Philadelphia has been big for Bruce Springsteen since the beginning, when the city was the first to fall hard for the central Jersey rocker in the early 1970s. That love affair will continue on Thursday, when the Boss comes back to town -- just two weeks after two sold-out marathon shows at Citizens Bank Park -- to promote his new memoir Born To Run with a sold-out event at the Free Library of Philadelphia that, unsurprisingly, crashed the library's website when tickets went on sale last week.
Read my review of Born to Run
The City of Brotherly Love is not the most frequently mentioned locale in Born To Run. The top three, in order, would be: Central Jersey and Springsteen's hometown, which he calls "the heart-stopping, pants-dropping, race-riot-creating, oddball-hating, soul-shaking, love-and-fear-making, heartbreaking town of Freehold, N.J."; Los Angeles, where he lived in the early '90s and still has a home; and Richmond, Va., for reasons you'll have to read the book to find out.
There are, however, some key Philly-area mentions in the book. Here are five.
1. David Dye
Springsteen's first album, 1973's Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J., was greeted with positive press and Bob Dylan comparisons. But his second, The Wild, the Innocent & the E Steet Shuffle, also released that year, was an initial commercial failure, in part because both of Springsteen's sponsors at Columbia Records, John Hammond and Clive Davis, had departed the label.
With his career stalled, Springsteen needed a nudge to get his mojo back, and according to Born to Run, assistance came via David Dye, the then WMMR-FM (93.3) deejay who is now the host of the WXPN-FM (88.5) syndicated show World Cafe.
In a chapter subtitled, "A Deejay Saved My Life," Springsteen writes:
"We were playing an empty house gig at the Main Point in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania when in walked David Dye. He was a DJ over at WMMR, Philly's local FM station. He watched us play to thirty people, approached us and said, "I love your band." That night we heard Greetings From Asbury Park being spun to music loving insomniacs as we drove out of town in our tour bus."
2. Ed Sciaky
Does Dye deserve sole credit for giving Springsteen a shot in the arm? That question will be explored further in a blog post to come. In the meantime, Springsteen does mention one other 'MMR Philly deejay:
Ed Sciaky, a great deejay and fan out of Philly whose home I'd occasionally stay at when we played the city of brotherly love." That's Sciaky, who died in 2004, pictured with Springsteen and David Bowie when the former took the bus down to Philadelphia to visit with Bowie while he was recording Young Americans at Sigma Sound Studios in 1974.
Springsteen paid tribute to the moment during the January opening show of his current The River tour in Pittsburgh.
3. "Streets of Philadelphia"
The ghostly lament Springsteen wrote for Jonathan Demme's 1994 Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington-starring AIDS drama played an important role in his career. With the E Street Band out of business and neither his 1991 albums Lucky Town and Human Touch nor the 1996 solo effort The Ghost Of Tom Joad all that warmly received by fans, the decade was short on triumphs.
"Streets of Philadelphia," gets its own chapter, #59 of a whopping 79 total. It's short on local detail - there's no mention of the Jonathan and Ted Demme video shoot, which took place at locations around Philly and Camden. But the song was important to Springsteen's career, and to him personally. It won him a best-song Oscar, and he tells of bringing the Academy Award on a visit to see his parents in San Mateo, Calif. With his father sitting in the kitchen smoking "like a blue collar Buddha," he plops it down on the table in front of him. "He looked at it, looked at me and said, 'I'll never tell anybody what to do ever again.' "
4. Chubby Checker and the Steel Pier.
"I'd been pulled out onto the living room floor at family gatherings to Twist with my mom ever since Chubby Checker smashed to hit parade to bits with 'The Twist.' "
Springsteen doesn't mention the Nebraska song "Atlantic City" in the book, but tells of his mother, Adele, taking him to the Steel Pier to see Chubby lip-sync his hits. "Then we went across the boardwalk and caught Anita Bryant on the same sun-filled afternoon."
Later, in talking about his bouts with depression, he writes about going off medication he had been taking for five years as a test to see what would happen, with the result that "I nose-dived like the diving horse at the old Atlantic City steel pier into a sloshing tub of grief and tears the likes of which I'd never experienced before."
5. Haddonfield and the Darkness album and Born To Run book cover
The cover art for Darkness on the Edge of Town was shot by Frank Stefanko, a friend of Springsteen's pal Patti Smith, who lived in Haddonfield. "My recollection is that he borrowed a camera for the day, called a teenage kid from next door to hold up his one light and started shooting," Springsteen writes.
Stefanko's photos "had a purity and street poetry to them. They were lovely and true but they weren't slick. ... His pictures captured the people I was writing about in my songs and showed me the part of me that was still one of them. We had other cover options but they didn't have the hungriness of Frank's pictures." A photo of Springsteen and his Corvette outside Stefanko's house from the Darkness sessions in the winter of 1978 adorns the cover of the Born To Run book.