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The Religious Affiliation of Rock Singer
Bruce Springsteen


Bruce Springsteen was raised in a fairly devout Catholic home.

The influence of Springsteen's Catholic background on his music has been noted, and Catholic Social Justice teachings appear to have become a strong influence on his adult political beliefs and activism. However, Springsteen is not known to have been an active churchgoer as an adult. Various aspects of Springsteen's personal life as an adult do not reflect basic Catholic stands of personal morality. Springsteen is not evasive about his Catholic upbringing, but neither is he known to openly embrace a Catholic self-identity.

Occasional mis-identification of Springsteen as being Jewish or having Jewish ancestry is entirely erroneous and appears to be based purely on his surname.

From: Ron Frankl, Bruce Springsteen, Chelsea House Publishers: New York/Philadelphia (1994), page. 20:

The Springsteens were Roman Catholics, and despite their financial hardships they found the money to send Bruce to St. Rose of Lima, a parochial school in neighborhood. Whatever educational advantages the situation might have presented were lost on Bruce. According to Springsteen, "I was a big daydreamer when I was in grammar school. Kids used to tease me, call me a dreamer." Although he was bright, he was not a good student, and he did not get along with the strict nuns who were the teachers at the school.

As is often true in parochial schools, maintaining order was seemingly as important as educating a difficult student like Bruce. He gated the rigid discipline and authoritarian teaching methods of the nuns. Rather than trying harder to succeed at his studies, he stopped trying at all.

After completing the eighth grade, Bruce moved on to public high school, but his troubles continued. His rebelliousness increased, and he showed little interest in academics, athletics, and other school activities. Springsteen was a loner, with no close friends; he later said, 'It was like I didn't exist." It was music that would provide Springsteen's escape from his empty life.

From: Marc Eliot (with Mike Appel), Down Thunder Road: The Making of Bruce Springsteen, Simon & Schuster: New York (1992), pages 27-28:
Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen was born in Freehold, New Jersey, September 23, 1949, the firstborn of Douglas and Adele Springsteen, who would go on to have two other children... The name Springsteen is Dutch, although Douglas Springsteen is solid Irish and Adele, Italian. Contrary to popular belief, there is no Jewish blood in the mix, commonly thought to be so due to the family's surname.

Both Bruce's parents were, in fact, Catholic. Springsteen attended St. Rose of Lima Catholic grade school. It's likely most of the stories about his fun-ins with the nuns, either being slapped by them or by other students at their instructions, are true. What is perhaps more important are the abstract rewards Catholicism gave to Springsteen's nascent artistic personality that would one day find expression in a lyrical form based on the confessional...

Springsteen appears to have been something of a loner, rarely playing (or allowed to play) with other children, a small boy subject to the tight reins of a strict Euro-American Catholic upbringing. His early rebellion against it took form in the outlets most accessible to the boys of his generation -- movies, TV, and rock and roll. Elvis was his primary creative influence, first on the radio, then, when Bruce was seven, in performance on "The Ed Sullivan Show."

Charged by the potent Presley image, Bruce began, at the age of nine, to experiment with a guitar his mother bought him, his first attempt at forming an identity separate from the family... By the time Bruce entered high school, three signifcant events had occurred in his life. One was his discovery of Elvis; one was attending Freehold Regional High School, a public school rather than Catholic (probably due to his father's inability to pay for private school, and not, as has often been reported, because of his ability to convince his parents he'd had enough of Catholic school); and one was the Beatles' appearances on "The Ed Sullivan Show."

