September 23, 1949. A brilliant star appears in the heavens over Long Branch, New Jersey and, lo, unto the world a Boss is born. The faithful mark this Most Holy Day with joy, song and heated arguments over whether or not Tunnel of Love can really be considered an E Street Band record. (Yes, it can.) Whether you celebrate Brucemas, Boss Hashanah or Ramrodan, it matters not; today, we are all united in wishing Bruce Springsteen a happy 65th birthday and another year of marathon concerts and excellent shirtless beach photos.
Birthday tributes will be (deservedly) paid to his adventurous musical spirit, his career longevity and just the fact that, at 65, he can still get out on a stage and be Bruce Fucking Springsteen. So I lovingly offer a different sort of birthday salute. The Boss has been around long enough to be firmly woven into the tapestry of shared reference that is pop culture. Which means, he’s big enough to parody. And it isn’t just his mannerisms that are ripe for comedy, it’s all of E Street Nation’s rituals and devotions. (Surely you can see the humor in the things middle-aged fans will do for a chance to be bathed in Bruce’s sweat and snot-rockets from the front of the pit. We’re nuts! Embrace it!)
In that spirit, I’ve made a birthday list of some of the funniest Bruce-as-Pop-Cultural-Icon moments. (Well, they make me laugh, anyway.) These aren’t Springsteen performances; he’s not even in most of them. They’re references, spoofs, and one perfect summation of Bruce’s genius for emotional connection. Plus: Muppets!
My Top 10 Favorite Bruce-as-Pop-Cultural-Icon Videos
1. Hitler’s First Springsteen Show. It was inevitable. But it gets all the little details of Bruce-ticket-procurement anxiety right. Obviously made by a true fan who has done time in the pit lottery lines.
2. Sesame Street, “Born to Add”. The first and best of many Muppet takes on the Boss. The clever backing track sounds like the Born to Run album smashed up and randomly reassembled, but remains instantly recognizable.
3. Ben Stiller, “Legends of Springsteen”. A regular segment on Stiller’s late, great Fox sketch show, “Legends of Springsteen” was performed with love by fanboy Ben, who obviously got off on being the Boss. And whoever wrote it knew a thing or two about the “I was there the night he played for five hours and encored with ‘Preacher’s Daughter'” school of competitive fandom. Stiller easily wins the Springsteen impersonation derby over Adam Sandler and Jimmy Fallon; the lead-booted walk and wheezy laugh are dead-on, even if the prosthetic nose is a little creepy.
4. The scene from High Fidelity. SPOILER ALERT: Don’t watch this if you haven’t seen High Fidelity, obviously.
5. The scene from The Sopranos. A little in-joke, nudge-nudge, wink-wink. The fact that Steve Van Zandt has served as consigliore to New Jersey’s two most famous Bosses is probably worth an essay all by itself.
6. The opening of the 2010 Emmys show. Super fan Jimmy Fallon becomes as giddy as a girl pulled onstage during “Dancing in the Dark” at the mere mention of Bruce. Sometimes, Fallon’s Boss-crush is funny, sometimes it’s kind of squirmy. But this cameo-filled (Tina Fey! Jon Hamm! Hurley!) production number of “Born to Run” is genuinely hilarious. And Fallon performs it with goofball euphoria.
7. The lost studio take of the “Dancing in the Dark” video. A true cultural artifact of the Born in the U.S.A. era. Conclusive proof (as if we needed it) that Springsteen’s Sonny Corleone fashion statement of suspenders, high-waisted pants and sleeveless undershirt was not his best look. And don’t get me started on the choreography. Bruce, I love ya, but this video is funnier than all the Stiller and Fallon parodies put together.
8. Louis C.K. on Conan, 9/19/13. This went viral last week, but I’m including it because, a.) it’s an amazing riff on the need for sadness in human life and, b.) it’s the best analysis of “Jungleland” I’ve ever heard.
9. “Biggles Goes to See Bruce Springsteen”, Michael Palin. This is a skit from one of Monty Python’s UK Amnesty International benefit concerts. I heard it years ago on an audio cassette and didn’t know it existed on film until I found this clip a while back on You Tube. (The German subtitles only add to the absurdity.) For the uninitiated, Biggles was an actual British series of ripping boys’ adventure stories about a WWI RAF ace. In Palin’s parody (“one of the later books in the series,” he explains), Biggles and his chums Algie and Ginger take off in their biplane for a Bruce concert at the Midshire Odeon. Springsteen is really only tangential to the story. But the whole thing is wonderfully weird and silly; it blows my mind every time I hear this obscure crossing of paths of Monty Python and Bruce, who were two of my formative inspirations, albeit in very different ways.
10. “Sexy and I Know It” (Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, 2012). Even the Boss regrets his Born in the U.S.A. look. Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle.