When fans holler “Bruuuce!” at New Jersey-born rocker Bruce Springsteen during live shows and public appearances, those unfamiliar with the practice sometimes think The Boss is being booed.
But when Springsteen hears it, he just thinks of his grandfather.
Springsteen explained why on Jimmy Kimmel Live! this week, telling host Kimmel that his grandfather used to loudly draw out his name to get him to come over for a cheek pinch when the future E Street Band leader was growing up in Freehold, N.J. As The Boss said, the pinch was always painful, but at least he got a dollar out of the ordeal.
“My grandfather, who was this sort of 5’5” old-world Italian man, used to go, ‘Bruce, Bruuuce.’ I used to go visit him every Sunday, and I would go every Sunday and he had a dollar, and he would sit on this throne in his sitting room. ‘Bruuuce, come here,” Springsteen said. “I’d come closer, come a little bit closer and he’d get my cheek like this, and he would start squeezing that thing and spinning that thing, and finally he’d pull it off. My tears would be running off my face and he’d go, ‘Bruuuce, what’s the matter?’”
That grandfather was Antonio Zerilli, who came from the town of Vico Equense in Italy, where he owned a restaurant before immigrating to the United States. Springsteen explained that part of his lineage back in 2013 during a tour stop in Naples, where a fan presented him with a photo of the restaurant, known as Gran Caffè Zerilli.
“I could have been serving pasta if my grandfather hadn’t moved to America,” Springsteen said at the show, according to a review.
On Kimmel, Springsteen also discussed the start of his music career in the 1970s, which he said kicked off in earnest with a show at a “small college in Pennsylvania,” where he opened for stoner comedy duo Cheech and Chong. That college was actually West Chester University, where Springsteen played his earliest-known performance with the E Street Band on Oct. 28, 1972, according the Bucks County Courier Times.
While Springsteen today is known for his lengthy performances, that initial show only went on for a few songs. Cheech and Chong’s management reportedly cut the set short.
“We played about five songs. I thought it was going really good,” Springsteen told Kimmel. “I was sitting at the piano, and somebody tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘That’s enough.’"