At that point, Springsteen proceeded to play his 2007 song “Long Walk Home,” in compliance with the fan’s request.
During a September 2016 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Springsteen said: “The republic is under siege by a moron, basically. The whole thing is tragic. Without overstating it, it’s a tragedy for our democracy. When you start talking about elections being rigged, you’re pushing people beyond democratic governance. And it’s a very, very dangerous thing to do. Once you let those genies out of the bottle, they don’t go back in so easy, if they go back in at all.” Accusing Trump of trying to push “white nationalism” and the “alt-right movement” into the American mainstream, the rocker said: “I believe that there’s a price being paid for not addressing the real cost of the deindustrialization and globalization that has occurred in the United States for the past 35, 40 years and how it’s deeply affected people’s lives and deeply hurt people to where they want someone who says they have a solution. And Trump’s thing is simple answers to very complex problems. Fallacious answers to very complex problems. And that can be very appealing.” When interviewer Brian Hiatt asked Springsteen how he felt about Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton, the singer replied: “I like Hillary. I think she would be a very, very good president.”
In a Rolling Stone interview which was published on October 6, 2016, Springsteen characterized the Black Lives Matter movement as a very logical and understandable reaction to America’s instransigent white racism. “Well, it’s all chickens coming home to roost,” he explained. “These are issues that have been ignored or hidden, and due to modern technology and the availability of cellphone cameras and constant video feed, these things are coming to the surface.” “Black Lives Matter is a natural outgrowth and response to the injustices that have been occurring for a very long time in the United States,” he added. When asked why white critics of BLM had chosen to “grapple with” the movement, Springsteen answered: “Nobody likes being told they’re wrong.”
In an October 2016 interview with the BBC’s Channel 4, Springsteen predicted that Trump would lose the presidential election to Hillary Clinton. “He has a feeling he’s going to lose now, which, of course, he’s going to lose,” said Springsteen. “And he knows that… and he’s such a flagrant, toxic narcissist that he wants to take down the entire democratic system with him if he goes.” Claiming also that Trump had “no sense of responsibility about him,” Springsteen added: “The words that he’s been using over the past several weeks really are an attack on the entire democratic process. I think it’s very dangerous. He does have a lot of people’s ears, and I don’t think he’s going to go quietly, gently into the good night. I think he’s going to make as big a mess as he can and I don’t know what that’s going to mean, but we’ll find out shortly.”
At a November 7, 2016 concert near Independence Hall in Philadelphia — on the eve of the election — Springsteen and fellow rocker Jon Bon Jovi joined President Barck Obama, Michelle Obama, and Hillary Clinton for an election-eve rally on Clinton’s behalf. “The choice tomorrow couldn’t be any clearer,” Springsteen told those in attendance. “Hillary’s candidacy is based on intelligence, experience, preparation and on an actual vision of an America where everyone counts, men and women, white and black, Hispanic and native, where folks of all faiths and backgrounds can come together to address our problems in a reasonable and thoughtful way.” he described Trump as a “man whose vision is limited to little beyond himself” and who has a “profound lack of decency.” “Tomorrow, those ideas and that campaign is going down,” he added. “Let’s all do our part so that we can look back on 2016 and say, ‘We stood with Hillary Clinton on the right side of history.’”
On November 22 White House ceremony, President Obama bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom — given to individuals “who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors” — upon Springsteen and 20 other individuals. The other honorees included such notables as television star Ellen DeGeneres, actor Robert Redford, actor Robert De Niro, singer Diana Ross, basketball icons Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Jordan, actor Tom Hanks, philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates, architect Frank Gehry, TV producer Lorne Michaels, baseball announcer Vin Scully, NASA mathematician Margaret H. Hamilton, sculpture artist Maya Lin, actress Cicely Tyson, physicist Richard Garwin, Miami Dade College President Eduardo Padrón, attorney Newt Minow, the late computer scientist Grace Hopper, and the late Native American activist Elouise Cobell.
In early January 2017 interview on the podcast, WTF with Marc Maron, he spoke about his feelings regarding Trump’s recent election. “It’s simply the fear of, ‘Is someone simply competent enough to do this particular job?’” Springsteen told Maron. “Forget about where they are ideologically. Do they simply have the pure competence to be put in a position of such responsibility?” Asserting that Trump’s proposed policies are “lies” that would have disastrous consequences for America, he added:
“When you let that genie out of the bottle — racism, bigotry, intolerance — when you let those things out of the bottle, they don’t go back in the bottle that easily, if they go back in at all. Whether it’s a rise in hate crimes, people feeling that they have license to speak and behave in ways that previously were considered un-American, and are un-American. That’s what he’s appealing to.
“And so my fear is that those things find a place in ordinary, civil society, demeans the discussion and events of the day, and the country changes in a way that is unrecognizable, and we become estranged… Those are all dangerous things, and he hasn’t even taken office yet. So we gotta wait and see. But those are certainly the implications, and you also look at who he’s been picking for his Cabinet, that doesn’t speak very well for what’s coming up.”
At a January 30, 2017 concert in Australia, Springsteen denounced Trump’s executive order temperately suspending the arrival of Syrian refugees into the United States and the entry of citizens from Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Libya. (DETAIULS) “Tonight we want to add our voices to the thousands of Americans who are protesting at airports around our country — the Muslim ban and the detention of foreign nationals and refugees,” he shouted. “America is a nation of immigrants. And we find this anti-democratic and fundamentally un-American.” He also told the crowd that he was an “embarrassed American.”
