When it comes to money, Bruce Springsteen usually has a lot to say

springsteen money

DANNY CLINCH

Bruce Springsteen has stayed defiantly quiet about his current ticket-price controversy.

The silence is deafening. As of today (July 26), Bruce Springsteen has still not publicly commented on the extremely high ticket prices being charged by Ticketmaster for his upcoming tour, though his manager Jon Landau has. And the only currently scheduled show in his home state — April 14, at the Prudential Center in Newark — goes on sale July 29.

I’m not going to write about the prices themselves, and speculate on the reasons for them. That’s been done ad nauseam, by both fans and journalists (and I consider myself both). But I’d like to make a point that may not be so obvious: Part of the reason his silence hurts so much, now, is because he’s talked so much about money, through his songs, throughout his career.

So here’s a close look at the way he’s written about money at various stages of his career. I really believe that of all the major themes in his work, this is the one that has been written about — and noticed by fans — the least. (Note: This is not intended as a complete study of everything he’s written about money. I realize there are other relevant songs. If you’d like to write about others that fit this theme, please do so, in the Comments section, below.)

Of course, Springsteen grew up lower middle class, and did not make a lot of money in the early years of his career. So his early songs, naturally, reflect that perspective. He even, you might say, shows a bit of an inferiority complex when it comes to cash. In “Kitty’s Back,” Kitty “left to marry some top cat.” In “Candy’s Room,” Candy has “fancy clothes and diamond rings” and “men who give her anything she wants,” but still, the singer wills himself to believe that “what she wants is me.”

Bruce Springsteen’s 1975 album, “Born to Run.”

In “Rosalita,” Rosalita’s father “knows that I don’t have any money” but, in the song’s climactic moment, the singer asserts that “the record company … just gave me a big advance” and so this is that father’s “last chance to get his daughter in a fine romance” with the soon-to-be-rich singer.

On a similar note, in the Born to Run (1975) mini-masterpiece “Meeting Across the River,” the singer fantasizes about making a big score in some kind of criminal enterprise, and imagines the moment when “I walk through that door” and “throw that money on the bed.” That will fix everything that is wrong in the relationship, he seems to think.

The characters on Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978) should certainly not be considered rich: in “Factory,” for instance, Springsteen practically wallows in working class drudgery. Yet Springsteen’s perspective was broadening, and he was no longer seeing the world as divided between haves and have-nots. “Poor man wanna be rich, rich man wanna be king/And a king ain’t satisfied till he rules everything,” he sang in “Badlands.” Aha! When it comes to money, everything is relative.

The River (1980) contained Springsteen first Top 10 single (“Hungry Heart”) but was, among other things, a declaration of continued solidarity with the working class, most obviously via its title track, in which a construction worker hits a dead end in his life due to unemployment (“lately there ain’t been much work on account of the economy”).

Springsteen sang about unemployment, too, on his most popular album, 1984’s Born in the USA: “They’re closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks/Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain’t coming back,” goes, perhaps, the most heartbreaking line of “My Hometown.”

Bruce Springsteen’s 1982 album, “Nebraska.”

And then there’s the frequently dark and brooding Nebraska (1982). Springsteen sings about poor children staring longingly at the rich folks’ “Mansion on the Hill” and, in two songs (“Atlantic City,” “Johnny 99”), references men who, in almost identical lines, have debts that no honest man could pay.

In “Used Cars,” the singer looks back on his family’s poverty as a kind of humiliation. “Mister, the day the lottery I win, I ain’t ever gonna ride in no used car again,” he sings.

In 1984’s “Man at the Top” (a Born in the USA outtake included on the 1998 Tracks compilation), Springsteen returns to the “poor man wanna be rich, rich man wanna be king” idea, but also applies it to his own profession: “Here comes a banker, here comes a businessman/Here comes a kid with a guitar in his hand/Dreaming of his record in the No. 1 spot/Everybody wants to be the man at the top.”

Music is also seen as a method of economic salvation in a Tunnel of Love (1987) outtake, “The Wish” (also included on Tracks), where Springsteen sings about the life-changing moment when his mother bought him his first guitar. “Last night we all sat around laughing at the things that guitar brought us,” he sings, later in the song.

In the first lines of the first song (!) of Tunnel of Love, Springsteen sings about being rich: “Ain’t Got You” begins with “I got the fortunes of heaven in diamonds and gold/I got all the bonds, baby, that the bank could hold.” It was his way of being honest about his life, even if that meant damaging his working-man image. (Steven Van Zandt, in his “Unrequited Infatuations” memoir, remembers complaining to Springsteen about this song, telling him, “I know you’re trying to be funny. But it’s only funny if it’s not true!”)

