Bruce Springsteen: The Boss Of Hopes And Dreams

A look back at the 2013 MusiCares Person of the Year honoree's storied GRAMMY history
  • Photo: Kevin Mazur/
    Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt perform at the 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards in 2012
  • Photo: Steve Granitz/
    Bruce Springsteen at the 37th Annual GRAMMY Awards in 1995
  • Photo: Kevin Mazur/
    Bruce Springsteen performs at the MusiCares Person of the Year tribute to James Taylor in 2006
December 14, 2012 -- 9:28 am PST
By Lynne Margolis /

(Bruce Springsteen will be honored as the 2013 MusiCares Person of the Year on Feb. 8 at a special tribute performance and dinner in Los Angeles, recognizing his accomplishments as an artist and humanitarian. MusiCares' mission is to ensure that music people have a compassionate place to turn in times of need while focusing the resources and attention of the music industry on human service issues that directly impact the health and welfare of the music community.)

In the fall of 1975 a single voice seemed to blast from nearly every college dorm stereo in the United States. "Tramps like us," its messenger exuberantly shouted, "Baby, we were born to run!"

That was the year Bruce Springsteen's third album, Born To Run, landed him simultaneously on the covers of Time and Newsweek. It was the year that music fans all over the country (and eventually the world) discovered what East Coasters already knew: this working-class young man raised in Freehold, N.J., was incredibly adept at telling stories of teenage passion and angst, and every generation's hopes, fears and dreams.

With his top-notch E Street Band, the Boss has created some of the most enduring anthems in rock history, and he's far from finished. A 20-time GRAMMY winner, with two albums (Born To Run and 1984's Born In The U.S.A.) enshrined in the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame, Springsteen released his 17th studio album, Wrecking Ball, in March. That same month he launched his worldwide Wrecking Ball tour and delivered what has been hailed as the best South By Southwest keynote speech in the conference's 26-year history. And Peter A. Carlin's Bruce, Springsteen's first authorized biography, debuted in November at No. 4 on the New York Times best-sellers list.

Yet the Kennedy Center Honors recipient, who performed with early inspiration Pete Seeger at President Barack Obama's first inauguration in 2009, also took time to campaign for the president's re-election, while never tiring from helping those in need. Springsteen has supported a wide range of charitable causes including organizations that work to alleviate homelessness and hunger. He donated $1.5 million in funds from the final concert of his 1992–1993 world tour to endow the Kristen Ann Carr Fund, which was created after co-manager Barbara Carr's daughter died of cancer. In December, he performed at the 12-12-12 Hurricane Sandy benefit concert at Madison Square Garden in New York to raise funds for areas devastated by the hurricane, including his home state. 

This February, the 20-time GRAMMY winner looks to add to his golden résumé at the 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards, with nominations for Best Rock Album, Best Rock Performance and Best Rock Song. Following is a chronology detailing Springsteen's impressive legacy to date, providing historical context around his GRAMMY wins, his recordings earning GRAMMY Hall Of Fame induction and current 55th GRAMMY nominations.


"Dancing In The Dark"
Best Rock Vocal Performance, Male: 27th Annual GRAMMY Awards

The sultry "Dancing In The Dark," a last-minute addition after manager Jon Landau cajoled Springsteen into writing a hit, was one of seven Top 10 tracks from Born In The U.S.A. Inducted into the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame in 2012, Born In The U.S.A. was Springsteen's second big breakout, catapulting him from arenas to stadiums worldwide and becoming one of the best-selling albums of all time. Its title track, an indictment of America's treatment of its returning Vietnam War veterans, was widely misinterpreted for years as a patriotic anthem. Springsteen's other GRAMMY Hall Of Fame entry, 1975's Born To Run, was inducted in 2003.


"Tunnel Of Love"
Best Rock Vocal Performance, Solo: 30th Annual GRAMMY Awards

Released two years after Springsteen's rapid courtship and marriage to actress Julianne Phillips, the song is the title track from an introspective and personal album that examines the harder realities of commitment, and questions trust and honesty in romantic relationships. The album is considered a foreshadowing of Springsteen's subsequent divorce to Phillips in 1988. Springsteen followed the tunnel of love to fellow E Street Band member Patti Scialfa, with whom he celebrated his 21st wedding anniversary in June.


