Why Jon Landau matters, in Bruce Springsteen’s own words

Jon Landau rock hall

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame includes this photo of Jon Landau on its web site.

It was announced last month that Bruce Springsteen’s manager, Jon Landau, will be among this year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees. He’ll receive the Ahmet Ertegun Award, which is reserved for songwriters, producers, record company executives and others who work behind the scenes.

The honor has rarely been given to managers or those who have worked primarily in this corner of the music industry. Previously, only Brian Epstein (The Beatles) and Andrew Loog Oldham (The Rolling Stones) have received it. Irving Azoff (The Eagles and others) will be honored along with Landau. Important — and notorious — managers such as Colonel Tom Parker (Elvis Presley), Albert Grossman (Bob Dylan) and Peter Grant (Led Zeppelin) have not yet been honored in this way.

Landau was a journalist and record producer before meeting Springsteen, and his work with Springsteen has extended into the recording studio: He is credited as a co-producer of every Springsteen album from 1975 to 1995, except for Nebraska. He also has worked on important records besides Springsteen’s (Jackson Browne’s The Pretender, MC5’s Back in the USA) and managed Shania Twain, Natalie Merchant, Alejandro Escovedo and others.

But his career is defined by his work with the artist of whom he famously wrote, in a 1974 concert review, “I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.”

Presumably, Springsteen will handle the induction speech at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony, which takes place May 2 in Cleveland. But he already has put his thoughts and feelings about Landau into words, devoting a chapter of his 2016 book “Born to Run” to him.

Springsteen describes Landau as “the Clark to my Lewis” and says he had had an “instant chemical connection’ with him and “the same kind of intense connection” that he had with Steven Van Zandt. But it was different, he writes, because Springsteen was still “a young and developing musician,” when he met Landau, and Landau, though only two years older, had a certain kind of knowledge that Springsteen craved.

“I was interested in forefathers, artist brothers in arms, people who’d thought like this who’d come before me,” Springsteen writes. “Jon knew who and where they were, in books, in films and in music.”

Landau also had an almost immediate impact on Springsteen’s sound. “He guarded against overplaying and guided (Born to Run) toward a more streamlined sound,” Springsteen writes, “I was ready to give up some eclecticness and looseness, some of the street party, for a tighter punch to the gut.”

He describes Landau as a father figure, and also reveals they had some rough moments in the ’90s, when Landau started working with other artists, as well, after being intensely focused on Springsteen.

Springsteen writes, in the chapter, of iconic musicians who have died young (Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin etc.) and credits Landau with looking out for his long-term happiness and well-being. Crucially, Landau steered Springsteen toward him towards psychotherapy, to deal with his depression.

“In New Jersey, in my crowd, the psychiatric profession might as well not have existed,” Springsteen writes. “When I looked down and saw bottom, Jon assisted me toward help that would refocus and alter the course of my life. I owe a great debt to my friend for his kindness, generosity and love. He’s done a pretty nice job of management too.”

Here’s a video of Landau making a rare onstage appearance with Springsteen:

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