Bruce Springsteen’s 1992 “Human Touch” album.

Similarly, on the Human Touch (1992) song, “57 Channels (And Nothin’ On),” Springsteen mocked his new wealth: “I bought a bourgeois house in the Hollywood hills/With a truckload of hundred thousand dollar bills.”

And on “Better Days,” from Lucky Town (released simultaneously with Human Touch), Springsteen admitted that “a life of leisure and a pirate’s treasure/Don’t make much for tragedy” but seemed to want to let his fans know that his money didn’t solve all his problems.

“I took a piss at fortune’s sweet kiss/It’s like eatin’ caviar and dirt/It’s a sad funny ending to find yourself pretending/A rich man in a poor man’s shirt,” he sang.

That last line is worth repeating: A rich man in a poor man’s shirt. It’s amazingly honest, really, for Springsteen to have sung about himself in that way, at that time.

The Ghost of Tom Joad (1995) was, to a great extent, another statement of solidarity with the lower class. On, arguably, the album’s best song, “Youngstown,” Springsteen sings, from the point of view of a steel mill worker, to the mill owners, “The story’s always the same … you tell me the world’s changed/Once I made you rich enough, rich enough to forget my name.”

Bruce Springsteen’s 2020 album, “Letter to You.”

Springsteen’s 2006 album of folk covers, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, found him singing about the rich vs. the poor, again, on “Pay Me My Money Down” (“I wish I was Mr. Gates/They’d haul my money in, in crates,” “Forty nights at sea/Captain worked every last dollar out of me”) and lauding the Robin Hood-like “Jesse James” (“He stole from the rich and he gave to the poor”).

On Wrecking Ball (2012), The Boss drew direct inspiration from the Occupy Wall Street movement.

On that album’s “Death to My Hometown,” he lashes out at businessmen: “They destroyed our families’ factories and they took our homes/They left our bodies on the plains, the vultures picked our bones.”

“The banker man grows fat, the working man grows thin/It’s all happened before and it’ll happen again,” he sings, grimly, on “Jack of All Trades.” Later in that song, he goes even further: “If I had me a gun, I’d find the bastards and shoot ’em on sight.”

On his most recent album, Letter to You (2020), Springsteen took on con men in “Rainmaker” (“Rainmaker take everything you have/Sometimes folks need to believe in something so bad … They’ll hire a rainmaker”).

I could go on. But I think the point is made. Whether his fans realize it or not, Bruce Springsteen has had an ongoing discussion with them about money, throughout his career.

Until now.

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9 thoughts on “When it comes to money, Bruce Springsteen usually has a lot to say

  1. Jay that is one intelligent and well
    Put together summary and analogy. Thanks for the trip down memory lane of Bruce’s poetic writings. Sadly they feel more pronounced in light of this ticket debacle. It’s really so heartbreaking to see that this once humble man is completely changed . Money has not changed him for the better. It’s really sad that the very people he once sung about are the very people he is now hurting with his silence and keeping from his shows . The best seats are now out of reach for these fans which encompasses the mayority of his adoring and most loyal fans. The best is now reserved fir the elite in society. The nosebleeds and blocked views fir the rest. His silence is deafening. As a fan of 43 years having attended over 340 concerts throughout the decades I’m s disheartened and will be skipping this tour. I am so heart broken. On principle I refuse to pay these obscene prices for seats I was always accustomed to. 5600 is really criminal sorry . I would much rather put that money to use on a vacation . I’m not poor but I’m not insane.

  2. The River (2022 Version)

    I come from down in the bank vault
    Where, mister, when you’re rich
    You can do whatever you want,
    And be a greedy sonofabitch…

    Me and Patty we met during the Tunnel of Love,
    When my wife wasn’t on the scene,
    We’d drive out of those arenas
    And count all the cash, so green…

    We’d go down to the stable
    And onto those horses we’d glide
    Oh, down to the stable we’d ride…

    Cause I got Patty pregnant
    And man, we had a kid of course
    And for her teenage birthday
    I bought her a real expensive horse
    We went down to get it dewormed
    And the Vet put it all to rest
    No break on the price, but it’s little Missy’s vice
    So I’ll do what I know to do best

    That night we went down to the bank vault
    And into the dollars we dived
    Oh, down to the bank vault we did hide
    Ah-yah-yah…

    I got a job playing the guitar
    For the Ticketmaster Company
    But lately there wasn’t much work
    On account of the Covid, you see
    Now all them fans that seemed so important
    Well, mister, I showed ‘em how much I don’t care
    Now I just act like a working class hero
    As Patty rides off on her new mare…

    Cuz’ to keep us riding in a limousine
    Ticket prices gotta be obscene,
    So at night, in the bed, I can lie awake
    Just to dream of all the money we’ll make
    Now the tax man comes back to haunt me
    He haunts me like a curse
    Is an offshore account something I can hide
    And lie about how much I’m worth?