"Streets Of Philadelphia"
Song Of The Year, Best Male Rock Vocal Performance, Best Rock Song, Best Song Written Specifically For A Motion Picture Or For Television: 37th Annual GRAMMY Awards

When director Jonathan Demme requested a song for his 1993 film about a lawyer (played by Tom Hanks) who is fired for contracting AIDS, Springsteen, an expert at drawing sympathy for those shunned by society, wrote this haunting, elegiac tune. At the time, the disease was still misunderstood and evoked much prejudice against its then-mainly gay sufferers. One of the most moving ballads of his career, which Springsteen delivered to Demme as an unfinished demo, the song became a Top 10 hit, earning four GRAMMY Awards as well as a Golden Globe and Academy Award. In accepting his Oscar for Original Song, Springsteen said, "You do your best work and you hope that … some piece of it spills over into the real world and into people's everyday lives, and it takes the edge off of fear and allows us to recognize each other through our veil of differences." 


The Ghost Of Tom Joad
Best Contemporary Folk Album: 39th Annual GRAMMY Awards

Inspired by John Steinbeck, Woody Guthrie, a motorcycle trip through the Southwest, and topics such as immigration and the growing Rust Belt, Springsteen once again focused on downtrodden, outcast and unlucky souls in folk songs evocative of 1982's Nebraska. This time, he made sure his characters and their stories were clearly drawn, even launching a solo acoustic tour that included a stop in Youngstown, Ohio, the city used as the title and setting of his song about a displaced steel worker. "I knew that The Ghost Of Tom Joad wouldn't attract my largest audience," Springsteen wrote in his 2003 book Songs. "But I was sure the songs on it added up to a reaffirmation of the best of what I do. The record was something new, but it was also a reference point to the things I tried to stand for and be about as a songwriter."


The Rising
Best Rock Album; Best Rock Song and Best Male Rock Vocal Performance ("The Rising"): 45th Annual GRAMMY Awards

It somehow fell to Springsteen and his reunited E Street Band to soothe a grief-stricken nation and express the complex emotions aroused by the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001. In fact, much of The Rising was Springsteen's response to a fan's beseeching shout of "We need you!" upon spotting the Boss in a New Jersey parking lot. The Springsteen family was acutely aware of the impact of Sept. 11; many of the lives lost belonged to people from Monmouth County, N.J., where Springsteen lives with Scialfa and their three children. Though "Further On (Up The Road)," "My City Of Ruins," "Waitin’ On A Sunny Day," and "Nothing Man" had been in the works before the making of the album, according to The Ties That Bind: Bruce Springsteen A To E To Z, they gained deeper meaning alongside the gospel-influenced title song and tracks such as "Into The Fire," "Mary's Place," "You're Missing," and "Lonesome Day."  In a 2002 piece on the album, Time wrote, "The songs are sad, but the sadness is almost always matched with optimism, promises of redemption and calls to spiritual arms. There is more rising on The Rising than in a month of church."


"Disorder In The House" (with Warren Zevon)
Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal: 46th Annual GRAMMY Awards

Springsteen and Zevon, friends since the '70s, wrote two songs together. This one was included on The Wind, the album Zevon made as he was dying of cancer. The rollicking rocker features a driving guitar solo by Springsteen, whose six-string prowess has often gone underrated. "The thing about Springsteen is that he's the person that everybody hopes he would be," Zevon said in the documentary (Inside) Out: Warren Zevon.


"Code Of Silence"
Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance: 47th Annual GRAMMY Awards

Featured in 2003's The Essential Bruce Springsteen, this song was co-written with Pittsburgh musical icon Joe Grushecky, who first met the Boss when E Street Band member Steven Van Zandt co-produced 1980's Have A Good Time But… Get Out Alive! by the Grushecky-fronted Iron City Houserockers. Growing up with similar blue-collar and musical influences, Grushecky's muscular, R&B-flavored rock also addressed working-class dreams and disappointments, and Springsteen often invited him onstage in Pittsburgh. Grushecky's 1995 album, American Babylon, was almost entirely produced by Springsteen, who also co-wrote two songs and performed on several.


