It was the twenty fifth anniversary live performance celebrating the Rock & Roll Corridor of Fame at Madison Sq. Backyard in 2009 when Bruce Springsteen bellowed to the group: “Are you prepared for the bridge-and-tunnel summit assembly proper right here, proper now? As a result of Lengthy Island is about to satisfy New Jersey on the impartial floor of New York Metropolis!”
Out got here Billy Joel, and the 2 carried out a set collectively of their best hits. Springsteen crooned on Joel’s “New York State of Thoughts,” whereas Joel returned the favor on Springsteen’s “Born to Run.” The 2 had crossed paths often of their hit-making careers, however by no means in such a excessive profile approach.
Looking back, it was stunning it had taken so lengthy. The writer Jim Cullen argues in his new e-book launched in October, “Bridge and Tunnel Boys: Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, and the Metropolitan Sound of the American Century,” that Springsteen and Joel’s careers had extra uncanny parallels than most notice, and that their rise was a product of socioeconomic situations of the period, significantly the expansion of the suburbs. In actual fact, the writer argues, it’s probably that Joel and Springsteen may solely have turn out to be well-known on the time they did.
Each had been born inside months of one another. Each are intrinsically recognized with their dwelling states — Springsteen with New Jersey, Joel with New York. They each got here from the suburbs — Freehold, N.J., for Springsteen, and Hicksville, N.Y., for Joel. Each had been signed to Columbia Information and launched their first albums the identical yr, 1973. Their careers began off slowly — and nearly sputtered fully — however broke by way of across the identical time with information that might make them well-known — Springsteen’s “Born To Run” (1975) and Joel’s “The Stranger” (1977).
Mr. Cullen, a historian who has written a number of educational books about popular culture, mentioned the connection between the 2 that fashioned the thesis of his newest e-book.
These are edited excerpts from the dialog.
What does the rise of Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen within the Seventies say in regards to the period they had been residing in?
They lived in what you would possibly name the golden age of the American dream. This was the interval when the American dream was most realizable on a mass foundation. As merchandise of suburbia, they had been type of within the cockpit of this.
One of many issues I discovered attention-grabbing after I began to look into their lives was that they had been really merchandise of downward mobility. Their quick households had suffered reverses within the era earlier than they had been born. After which, after all, they caught the wind of this huge financial and social present within the aftermath of World Conflict II.
What had been the situations within the music business that helped make somebody like Joel or Springsteen so successful?
The document enterprise had been immensely worthwhile within the years prior to those guys making it. And so there was simply some huge cash floating round to spend money on new acts in a approach that there actually hadn’t been earlier than or after this.
One other is that the enterprise was designed at that time to reward the factor that these two guys did rather well, which was to carry out reside. This was an period when touring supported information — relatively than the age we reside in, which is the opposite approach round.
The very last thing I’d say is that the business was way more tolerant of failure than it had been earlier than or since. So each of those guys may actually afford to make a few information that stiffed earlier than they constructed up sufficient of a head of steam to actually take off commercially.
Individuals would possibly argue that after we speak in regards to the rise of the suburbs, we’re actually speaking in regards to the rise of a white center class.
I don’t suppose there’s any query that these guys had been beneficiaries of their racial identification. Broadly, their relative affluence gave them a leg up. That’s inarguable.
I’ll say that each of those folks had a really sturdy imaginative and prescient of integration as type of the aesthetic foundation of their work.
Are there modern-day equivalents to Joel and Springsteen?
One of many methods by which they had been additionally actually beneficiaries of their time is that they had been merchandise of what I’ll name typically an age of broadcasting. And I imply that not simply when it comes to tv, however particularly when it comes to radio. There was a sort of shared nationwide viewers.
I did a e-book on “All within the Household,” a tv present [in the 1970s] that obtained 50 million viewers every week. The finale of “Sport of Thrones,” folks obtained excited as a result of it obtained 10 million viewers. It’s only a totally different world. So it’s not simple for anyone to proceed to do what Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen did. Not as a result of Springsteen or Joel had been type of Promethean artists, however as a result of they had been beneficiaries of a media infrastructure that was very rewarding to them.
Having mentioned all that, I do suppose that there are figures who strategy what they did. Beyoncé involves thoughts as somebody who’s constructed a really giant, broad viewers over an extended time period and conjures up a degree of dedication and engagement that I believe is comparable. The apparent different instance is Taylor Swift, who in business phrases, has in all probability exceeded them.