Springsteen and Me
Since meeting The Boss in Sing Sing Prison
Forty-eight years ago this month I got a phone call at my office at the legendary Crawdaddy, where I served as #2 editor for nearly the entire 1970s, that would change my life, for several years, anyway. It was from a fast-talking dude named Mike Appel, inviting me to catch his top (and only) act in a press event/concert upstate, the following day, December 7, 1972, in notorious…Sing Sing Prison. The act was a total unknown whose debut album had not yet been released, by the name of Bruce Springsteen, the latest in a long line of alleged “New Dylans” only damaged by that comparison and hype.
With editor Peter Knobler, I met Bruce in the back of a van under the old West Side Highway — we were the only two from the entire NYC press corps who bothered to show up — and then drove up with Mike to the prison (see my video below). The largely black inmates didn’t quickly warm to Brucie’s rock ‘ roll but sax player Clarence Clemons stepped in to save to day with R&B soul and showmanship. Then we attended Bruce’s first NYC gig with the band, at Kenny’s Castaways. They spelled his name wrong on the sign out front as “Springstein,” perhaps figuring that if he was a “New Dylan” he must be Jewish. We were blown away and decided right then and there to create an unprecedented, massive, piece on this unknown act whose first album wasn’t even out yet — though we quickly got a test pressing.
Then after two weeks of hanging out with Bruce and the band, and attending more club gigs (as one of the very few audience members), I helped create the very first magazine piece about Brucie — and 8,000 words, at that — written by Peter for Crawdaddy. We even put Bruce’s name on the cover. Then, a year later, I hailed his second album in a major review. What was significant about all of this: Most in the press were reacting to Bruce in a lukewarm (at best) fashion at that time and his record company was considering dropping him — until Crawdaddy doubled down with my rave of his second album, and then Jon Landau offered his crucial “I’ve seen the future of rock ‘n roll” blurb. Then we gave him his first magazine cover — two months before Time and Newsweek — also written by Peter.
Many other Crawdaddy pieces — and dozens of concert dates, from Central Park to Santa Monica — would follow and Bruce would become a friend for a number of years. Crawdaddy even challenged the E Streeters to a softball doubleheader — and swept them. Bruce played second base. Miami Steve Van Zandt pitched and played CF (often with a drink in one hand). Bruce even let me write a book at his house when he was away on his trip to England after Born to Run hit. Bruce, the self-described fledgling driver of cars, wheeled me to a gig in my hometown of Niagara Falls and back again.
For whatever reason, Bruce does not mention any of this in his excellent and honest Born to Run memoir. (His only reference to Sing Sing is in a long list of odd places Appel had him play — and got the year wrong.) His only reference to Crawdaddy, sadly, is one mention of…the magazine’s founder Paul Williams who had nothing to do with our early coverage. But the book did have a lot of ground to cover. Still, an official gold record for Born to Run that he gave to me in appreciation hangs on my wall. He did do me a real solid and write the preface to my book on Iraq and the media, So Wrong for So Long, in 2007. And a few years later, his management gave me four free tickets for his concert in Berlin and, later, made tix available in its “friend and family” cache for his hit Broadway show.
Bruce even figures in my new book on escape tunnels under the Berlin Wall (and JFK trying to kill CBS and NBC coverage of them). He performed in East Berlin. to his largest crowd ever a year before the Wall fell. It’s an amazing story in all regards.
Here is a little video about the day I met Bruce in December 1972 — in Sing Sing — which also includes excerpts from his very early live performances, including the acoustic “Growin’ Up”. Photo at the top of this page comes from December 1972, days after the Sing Sing gig, with me across the table in Brucie’s New Jersey apartment (photo by Ed Gallucci).
Greg Mitchell’s substack newsletter here. He is the author of a dozen books, most recently The Beginning or the End: How Hollywood — and America — Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. It was recently selected as one of the “21 Best Books of 2020” by Vanity Fair and as one of the ten best books about film by Sight & Sound. He also wrote and directed two current films, Atomic Cover-up and The First Attack Ads.