From: Eliot, page 31:
SPRINGSTEEN: I lived in a town with some of the guys from the band [the Castiles: Springsteen's first band]... Three of us, I guess [shared the place] on South Street. I was in The Castiles for about three years . . . up through '67. [We performed for] high school dances, church organizations, church things, CYOs [Catholic Yough Organizations], and down in the [Greenwich] Village . . . The Cafe Wha.
From: Frankl, page 18:
Bruce was the eldest of three children; his sisters, Virgina and Pamela, are 1 and 13 years younger, respectively. The family name is Dutch, although Springsteen and his sisters are mostly of Italian and Irish ancestry.
From: Eric Alterman, It Ain't No Sin to be Glad You're Alive: The Promise of Bruce Springsteen, Little, Brown and Company: Boston (1999), p. 15:
The distancing irony Springsteen usually employs to talk about his childhood can turn to bitter anger on the topic of the nuns who were his teachers. "I hated school. I had the big hate," he said in 1978. In the third grade a nun stuffed Bruce into a garbage can she kept under her desk, because, he said, "she told me that's where I belonged." He also had the distinction of being the only altar boy knocked down by a priest on the steps of the altar during Mass. In eighth grade, after "wising off," Bruce was sent down to the first-grade class, where he was forced to sit at a desk made for a child a fraction of his size. When he accidentally smiled at the nun who forced him into the tiny seat, she turned to one of the students and commanded, "Show this young man what we do to people who smile in this classroom." To young Bruce's horror and amazement, "This kid, this six-year-old who has no doubt been taught to do this, he comes over to me -- him standing up and me sitting in this little desk and he slams me in the face. I can still feel the sting."

Does Springsteen have a "Reason to Believe"?

From: Dave Marsh, Glory Days: Bruce Springsteen in the 1980s, Pantheon Book: New York, New York (1987), pages 145-147:
...some critics found the record [Nebraska] more accessible -- after all, it did tap a mood astir in the nation. "A dark-toned, brooding and unsparing record, Nebraska is also the most successful attempt at making a sizable statement about American life that popular music has yet produced," wrote [ethnic Mormon] Mikal Gilmore of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner. Gilmore praised Springsteen's growth as a writer, particularly his use of vernacular langauge and the record's "submergence in point-of-view. . . . When Springsteen tells Charles Starkweather and Johnny 99's tales, he neither seeks their redemption nor asks for our judgment. He tells the stories about as simply and as well as they deserve to be told -- or about as unsparingly as we deserve to hear them -- and he lets us feel for them what we can, or find in them what we can of ourselves."

Others homed in on the album's politics. In a review presciently titled "Born in the U.S.A.," Greil Marcus wrote: "Nebraska . . . is the most complete and probably the most convincing statement of resistance and refusal that Ronald Reagan's U.S.A. has yet elicited from any artist or any politician. Because Springsteen is an artist and not a politician, his resistance is couched in terms of the bleakest acceptance, his refusal presented as a refusal that does not know itself. There isn't a trace of rhetoric, not a moment of polemic; politics are buried deep in stories of individuals who make up a nation only when their stories are heard together. But if we can hear their stories as a single, whole story, they cannot. The people we meet on Nebraska . . . cannot give their lives a public dimension, because they are alone; because in a world in which men and women are mere social and economic functions, every man and woman is separated from every other."

To Marcus this was a definition of what had taken place as a reactionary regime unraveled the accoutrements of liberal tradition, and the consequences were unmistakably totalitarian. "The only acts of rebellion presented on Nebraska have to do with murder," he concluded. "They are nihilistic acts committed by men in a world in which social and economic functions have become the measure of all things and have dissolved all other values. In that context, these acts make sense. And that is the burden of Nebraska."

Others, however, discerned that Bruce might be carrying extra weight. "Any artist who confronts the world around him in an attempt to define a set of values and a reason for living is running a risk," Robert Palmer concluded. "What if the world simply doesn't make sense? What if there is no reason for living? Several of the songs on Nebraska circle around these disquieting possibilities, and its final song, 'Reason to Believe,' attempts to come to terms with them. 'At the end of every hard-earned day,' it concludes, 'people find some reason to believe.'

"But 'people' and Bruce Springsteen are not necessarily the same thing, and the song fails to dispel the mood of profound unease engendered by the rest of the record. It's been a long time since a mainstream rock star made an album that asks such tough questions and refuses to settle for easy answers -- let along an album that suggests that perhaps there are no answers. Facing that possibility has driven more than one sensitive soul right up to the edge of the abyss, and over it. One can only hope that Mr. Springsteen will either find 'some reason to believe' or learn to live without one."

