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Forty years ago today, a much younger,  scruffier Bruce Springsteen released Born to Runan eight-track opus chronicling the hardship, magic and banality of working class America–after a pretty long struggle to get it done.

He toiled for hours over a massive, complicated mixing board tweaking the record’s master tracks. After months of all-day recording sessions, they were a mess. Bruce and Jon Landau nearly went broke trying to salvage them. According to a few members of the band, Bruce even chucked the first pressing halfway down the street in a fit of frustration.

The process of perfecting his third studio album kept him away from playing live shows for longer than he or the band had ever been comfortable with; so when it finally started to see the light of day, they hit the road hard, touring from July of ’75 up though a sold out show on New Years Eve. Despite critical and popular acclaim for the album, it was the loud, extraordinary live shows that kept him afloat.

Through a tough early career and two softer albums–Greetings from Asbury Park (1973) and The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle (1973)–that went largely unnoticed, people still packed themselves into pubs and smaller concert halls to see Springsteen put on the three or four hour extravaganzas that have made him a legend among fellow musicians. He jumped off of pianos, walked into the crowd, and played enough blistering solos to garner him attention as a gifted guitarist as well as a songwriter. As he said to a crowd at the Stone Pony in 1974:

“you should leave with your hands hurting, your feet hurting, your back hurting, and your voice sore.”

But since then, he’s had a few interactions with crowds off the concert stage, as well as a few with some now-famous buskers. In honor of the fortieth anniversary of his finest work, we’ve decided to take a look back at some of them.

Boston Common, 2011

After dropping his son Evan off at Boston College, Bruce took a walk through the Common. He stopped for a minute to watch David Gonzalez, a local guitarist who’d been performing there for years, and dropped a few dollars in his guitar case.

When the two got to talking, Gonzalez told Springsteen a story about how he and a few friends had planned to see his show in Argentina back in the 80s, selling off most of their possessions (including Gonzalez’s guitar) in order to afford the trip. “We never made it,” he says, “but I saw him there and I said, ‘play my guitar!'” Minutes later Bruce was up on a ledge with David’s beat-up Spanish guitar, playing through what seems to be an early version of the Roland Cube.

Above is a cell phone video of Springsteen in the Common, strumming a few chords from one of the busker’s own compositions. According to Gonzales, Bruce came back a few minutes after he’d left to drop a little more money into his case. “For the trip you never took,” he said before heading off.


Copenhagen, 1988

In what’s become a favorite video among buskers and Springsteen fans alike, the Boss stops along a street to play a few of his own songs with local street performer John Magnusson. He was on tour abroad in Copenhagen, supporting the upbeat, newly released Tunnel of Love. 

The two jammed for a few songs until the crowd got too big to manage. Crowd favorites included I’m On Fire and The River, proving once and for all that sad, angsty Springsteen will always triumph over the happy late ’80s stuff.

Lesson: Always leave an extra guitar lying around the pitch. Bruce Springsteen likes to show up unannounced.


Kilkenny, 2013

We’re reaching now. I get that.

Just because Glen Hansard came up busking on Grafton Street doesn’t mean that we can talk about him every time he does something cool. However, this seems worth drawing a little attention to, doesn’t it? Two of the most prominent singer-songwriters in modern music, getting up on stage in one’s home country to play one of the other’s most tragically overlooked songs?

Worth it.

New York City, 2015

A few months ago, Bruce Springsteen climbing up onto the stage at Madison Square Garden with U2 wouldn’t have meant very much to us. He’s done that before, most notably at the 25th anniversary of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame back in 2005.

However, since Bono and the guys from U2 teamed up with Jimmy Fallon to busk in Grand Central Station earlier this summer, it’s kind of become our business to keep up with them.