How Elvis Presley Inspired Bruce Springsteen’s Career

by Josh Lanier
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(Photo by Larry Hulst/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Bruce Springsteen said he wouldn’t have become a musician if it weren’t for the King and four lads from Liverpool. The Boss happened to catch a late-night performance of Elvis Presley when Springsteen was young and knew he wanted to do that.

Springsteen first saw Elvis Presley perform on The Ed Sullivan show. The moves, the attitude, the sound all enthralled him. He begged his mom to buy him a guitar, but at 6 or 7 years old, his hands were too small. Try as he might, he couldn’t figure out how to play “Hound Dog” — the song that “shot straight to his brain.” So, he put down the $6 a week rented guitar and put that dream aside, he told Stephen Colbert in 2016.

A few years later, Springsteen caught The Beatles’ iconic Ed Sullivan performance, and it reignited that passion.

“I was 6-7 years old. It’s amazing because I was actually that young, but it had a tremendous impact. I’m curious as to where he stood here. At 7, I don’t know how much of a life I had to change, but whatever I had, it struck me right away. I got my mother run down to the store next week, and we rented a guitar.

“… I got bored rather quickly and put away until I was 14. When the Beatles stood on this stage, it happened to me again. So I got struck twice by the lightning.”

Bruce Springsteen On The Lonely Life, Death of Elvis Presley

Bruce Springsteen never met Elvis Presley. He tried once when he jumped the fence surrounding Graceland after one of Springsteen’s shows in Memphis at 3 a.m. in the hopes he’d catch the King holding court. Springsteen and his guitarist Steven Van Zandt knocked on the door, but Elvis was in Lake Tahoe that day. Security escorted them off the property.

Springsteen was there for more than a meet and greet. He’d written the song “Fire” with the hopes his idol would perform it. Elvis died before he heard the song. Springsteen recorded it a year later in 1978 and released it a decade after that.

At a concert in 1985, Springsteen lamented the loss of the rock and roll legend and the sad state his life had taken near the end.

“I remember later, when a friend of mine called to tell me that he’d died, it was so hard to understand how somebody whose music came in and took away so many people’s loneliness and gave so many people a reason and a sense of the possibilities of living could have, in the end, died so tragically,” the Express reported. “And I guess when you’re alone, you ain’t nothin’ but alone.”

Looking back, Springsteen said not meeting Elvis that night at Graceland was probably for the best. Elvis was more myth than flesh and blood.

“I used to wonder what I would have said if I had knocked on the door and if Elvis had come to the door,” Springsteen told an audience once. “Because it really wasn’t Elvis I was going to see, but it was like he came along and whispered some dream in everybody’s ear, and somehow we all dreamed it.”

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