Many rock artists influenced Bruce Springsteen in a big way, including Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Van Morrison and Roy Orbison. But the primal, No. 1 influence — the place where it all started for him — was Elvis Presley.
I had never really thought about this, and might not have previously agreed with that statement, before watching “If I Can Dream: The Influence of Elvis on Bruce,” a new documentary compiled from previously existing footage by Dennis P. Laverty, who released, last year, Part 1 of “History of Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes” (and is now working on Part 2). “If I Can Dream” is now streaming, for free, on Vimeo, and is also embedded below.
Laverty, a former Old Bridge resident who now lives in Staten Island (and who calls Springsteen and Presley “my two favorite rock stars”), uses concert footage and previously released interview segments with Springsteen and various rock experts to show just how important Presley was to Springsteen.
It started, of course, with Presley’s first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” in 1956 (which Springsteen saw, at 6).
With that broadcast, Springsteen said in 2012, “Television and Elvis gave us full access to a new language, a new form of communication, a new way of being, a new way of looking, a new way of thinking about sex, about race, about identity, about life, a new way of being an American (and) a human being, and a new way of hearing music.”
“Everything starts and ends with Elvis,” Springsteen said, more succinctly, in 1978.
Springsteen has written a song for Elvis (“Fire”) and a song about him (“Johnny Bye-Bye”). He has covered many Elvis songs in concert, and even invited an Elvis impersonator onstage with him in Philadelphia (dubbing him “The Philly Elvis”).
Laverty’s 75-minute film covers also all of this, with lots of rarely seen, electrifying concert performances. It also explores the famous 1975 jumping-the-wall incident at Graceland (in which an over-eager Springsteen tried, unsuccessfully, to meet the King), the Presley concerts that Springsteen saw in person, and interesting tangents such as Patti Scialfa’s song “Looking for Elvis” and the reverence that Springsteen associates Jon Landau and Dave Marsh have for Presley (who was born 82 years ago this Sunday).
The film also includes footage of Presley performing in concert and being interviewed, and ends with a look at some parallels in the lives of him and Springsteen.
Hardcore Southside Johnny fans were very appreciative of “History of Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes,” and I think Springsteen fanatics are going to feel the same way about “If I Can Dream.”