Repeating a line he has said before — “I am the President, he is the Boss” — President Obama honored Bruce Springsteen with a Presidential Medal of Freedom, today.
The official citation called Springsteen’s “America’s rock ‘n’ roll laureate and New Jersey’s greatest ambassador.”
In a White House ceremony, streamed live on whitehouse.gov/live, Springsteen and 20 others — including Bill and Melinda Gates, Michael Jordan, Robert De Niro, Diana Ross and Vin Scully — received the medal, which was established in 1963, and has already been given to more than 500 people.
Other 2016 recipients include basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; Native American community leader and advocate Elouise Cobell; comedian and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres; actors Tom Hanks, Robert Redford and Cicely Tyson; physicist Richard Garwin; architect Frank Gehry; software designers Margaret H. Hamilton and Grace Hopper; artist and designer Maya Lin; TV producer Lorne Michaels; attorney Newt Minow; and college president Eduardo Padrón.
Cries of “Bruce!” rang out as Springsteen accepted his medal.
Here is the complete text of what Obama said:
He was sprung from a cage out on Highway 9, a quiet kid from Jersey, just trying to make sense of the temples of dreams and the mystery that dotted his hometown: the pool halls, bars, girls and cars, altars and assembly lines. And for decades, Bruce Springsteen has brought us all along on a journey consumed with the bargains between ambition and injustice, and pleasure and pain, the simple glories and scattered heartbreak of everyday life in America.
To create one of his biggest hits, he once said, “I wanted to craft a record that sounded like the last record on Earth …the last one you’d ever NEED to hear. One glorious noise … then the apocalypse.” Every restless kid in America was given a story: “Born to Run.”
He didn’t stop there. Once he told us about himself, he told us about everybody else: The steel worker in “Youngstown,” the Vietnam vet in “Born in the USA,” the sick and the marginalized on the “Streets of Philadelphia,” the firefighter carrying the weight of a reeling but resilient nation on “The Rising,” the young solider reckoning with “Devils & Dust” in Iran, the communities knocked down by recklessness and greed, in “Wrecking Ball.” All of us, with our faults and our failings, every color and class and creed, bound together by one defiant, restless train rolling toward “The Land of Hope and Dreams.” These are all anthems of our America, the reality of who we are and the reverie of who we want to be.
The hallmark of a rock ‘n’ roll band, Bruce Springsteen once said, is that the narrative you tell together is bigger than anyone could have told on your own. For decades, alongside The Big Man, Little Steven, a Jersey Girl named Patti, and all the men and women of the E Street Band, Bruce Springsteen has been carrying the rest of us on his journey, and asking us all, “What is the work for us to do in our short time here?”
I am the President, he is the Boss. And pushing 70, he is still laying down four-hour live sets. If you have not been at them, he is working! Fire-breathing rock ‘n’ roll. So I thought twice about giving him a medal named for freedom, because we hope he remains, in his words, a “prisoner of rock ‘n’ roll” for years to come.”
According to a press release, the award is the country’s highest civilian honor, and is presented “to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”
The award has previously been given to 38 musicians, songwriters, composers and conductors, including Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, B.B. King, Stevie Wonder, Irving Berlin, Stephen Sondheim, Beverly Sills and Arthur Fiedler.
Here is a video of the ceremony, though the first 45 minutes are blank (start at the 46-minute mark).