From: Marsh, page 450:
When MTV ran a Thanksgiving weekend contest in which fifty CD boxes were given away (along with the players to go with them), entrants had to call an AT&T 900 number. Knowing how Bruce might feel about that, MTV proposed donating its end of the fifty cents per call to an organization specified by Springsteen. He chose Chris Sprowal's Committee for Dignity and Fairness for the Homeless, which subsequently received more than $25,000, enabling the National Union for the Homeless to organize in several additional cities during a cruelly cold winter. Tour or no tour, Bruce Springsteen still meant what he'd said to his Philadelphia fans: "The ideas that I sing about in my songs these people put into action in real life. Fifteen percent of the population in this country lives below the poverty line, and for no good reason. It's gotten so we just accept this as a fact of life -- that some people are poor and will stay poor -- and that's not right."

Springsteen's political beliefs and marriages

From: Frankl, pages 107-110:
The Born in the U.S.A. tour played before more people than any other concert tour in history, performing to a total audience of about five million. The tour earned about $100 from ticket sales alone, which was also a records. The Born in the U.S.A. album spent a year near the top of the sales charts. Springsteen's tours of Europe, Asia, and Australia in 1985 were also big successes, his concerts filling soccer stadiums and other large outdoor venues.

Springsteen's popularity was so great in 1984 that both major political parties attempted to use the singer's name and image in the presidential race. Spokespeople for the Republican party attempted to portray Springsteen as a champion of traditional American patriotism, which was a total misrepresentation of his views. President Ronald Reagan, while campaigning in New Jersey for his reelection, said, "America's future rests in a thousand dreams inside your hearts; it rests in the message of hope in songs so many young Americans admire: New Jersey's own Bruce Springsteen. And helping you make those dreams come true is what his job of mine is all about."

Springsteen reluctantly responded, "I didn't know whether to be embarrassed for me or for the President." Several days later, while onstage, he offered further comment: "The President was mentioning my name the other day, and I kinda got to wondering what his favorite album musta been. I don't think it was the Nebraska album."

Because of the enormous success of both the Born in the U.S.A. album and tour, Springsteen was becoming a very wealthy man. He bough a large home in Rumson, New Jersey, one of the state's prettiest areas, and also bought a home in Los Angeles. But he shared his wealth with others as well. In most cities where he performed, Springsteen made sizable contributions to local food banks, organizations set up to feed the needy. He also made donations to other causes, including medical clinics and strike funds for workers involved in labor disputes. Springsteen considered himself an artist, not a politician, and he had no intention of being used as a political football by others who wished to invoke his image. Rather than criticizing President Reagan head-on, Springsteen made his feelings known far more constructively. He distanced himself from Reagan by drawing attention to those who had been hurt by the president's policies and by asking his fan to support their local unions and food banks at his concerts. In 1985, Springsteen also donated his vocal services for "We Are the World," an all-star benefit record made to raise funds for famine relief in Africa, and to Sun City, a record put together by Steve Van Zandt to combat the racist policy of apartheid in South Africa.

During one of the tour's several breaks, Springsteen shocked his friends and fans by getting married. Springsteen had had several serious romantic involvements over the years. But he had always avoided marriage, partly because his music had always been the highest priority in his life and he had not felt ready to make the changes in his lifestyle that would be necessary if he were to marry.

Springsteen had met Julianne Phillips, a beautiful 25-year-old model and actress, in October 1984. The two soon became romantically involved, and Phillips flew to visit Springsteen several times while he was on tour. Amid great secrecy, Springsteen and Phillips were married in her parents' hometown in Oregon in May 1985...

...The two were married in a secret ceremony in May 1985, but they divorced in 1988. Springsteen later admitted, "It was tough. I didn't really know how to be a husband. She was a terrific person, but I just didn't know how to do it."

Excerpt from brief Springsteen chronology, from: Frank, page 125:
1984: Born in the U.S.A., one of the top-selling albums of all time, is released

1985 Marries actress and model Julianne Phillips

1988 Divorces wife; participates in Human Rights Now! tour

1990 Pattie Scialfa gives birth to Springsteen's son, Evan Springsteen's son, Evan James Springsteen, on July 25

1991 Springsteen marries pattie Scialfa in April; the couple's second child, Jessica Rae, is born on December 30

1992 Albums Human Touch and Lucky Touwn are released on the same day; Springsteen tours the United States and Europe without the E Street Band

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