"Devils & Dust"
Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance: 48th Annual GRAMMY Awards

Though Devils & Dust is considered a folk album (and was nominated for Best Contemporary Folk Album), Springsteen picked up another GRAMMY in the rock category for its title song. Said to have been written as the United States verged on entering the Iraqi war, it voices a soldier’s fear and confusion as he waits for whatever’s coming. Springsteen ended his GRAMMY Awards performance of it with the words, “Bring ‘em home.” 


We Shall Overcome —The Seeger Sessions
Best Traditional Folk Album: 49th Annual GRAMMY Awards

We Shall Overcome —The Seeger Sessions, Springsteen's first covers album, is a celebration and homage to Seeger. Inspired by songs Springsteen had recorded in 1997 for a Seeger tribute album and rediscovered while working on a second Tracks collection, the album is a raucous affair recorded in two single-day sessions. E Street Band regulars Scialfa, violinist Soozie Tyrell and keyboardist Charlie Giordano are among the musical contributors to the CD/DVD, drawn mainly from traditional songs Springsteen learned from Seeger's versions.

Wings For Wheels: The Making Of Born To Run
Best Long Form Video: 49th Annual GRAMMY Awards

The loose, celebratory tracks on We Shall Overcome… couldn't contrast more with the subject of Springsteen's Born To Run making-of documentary. It captures the fanatic attention to detail and nearly unbearable pressure Springsteen was under to produce a hit album after two "failed" releases. (Today, Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. and The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle are considered classics.)


"Radio Nowhere"
Best Rock Song, Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance: 50th Annual GRAMMY Awards

"Radio Nowhere," the opening track on 2007's Magic, laments what its author regards as increasingly soulless airwaves. "I want a thousand guitars," Springsteen sings. "I want pounding drums. I want a million different voices speaking in tongues." In a way, it continues the thread of "57 Channels (And Nothin' On)," his mass media indictment from 1992's Human Touch.

"Once Upon A Time In The West"
Best Rock Instrumental Performance: 50th Annual GRAMMY Awards

"Once Upon A Time In The West," which garnered Springsteen his only GRAMMY for an instrumental track, is his contribution to the tribute album, We All Love Ennio Morricone. Springsteen is known to be a fan of Italian director Sergio Leone's spaghetti Western films, for which Morricone provided the iconic soundtracks. The album is a conglomeration of contributors, from Andrea Bocelli and Celine Dion to Yo-Yo Ma and Metallica, who also received a nomination for "The Ecstasy Of Gold."


"Girls In Their Summer Clothes"
Best Rock Song: 51st Annual GRAMMY Awards

Another track from Magic, the song recalls an earlier time, both lyrically and musically. With a melodic thread reminiscent of Frankie Valli's "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine (Anymore)," the pop tune contains a wisp of melancholy in the singer's observation that these pretty girls "pass me by." Also nominated for Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance, a "winter mix" of the song is available at iTunes [link].


"Working On A Dream"
Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance: 52nd Annual GRAMMY Awards

Springsteen has achieved the remarkable feat of winning at least one GRAMMY in each of eight consecutive years. The title track from an album released just after Obama's inauguration, "Working On A Dream" tempers the optimism of hope with the fear that perhaps that dream is impossible. Optimism seems to win, but in the wake of losing longtime bandmate Danny Federici, it's not surprising that Springsteen didn't go for unbridled exuberance.


Wrecking Ball
Best Rock Album Nominee: 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards

Wrecking Ball forsakes much of Working On A Dream's cautious optimism; however, instead, he points fingers at the "robber barons." In its five-star review, Rolling Stone named it "the most despairing, confrontational and musically turbulent album Bruce Springsteen has ever made." After watching the economy crumble and suffering the devastating loss of E Street Band sax player Clarence "Big Man" Clemons, it's no wonder. 

"We Take Care Of Our Own"
Best Rock Song, Best Rock Performance Nominee: 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards

First performed live on the 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards telecast in February, "We Take Care Of Our Own," similar to "Born In The U.S.A.," is an admonishment, not an affirmation. But it's sung in a way that somehow suggests it's not too late to return to the values once proudly upheld "wherever this flag is flown."

(Austin-based journalist Lynne Margolis currently contributes to American Songwriter, NPR's Song of the Day and newspapers nationwide, as well as several regional magazines and NPR-affiliate KUT-FM's "Texas Music Matters." A contributing editor to 
The Ties That Bind: Bruce Springsteen A To E To Z, she has also previously written for and Paste magazine.)

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