Bruce Springsteen and his mother Adele: Introductions to ‘The Wish’

springsteen adele wish

Steven Van Zandt posted this photo of Bruce Springsteen and his mother, Adele, to social media yesterday.

When he announced the death of his mother Adele yesterday, Bruce Springsteen quoted from his own song “The Wish.” Springsteen performed this sentimental ballad rarely from 1990 to 2014, usually with a joking introduction about how rock ‘n’ rollers don’t usually sing about their mothers. But then he made it a regular part of his “Springsteen on Broadway” show from 2017 to 2021, with a long, heartfelt introduction about his relationship with his mom.

(He released the studio version of it, started during 1987 sessions for his Tunnel of Love album and finished later, on his 1998 rarities boxed set, Tracks. You can listen to that below.)

Here are excerpts from his introductions to “The Wish” from 1990, 1996, 2014 and 2018. The last one is taken from the Springsteen on Broadway album; the first three are my own edits of material found on the Springsteen database, Brucebase.

Nov. 11, 1990 (the song’s live debut, at The Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles):

Last night I did a song about my dad. Tonight, I’m going to do something different. I wrote this song quite a while ago and I never really recorded it. It’s a song about my mother and, it was a funny thing because … I said, “Gee, in rock music … ain’t nobody sings about their mother out there.” So I said, “Well, gee, why is that?” It’s against all that macho posturing you have to do and stuff … this was a real problem so I wanted to figure it out so I went to see this psychiatrist … and I told him what the problem was. I had this song about my mother and I hadn’t sung it because of all the macho posturing that I have to do. So he said he understood. He says, “Well … you see, all men are afraid of their mothers” … I had to pay for this, you’re going to get it for free, right? So you know, I said, “Well, men are afraid of their mothers” … that’s like when a man and woman, when they get arguing, the woman’s always going, “Do I look like your mother? I’m not your mother. Am I supposed to be your mother?” You know, that’s why the men are always going like, “Stop mothering me.” “Ah, my mother used to do that.” That kind of thing. So realizing the truth of this thing, I said, “Wait a minute, I’m man enough to sing about my mother. I ain’t afraid. You know, only a little bit.” Which is why I’m talking so long before I sing this song. But I’m going to leap into the void and the great line of mother lovers: Richard Nixon, Elvis Presley, Merle Haggard and every country & western singer you ever knew.

March 20, 1996 at The Point Theatre in Dublin:

Elvis Presley, one of the greatest mother lovers of all time, but he never sang about his mother. You know, he only made that first record for his mother, and he didn’t put that out.

Feb. 22, 2014 at Hope Estate in Hunter Valley, Australia:

I bought my mother an iPhone. She’s 86 or 87 and … she’s kind of figured out how to use FaceTime but she can’t figure out the difference in time between the United States and Australia. So around 6:30 every morning … I get a shot of the inside of my mother’s nose … “Bruce! I love this thing, I love it! But I’m just playing around with it, I don’t know what I’m doing with it but …” So what I do every day is I send her a picture and I send it so she wakes up in the morning and it’s there … so everybody say “Hi” now … (takes photo) … looking good … she’ll be happy about that.

This song is absolutely 100 percent true.

July 17-18, 2018 at The Walter Kerr Theatre in New York (as heard on the Springsteen on Broadway album):

My mother was bright, happy. She’d merrily make conversation with a broom handle. She believed that there was good faith, good heart, good hope in all citizens. She gave the world a lot more credit, perhaps, than it deserves. But that was her way.

Now on school mornings … I hated school. That’s just Rock Star 101. … and my mom had perfected this technique in the morning where she’d stand over my bed with a glass of ice water and give me 30 seconds. You know, “Five, four, three, two …” boom! Niagara Falls. I would get dressed. I would drift downstairs to breakfast where I would feast daily on a huge bowl of Sugar Pops … and then … with a buzz on, and a kiss from my mom, I was off, with my sister, lumbering up the street with our book bags. My mom’s high heels clicked lightly in the other direction toward Lawyer’s Title Insurance company … she was a legal secretary. That was the job she did since the day she got out of high school … Goes to work, doesn’t miss a day, never sick, never down, never complains, work doesn’t appear to be a burden for her, but it’s a source of energy and of social pleasure.

Now, some evenings I would meet my mother at closing time and we would be the last to leave the office, and this was always a great privilege to me. I would have my mother all to myself, and with the building empty, her high heels would echo down the long linoleum hallway, and with the fluorescent lights out, lawyers’ cubicles empty, secretaries’ desks empty, typewriters covered, silent, the building was so still after all the noise of the day, you know … it got so quiet … it was as if the building itself was resting after a long day of service in the interest of our town. And then suddenly we’d be through the front door and out on Main Street in 5 o’clock rush hour and she would stride along, statuesque, and I’d be running alongside her just trying to keep up and I would be, you know, looking up at her, and it’s a sight I’ve never forgotten. My mother walking home from work. It had … just some eternal impact on me. She always had these very ethnic features. She had coal black hair, Italian olive skin, and when she was young, she wore that red lipstick that was very fashionable in the ’50s. And she’d be looking down at me with a look that, for me, was like the grace of Mary. It made me understand for the first time how good it feels, to feel pride in somebody that you love, and who loves you back. She let the town know that we are handsome, responsible members … pulling our own individual weight, doing what has to be done day after day. “We have a place here that we have earned, and we have a reason to open our eyes at the break of each day and breathe in a life that’s steady and good.” My mom was truthfulness, consistency, good humor, professionalism, grace, kindness, optimism, civility, fairness, pride in yourself, responsibility, love, faith in your family, commitment, joy in your work, and a never-say-die thirst for living. For living and for life.

And most importantly, for dancing. My mother and her two sisters were dancing machines, alright? They grew up in the ’40s with the big bands and the swing bands, and they learned to jitterbug, and it was in their bones, you know. My mom is seven years into Alzheimer’s. And she’s 93. But dancing, and the desire and need to dance is something that … it hasn’t left her. Remains an essential, primal part of who she is. It’s beyond language, it’s more powerful than memory, and when she comes in the door, we make sure there’s music on. She wants to dance.

These things were the embodiment of my mother. They were her heart. She carried on and she carries on as if they never, never deserted her.


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1 comment

Patricia Freeman February 4, 2024 - 8:37 am

I love you Bruce and your mother. Been to many of your concerts and met grouchy Stevie.


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