The Cult of Bruce (and Why I'm Not a Member)

Written by Jay Jay French

Certain bands maintain a following that is so rabid that, when trying to discuss any criticism, they have the need to bulldoze over anything other then total devotion.

Loving the Beatles, as much as I do, you would think that I would do the same if someone tells me that they don’t understand what all the fuss is about. They say to me “The Beatles are ok, that’s all” and wait for the explosion.

My reaction? Pass the sugar.

I really don’t care and have no desire to defend.

Maybe it’s like supporting General Motors or The NY Yankees. Yankee fans just shut down the conversation by saying “uhh…28 World championships, end of story.”

Yep…Beatles…most records sold, most number ones, most sociologically influential musical artist of the 20th century….on and on…

Seriously, you either get it..or you don’t.

But say anything negative about the Dead to a Dead fan and out.

The same can be said about Springsteen.

Up until the release of Bruce’s first album in January 1973 (the exact month that Twisted Sister started) I was always in lockstep with anything that Rolling Stone magazine told me was great. I was just of that age where that magazine and it’s 5 star reviews made me run out and buy that artist.

Sure, not always did I agree with their criticism. After all they were not kind to Jimi Hendrix’s first album, Cream’s live Wheels of Fire or the Led Zep debut, all of which I loved and RS hated, but when they supported an artist, I had to run out and buy that album!

I always prided myself as being “in the know”. People looked to me for what was happening. I knew it all…or so I thought.

The Springsteen debut changed it all.

The year was 1973, the month January.

Twisted Sister was just created in New Jersey

I first heard about Bruce from the band members of Twisted Sister, all of whom were from New Jersey (The original line up was an all Jersey band and you can watch the story of the first 10 years of Twisted Sister on our Netflix documentary We are Twisted Fu*king Sister), all of whom spent time on the Jersey shore, all of them knowing the NJ club circuit and how it worked and what it took to get out of it.

I heard about Bruce, how great his bar band was so I bought the first album.

Immediately, and I mean immediately, I thought his writing was a plain Dylan rip off of rhyme and style. Maybe to someone it was clever but not to me. I actually was offended by it and thought that Dylan would just either laugh or sue this guy. The other problem was his voice. I didn’t like it. At all.

This is a very personal opinion in that I don’t have to think you are a great singer (I love Lou Reed, Dylan, and Neil Young) and some people think they are the worst singers in the world.

I just need to feel that you are authentic.

It was obvious that I didn’t think Springsteen was.

I bought his next album and again tried to like it. Everyone around me was telling me how great he was.

Hmm…Why was this not reaching me?…this never happened before.

At this time 1973-75, I was totally immersed in Bowie, Reed, Mott, Velvets, Iggy that I wasn’t that concerned. Maybe this guy will just go away.

But no, 1975 brought with it Born to Run and according to every rock journalist (not to mention Time & Newsweek) the future of rock had arrived. I had to pay attention. I bought the album and played it. Over and over.

The first thing that hit me was the Phil Spector “wall of sound” production technique. Full of echo and chimes.

This hit me as a calculated attempt to show homage to a production legend. Maybe he really loved Phil but I began to get suspicious that everything about Bruce was just a hustle. Totally fake, like some of the characters in his songs. I played that album to death trying to figure out why I didn’t think that was the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Every time I listened it sounded like “paint by numbers” songwriting exercise. I didn’t believe any of the narratives.

The reason why I was feeling this way had nothing to do with the actual songs. I don’t have to believe a songs narrative, Bowie wasn’t from Mars, Mott wasn’t from Memphis, etc….no. It was that I was being “sold” an image that Bruce was this guy who got into his car (pick a car model), drove down a highway (pick one), grabbed his girl (name du jour), headed out (pick a direction).

I mean, it was all so cliched, so obvious…to me

But apparently no one else I knew thought this and were just Springsteen crazy.

All I heard was “you got to see him live, he’s the best”.

In 1978 I bought Darkness and then just gave up. I was never going to get this guy. So ingrained in me that his whole “blue collar, working class” narrative was totally fake.

I also didn’t understand his nickname “the Boss”.

That really pissed me off.

How is a working class hero referred to as “The Boss”?

A boss is the enemy of the working class. This just further alienated from the Cult of Bruce.

Then, in 1982 I went to see Dave Edmunds, an artist who I revere to this day. He was performing in a little club in NYC. I met Dave and his manager a couple of months earlier when we played a festival and were on the same bill. I had been a huge fan of his band Love Sculpture & Rockpile as well as his solo stuff.

Dave was promoting his new album and his new single “From Small Things Mama, Big Things One Day Come”.