    That sends me down to the arena
    So I can bleed the fans dry
    Down to the arena tonight…

  3. wow Stephen, I can actually match your lyrics right to the song, eerie and sad at the same time.
    I’m trying hard to not abandon an entertainer I followed from Asbury Park and on, but this has been more difficult than just not getting to see a show. I’ve seen some tours, missed some tours, but always had a shot at a ticket. But not this time.

  4. Pay Me My Money Down (2022 Version)
    I thought I heard the Bossman say
    Pay me my money down
    Tomorrow is our concert day
    Pay me my money down
    Pay me, pay me, pay me my money down
    Pay me or stay at home
    Pay me my money down

    Soon as those tickets went on sale
    Pay me my money down
    All my fans began to wail
    Pay me my money down
    Pay me, pay me, pay me my money down
    Pay me or stay at home
    Pay me my money down

    Tulsa floor seat for a thousand bucks
    Pay me my money down
    I don’t really give two fucks
    Pay me my money down
    Pay me, pay me, pay me my money down
    Pay me or stay at home
    Pay me my money down

    Well I wish I was Mr. Springsteen
    Pay me my money down
    Read my story in some magazines
    Pay me my money down
    Pay me, pay me, pay me my money down
    Pay me or stay at home
    Pay me my money down

    Well fifty nights we’ll play for you
    Pay me my money down
    Make a cool hundred million or two
    Pay me my money down
    Pay me, pay me, pay me my money down
    Pay me or stay at home
    Pay me my money down
    Pay me, pay me, pay me my money down
    Pay me or stay at home
    Pay me my money down
    Pay me, pay me, pay me my money down
    Pay me or stay at home
    Pay me my money down

  5. I am not upset with this dude. He’s been my idol since before I was an adult (and that is quite a while). But I don’t think we have heard the last from Bruce on this topic. I think that some arenas won’t sell out and others will have crappy crowds that will not pump up the band. It’s a disappointment – that we’re going to have a lot of people who paid north of $1,000 for a ticket to a 3-hour Springsteen show. In our house, we got in at $200 and I am thrilled. But when I saw the fracas of the ticket-buying experience, I thought, “they did not anticipate this demand pricing experience.” And I suspect Bruce will tell us that at some point.

  6. I’m very lucky and got two tickets for $169 ea. When I saw the prices (thank you dynamic pricing!) for the first set of shows that went on sale, I decided I wouldn’t spend over $225 for a ticket. I spent $160 to see him in Philly in 2016, so I expected tickets for Tour 2023 to be in the $200-$225 range. Like many, I’m still processing why he’s charging so much this time around and why? I’m extremely disappointed he took the route he did.

  7. You’re spot on with this and yes so many other lines.. But I do think Seeds is worthy of this article as well one of his best about the haves & have nots (haves not?.. you know what I mean)

    Well a great black river a man had found
    So he put all his money in a hole in the ground
    Sent a big steel arm driving down down down
    Now I live on the streets of Houston town

    Packed up my wife and kids when winter came along
    And I headed down south with just spit and a song
    But they said, “Sorry son it’s gone gone gone,
    Yeah it’s all gone,
    All work is gone”

    There is men hunkered down by the railroad tracks
    The Elkhorn Special blowing my hair back
    Tents pitched on the highway in the dirty moonlight
    And I don’t know where I’m gonna sleep tonight

    Parked in the lumberyard freezing our asses off
    Kids in the back seat got a graveyard cough
    I’m sleeping up in front with my wife
    Billy club tapping on the windshield in the middle of the night
    He says, “Move along son, move along”

    Big limousine, long shiny and black
    You don’t look ahead, you don’t look back

    How many times can you get up after you’ve been hit
    Well I swear if I could spare the spit
    I’d lay one on your shiny chrome
    And send you on your way back home

    If you’re gonna leave your town where the north wind blow
    To come on down where the sweet soda river flow
    You better think twice on it Jack
    You’re better off buying a shotgun straight off a rack

  8. Ticketmaster and uber-capitalism are the guilty parties. I got two tickets for one of his (only) three UK shows. £220 for the pair. What Ticketmaster is doing in the US would not be allowed here.

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