Like father, like son - Douglas and Bruce Springsteen

Associated Press, 1998-05-02, by:
They were two sides of the same coin -- "too much of the same kind," the son once observed. Factory worker Douglas Springsteen, who inspired his son Bruce's songs and monologues about sullen, embittered fathers and headstrong sons, has died. "I feel lucky to have been so close to my Dad as I became a man and a father myself," Springsteen said in a statement released Friday evening.

The ordinarily ultra-private Springsteen detailed his strained but later conciliatory relationship with his father on stage, in songs like "Adam Raised a Cain," "Independence Day" and "My Hometown," and in interviews. And the Boss' lyrical references to his dad, like images of cars and highways, were often repeated.

Douglas Springsteen, with his wife, Adele, raised three children next to a gas station in central New Jersey. Bruce, the oldest and only boy, was born in 1949. In addition to factory work, Douglas had an assortment of jobs, including cab driver and prison guard. "My daddy worked his whole life for nothing but the pain. Now he walks these empty rooms looking for something to blame," Springsteen howls in "Adam Raised a Cain." "You inherit the sins," he sings, "you inherit the flames."

Few if any rockers have delved so deeply into father-son dynamics. Springsteen recalls his father's thankless work at a rug mill in "Factory." He imagines a father-and-son reunion in "My Father's House." He refers to growing up with dad in "Mansion on the Hill" and "My Hometown."

On his landmark live album, Springsteen looks back to the Vietnam War era, when he clashed with his conservative father about the length of his hair. He tells a story of how he received his draft notice and reported to an induction center. Rejected for medical reasons, Springsteen returned home, and his father asked what happened. Springsteen told him he was rejected. "That's good," his father replied.

The elder Springsteen died Sunday in Belmont, California. His age was not immediately known. Seth Cohen, a spokesman for Springsteen, refused to disclose the cause of death or give other details. A funeral Mass was held Thursday in his hometown, Freehold, New Jersey. Springsteen's parents had moved to California years ago. He opted to remain in New Jersey.

Springsteen's paternal masterpiece was "Independence Day," the melancholy tale of a son leaving the home of his disillusioned father. "There was just no way this house could hold the two of us. I guess that we were just too much of the same kind," Springsteen sings. During his early live shows, Springsteen spun tales of a home where the generation gap was a Grand Canyon.

"I could see the screen door, I could see my pop's cigarette," he said on stage in 1976 at New York's Palladium. "We'd start talkin' about nothin' much. How I was doin'. Pretty soon he'd ask me what I thought I was doin' with myself, and we'd always end up screamin' at each other."

As happens so often with fathers and sons, the animosity dissipated with the years. By 1979, Springsteen biographer Dave Marsh wrote, he spoke of his father "with both affectionate humor and a kind of intense identification."

After the "Born in the U.S.A." tour in 1984-85, Springsteen and his father spent a week fishing in Mexico. He and wife Patti Scialfa later provided three grandchildren. "My father and I had a very loving relationship," Springsteen said in his statement. "With family all around, he celebrated his 73rd birthday, and my parents recently marked 50 years together. They had a warm and caring marriage. ... My mother, my sisters and I love him and will miss him very much."

Douglas Springsteen, like his son, was uncomfortable with the media's glare. He never spoke with the media about his son's success, living quietly on the West Coast as Springsteen became a star.

On one of his "dad" songs, 1988's "Walk Like a Man," Springsteen delivered a heartfelt Jersey Shore Valentine. After recalling his father's tears on the day of his wedding, Springsteen wrote: "All I can think of is being 5 years old Following behind you at the beach Tracing your footprints in the sand. Trying to walk like a man."

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