30 and Counting: Born in the U.S.A.

This month we look back at Bruce Springsteen’s March 1999 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The 1984 release of Born in the U.S.A. had clinched Springsteen’s status as a rock ’n’ roll legend.

The 30-second brief: Long adored at home for his synthesis of the New Jersey experience, Bruce Springsteen had reached new heights with Born in the U.S.A. In March 1985, “I’m on Fire” became the album’s fourth single to make Billboard’s Top 40. Far different from 1982’s acoustic Nebraska, this energetic examination of the country’s economic and societal struggles, through the prism of small-town working-class life, counterbalanced the glowing image of the nation depicted by the Reagan administration. In the album’s wake, Springsteen and his E Street Band embarked on an international stadium tour. They later broke up, but they reunite in March 1999 at Manhattan’s Waldorf-Astoria hotel for his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. Also in that year’s class: Billy Joel and Paul McCartney. Bono of U2 inducts Springsteen, thanking him for “saving the music from the phonies, saving lyrics from the folkies, saving black-leather jackets from the Fonz.”


Running time:

Other performers:
The E Street Band (Roy Bittan, Clarence Clemons, Danny Federici, Garry Tallent, Steve Van Zandt, Max Weinberg)

Primary media: Vinyl, cassette tapes.

Popular music, circa 1984:
Michael Jackson wins six Grammys in February; “Thriller” and “Beat It” are ubiquitous. Sting takes Song of the Year with the Police’s “Every Breath You Take.” Boy George–led Culture Club wins Best New Artist.

A bar set high:
“I put a lot of pressure on myself over a long period of time to reproduce the intensity of Nebraska on Born in the U.S.A. I never got it. But ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ is probably one of my five or six best songs, and there was something about the grab-bag nature of the rest of the album that probably made it one of my purest pop records.”—Springsteen, in his 1998 book, Songs

The peoples, courted:
Columbia Records spares little expense to plug the album, notes Billboard’s lead story for May 19, 1984, the week “Dancing in the Dark” has its radio release. “Based on what I’ve seen and heard, I would almost say this is the most expensive, best-organized pre-release campaign I’ve ever seen,” says Norman Hunter, a buyer for 150-store chain Record Bar.

The critics, part I:
“Mr. Springsteen’s new album is only his seventh in a recording career that spans 11 years. And like so many of its predecessors, it had a long and arduous birth. Mr. Springsteen, who is known to be a fanatical studio perfectionist, spent much of the last two years in the studio and reportedly wrote more than 60 songs.”—Stephen Holden, New York Times, May 27, 1984

The critics, part II:
“Springsteen’s heroes (as usual the songs’ protagonists are all working-class men) take a terrible pounding here, losing jobs (‘Downbound Train’), girls (‘I’m Goin’ Down’), neighborhoods (‘My Hometown’), best friends (‘Bobby Jean’) and even the past (‘Glory Days’), [and] getting arrested (‘Darlington County’) and jailed (‘Working on the Highway’).”— John Swenson, Saturday Review, November/December 1984

The critics, part III:
“…All of which makes the rear end (Springsteen’s? his next door neighbor’s?) on the ultra-slick cover, shot by celeb-photographer Annie Leibovitz, seem all the more ridiculous.”— Peter Watrous, Vogue, September 1984

Buon viaggio, mio fratello: “Pleasant journey, my brother” in Italian, tucked in the liner notes, is Springsteen’s farewell to guitarist and Shore guy Van Zandt. “I felt he still wanted and needed me,” Van Zandt tells People Weekly in September 1984, “but it’s time to move on.” Replacement Nils Lofgren’s trial by fire? A ten-concert August stand at the Meadowlands, during which backup vocalist Patti Scialfa also arrives.

Weeks as No. 1 Billboard LP:

Weeks in the Top 200: 139. By comparison, 1975’s Born to Run spends 110 weeks and 1980’s The River 108.

Copies sold:
More than 12 million


March in NJ, 1976–2006

March 1, 1998: The Star-Ledger reports that, according to a Star-Ledger/Eagleton poll, 69 percent of New Jersey respondents can’t name either U.S. senator (Frank Lautenberg and Robert Torricelli), 49 percent don’t know which party controls the state Legislature (Republicans), and 71 percent don’t know who ran against Governor Christine Todd Whitman in November’s election (James E. McGreevey).

March 5, 1987: By a 6–1 vote, the state Supreme Court rules that the death penalty law enacted in 1982 is constitutional and not cruel and unusual punishment.

March 6, 1990: A third spill within a few months befouls the Arthur Kill between Union County and Staten Island after two explosions rip apart a barge filled with 4.4 million gallons of heating oil. The cargo causes damage that one official says has wiped out 25 years’ worth of cleanup efforts.

March 9, 1998: Wyckoff teenager Brian C. Peterson Jr. pleads guilty to reckless manslaughter after confessing that he helped girlfriend Amy Grossberg give birth in a Delaware motel room in November 1996 before disposing of the baby boy in a nearby Dumpster.

March 11, 1982: Scarred by an Abscam conviction on bribery and conspiracy and reeling from the previous day’s call by Senator Bill Bradley for his expulsion from the U.S. Senate, Harrison A. Williams Jr. tenders a one-sentence letter of resignation from the seat he had held for 23 years.

March 11, 1999: The New Jersey Nets gain point guard Stephon Marbury in a huge three-team deal involving Marbury’s Minnesota Timberwolves and the Milwaukee Bucks. Four days later, the team cans coach John Calipari, who arrived in 1996.

March 12, 1990: Governor James Florio signs legislation that provides the first revision in eighteen years to the state’s car insurance laws, dissolving the Joint Underwriting Association and calling on insurance companies to pay $1.4 billion of the association’s $3 billion debt. The ensuing exodus of insurers from the state leaves hundreds of thousands of drivers seeking coverage.

March 16, 1993: After eight days of deliberations, three former Glen Ridge High School athletes are found guilty of the March 1989 sexual attack of a seventeen-year-old mentally handicapped girl whom they lured into the home of two of the defendants.

March 16, 2000: John McMullen sells the New Jersey Devils to the relatively new YankeeNets partnership for at least $175 million, all but ensuring the team’s move to a new arena in downtown Newark and delivering them to a new TV network.

March 17, 1991: A provision of the Ocean Dumping Act of 1988 takes effect, ending the practice begun in 1924 of dumping sewage 100 miles offshore.

March 21, 1978: Salvatore Briguglio, rumored to have taken part in the 1975 disappearance of Teamsters union president Jimmy Hoffa, is shot outside a Greenwich Village restaurant, in the opening salvo in a mob feud that soon takes out Clifton Teamsters official Anthony "Tony Pro" Provenzano.

March 25, 1980: A botched escape attempt turns into a sixteen-hour riot by about 30 prisoners on the tenth floor of the Essex County Jail in Newark, resulting in the shooting of a corrections official and the taking of six hostages. All ends peaceably with the arrest of a corrections officer and two women, who had smuggled a gun into the facility.

March 26, 1993: A state appeals court throws out 115 counts against Margaret Kelly Michaels, convicted five years earlier of molesting twenty children at the shuttered Wee Care Day Nursery in Maplewood.

March 29, 2003: Corporal Michael E. Curtin of Howell Township becomes the state’s first Iraq war casualty when he and three other Army soldiers are killed in a checkpoint bombing near Najaf.

March 30, 1982: Governor Thomas Kean accepts an NJ Transit board of directors decision to take over commuter rail lines when Conrail drops passenger service at year’s end.

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