On April 14, 2017, Springsteen joined Barack and Michelle Obama in an excursion on billionaire music mogul David Geffen’s 454-foot, $300 million yacht. Other notable attendees included Tom Hanks and Oprah Winfrey.
In a 2018 Netflix special titled Springsteen on Broadway, the singer said of the working-class persona he had : “I made it all up,” he tells the audience in his new “Bruce Springsteen” the persona — all gritty working-class authenticity — is a creation. “I’ve never held an honest job in my entire life!” he says. “I’ve never done any hard labor. I’ve never worked 9 to 5. I’ve never worked five days a week. Until right now.” “I come from a boardwalk town that is tinged with just a little bit of fraud. So am I,” he said.
In a March 2018 performance of his “Springsteen on Broadway’s” show, he said: “I’ve seen things over the past year on American streets that I thought were resigned to other, uglier times. Folks trying to normalize hate, calling upon the most divisive, ugliest ghosts of our past. I hope we’re just going through a terrible chapter in the battle for the soul of our nation.”
On June 20, 2018, Springsteen wrote on his website that “we are seeing things right now on our American borders that are so shockingly and disgracefully inhumane and un-American that it is simply enraging.” “And we have heard people in high positions in the American government blaspheme in the name of God and country that it is a moral thing to assault the children amongst us,” he continued.
In November 2018, Springsteen told Esquire that President Trump “has no interest in uniting the country” and “actually has an interest in doing the opposite and dividing us, which he does on an almost daily basis.” “So that’s simply a crime against humanity, as far as I’m concerned. It’s an awful, awful message to send out into the world if you’re in that job and in that position. It’s just an ugly, awful message. You are intentionally trying to disenfranchise a large portion of Americans. I mean, you are simply . . . that’s unforgivable.” he condemned Trump for being “more than happy to play into and to play to” the “alt-right,” “So these are folks who are invested in denying the idea of a united America and an America for all. It’s a critical moment. This has come so far to the surface, and it’s so toxic,” Springsteen said. “And it appears to have a grip . . . and to be so powerful…in a lot of people’s lives at the moment. It’s a scary moment for any conscientious American, I think.” also told the magazine that “a lot of what’s going on has been a large group of people frightened by the changing face of the nation.” “There seems to be an awful lot of fear,” he also said. “The founding fathers were pretty good at confronting their fears and the fears of the country. And it’s the old cliché where geniuses built the system so an idiot could run it. We are completely testing that theory at this very moment. I do believe we’ll survive Trump. But I don’t know if I see a unifying figure on the horizon.”
In October 2019, Springsteen, in response to a video showing a Trump “Keep America Great” stump speech, told CBS’s Gayle King: “It’s just frightening, you know? We’re living in a frightening time. The stewardship of the nation … has been thrown away to somebody who doesn’t have a clue as to what that means,” “And unfortunately, we have somebody who I feel doesn’t have a grasp of the deep meaning of what it means to be an American,”
In early June 2020, in the wake of the police involved death of George Floyd, Springsteen proclaimed: “We need systemic changes in our law enforcement departments and the political will of our national citizenry to once again move forward the kind of changes that will bring the ideals of the civil rights movement once again to life and into this moment,” “As we speak, 40 million people are unemployed, 100,000 plus citizens have died from COVID-19 with only the most tepid and unfeeling response from our White House,” “As of today, our black citizens continue to be killed unnecessarily by our police on the streets of America,” segued Springsteen during his monologue. “And as of this broadcast, the country was on fire and in chaos.”
In a June 2020 interview with The Atlantic optimistic about the November elections. “I think it’s all these kids in the street that are inspiring the most hope in me,” he said. “I believe that our current president is a threat to our democracy. He simply makes any kind of reform that much harder. I don’t know if our democracy could stand another four years of his custodianship. These are all existential threats to our democracy and our American way of life.”
In a September 2020 interview with The Atlantic he said, “I believe that our current president is a threat to our democracy. He simply makes any kind of reform that much harder. I don’t know if our democracy could stand another four years of his custodianship. These are all existential threats to our democracy and our American way of life.”
During an October 24, 2021 television appearance on CBS Sunday Morning, Springsteen spoke with former President Barack Obama and agreed with Obama’s characterization of the singer’s white fans as racists who would have hurled racial epithets at Springsteen’s black saxophonist, Clarence Clemons, if they were to have encountered the latter offstage. The exchange went as follows:
OBAMA: In an ideal world what Bruce and Clarence portrayed on stage was essentially a reconciliation, right? Redemption.
SPRINGSTEEN: That’s right.
OBAMA: But most of your audiences were primarily white. And they can love Clarence when he’s onstage, but if they ran into him in a bar, suddenly–
SPRINGSTEEN: Oh, yeah.
OBAMA: –the N-word comes out.”
SPRINGSTEEN: (nods emphatically) Yeah.
OBAMA: And part of Bruce’s music and part of my politics has been, ‘No, no you gotta surface that stuff, you gotta talk about it. Sunlight is the disinfectant.’
OBAMA: And if you talk about it then you can reconcile in a true way. Not in a phony way, but in a real way.
Springsteen over the years has contributed his talents to raise funds for food banks, protest factory closings, support labor unions, bring attention to the Human Rights Now tour of Amnesty International, and many other concerns.