Entertainment Music

What the Suburbs Did for Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen

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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 fulfill 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 Mind,” whereas Joel returned the favor on Springsteen’s “Born to Run.” The 2 had crossed paths occasionally of their hit-making careers, however by no means in such a excessive profile means.

On reflection, it was stunning it had taken so lengthy. The creator Jim Cullen argues in his new ebook 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 understand, and that their rise was a product of socioeconomic circumstances of the period, notably the expansion of the suburbs. Actually, the creator argues, it’s probably that Joel and Springsteen may solely have change into well-known on the time they did.

Each had been born inside months of one another. Each are intrinsically recognized with their residence 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 Data and launched their first albums the identical 12 months. Their careers began off gradual — and virtually sputtered fully — however broke by means of across the similar time with information that may make them well-known — Springsteen’s “Born To Run” (1975) and Joel’s “The Stranger” (1977).

Mr. Cullen, a historian who has written several academic books about pop culture, mentioned the connection between the 2 that fashioned the thesis of his newest ebook.

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 fascinating after I began to look into their lives was that they had been really merchandise of downward mobility. Their instant households had suffered reverses within the technology earlier than they had been born. After which, after all, they caught the wind of this large financial and social present within the aftermath of World Conflict II.

Mr. Cullen, a historian, has written a number of educational books about popular culture.Credit score…Frances F. Denny for The New York Occasions

What had been the circumstances within the music trade that helped make somebody like Joel or Springsteen so successful?

The report 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 means 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 very well, which was to carry out reside. This was an period when touring supported information — moderately than the age we reside in, which is the opposite means round.

The very last thing I might say is that the trade 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 essentially 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 individuals had a really robust 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 during 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 by way of tv, however particularly by way of radio. There was a sort of shared nationwide viewers.

I did a ebook on “All within the Household,” a tv present [in the 1970s] that received 50 million viewers every week. The finale of “Recreation of Thrones,” individuals received excited as a result of it received 10 million viewers. It’s only a completely 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 method what they did. Beyoncé involves thoughts as somebody who’s constructed a really massive, broad viewers over an extended time period and evokes a stage of dedication and engagement that I believe is comparable. The plain different instance is Taylor Swift, who in industrial phrases, has in all probability exceeded them.