It was raining that night and maybe there were 50 people in the room. Edmunds played some songs and then announced that he had a new single and the guy who wrote it was coming out to play it with him.

Out walks Springsteen (he wrote the song and I loved the song). Bruce talked about the song for a minute and then they played it. Bruce’s voice was better than expected and he was self effacing and, dare I say, charming.

I walked away that night again wondering why I don’t get this guy!

A couple of years later I was training for a marathon and listening to my FM Walkman that morning while running around the park. The DJ was playing a medley of Mitch Ryder songs that sounded like a live band recording.

It definitely wasn’t the Mitch Ryder version. In fact, to me, it was a pretty bad version of the Mitch Ryder hits. I knew these songs really well and I knew the Mitch Ryder versions.

I was wondering why they would play such a poorly performed and sung version of these songs on WNEW.

After this terrible version, the DJ played the actual Mitch Ryder versions. I was waiting to hear the DJ explain that some local bar band won a contest and the station was trying to help support them.

After the Mitch Ryder version finished the DJ said. “That was the original Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels following the incredible Springsteen & The E street band version from the No Nukes live album.


It was third rate bar band nonsense, in my opinion.

So mediocre, so flat, so uninspired.

Thus was proof to me that the Cult Of Bruce was built on sand.

Now, if anyone wanted to tell me how great Springsteen was I would just dismiss this as complete ignorance.

If I know nothing else, I know great bar bands. Bands whose expertise was forged in the fire of the club circuit.

I know it because I lived in that world for years.

The best of these bands was the J Geils Band.

That is/was real rock ‘n roll.

That was a great band.

The E Street band? Just pretending…Mediocre at best.

Flash forward to 2001.

I still had never seen Bruce & the E Street band live, and my wife, at the time working for the chairman of EMI music, was offered a pair of tickets to the HBO taping of Springsteen at Madison Square Garden. She knew I wasn’t a fan but urged me to go.

So we went.

The show may have lasted 3 hours. I wouldn’t know. I left after a little more than an hour. The sound was awful.

(4 guitar players on stage and not one was audible, a shame as I’m a fan of both Steve Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren) The Phil Spector Chimes were smothering everything, Bruce’s stage raps were Jersey Bar band 101 lame, and the band was totally average. I kept looking at my watch. My wife turned to me and said “Wow, I heard this guy was great but it’s so boring, I’d rather go home”.

And so we did. The next day, an old friend who has seen Bruce about 100 times called me. Before I told him what I thought he says “Last night was the worst show I’ve ever seen him do, I’m sorry.” I said that I thought it was pretty bad but that, to Bruce fans, they seemed to love it. In fact, I saw 18,000 white guys standing on seats (I’ve never seen so many pairs of Dockers in one place in my life) screaming “Born In The USA” with absolutely no idea that the song was NOT a patriotic anthem.

That fact actually hit me. Bruce ain’t blue collar and he ain’t USA, USA. He is in fact the opposite and that is a baffling contradiction.

There is a disconnect between what Bruce represents to many of his fans and to what he really is.

That fact only brought the fraud of his narrative back to me as to why I never got him.

Oh yeah, before I forget, I don’t like his voice. At all.

It actually makes me cringe when I hear it.

In 2004, I was managing an artist who the record label wanted to work with Steve Van Zandt.

In the studio, Steve asked me if I had ever seen Bruce and the E Street band. I told him that I hadn’t (I didn’t need to go there) and he invited me to see them play for a John Kerry benefit at the Byrne Arena in New Jersey that night.

I went, and this time I really, really wanted to like this.

The sound was better, the set was devoid of much talking as they only had about 45 minutes and Bruce and the band were fine. Not great but not bad. They played the hits and it was entertaining. Transcendent rock ‘n roll? Hardly. But not a waste of my time either.

So now, 2018,  Bruce is on Broadway and several friends have seen it.

I hear that he basically admits at some point that the whole Bruce Springsteen working class narrative was fake from the start.

Ok, I knew that it was and if it wasn’t sold to me like that, maybe then I would have not been so suspicious of the manipulation.

As it is, Bruce has created an amazing career that I respect if for nothing else, his work ethic.

I’ve played more shows than him and I know what it takes to make a career.

His left leaning political sensibilities are also something I fully support, and I will always wonder if his fans really understand his political leanings.

All of this is fine, but it will never get me to want to hear his music any more then I have to.

Whatever it is that ignites that “fan” passion just never came to me.

Over the years I have also noticed that people are no longer afraid to admit that they never were fans of his—that they never got it, thought the songs were just okay, and never understood the adulation.

It’s like an atheist in Alabama coming out of the closet!

It’s OK to say you don’t like Bruce!

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