By Samantha Brandbergh
His most popular nickname is “The Boss,” but a Rider professor of popular music refers to Bruce Springsteen as “The Jersey Genius.”
Stephen Allen has recently developed the special topics course, Unpacking Bruce Springsteen, for the fall 2018 semester, during which students will explore the New Jersey native’s music and its impact.
The idea for the course came from Allen’s “fascination” with Springsteen’s musical career and the singer’s influence on multiple aspects of culture.
“I think what I’ve come to realize about his music is that he’s really, in a way, a curator,” Allen said. “He’s a real fan himself, so in a way he curates the music of the ’50s and the ’60s.”
Springsteen’s legacy is rooted at the Jersey shore, specifically Asbury Park and The Stone Pony, a music venue where Springsteen played in the early stages of his career.
“Coming from England, I live quite close to the shore [there] with my family — we’re only about 25 miles away — so I’ve always been well in-tune to a beach culture, all those kinds of things,” Allen said. “So I was really drawn to that [here].”
To prepare for the course, Allen listened to about two Springsteen albums a day throughout the past year, purchased numerous books on Springsteen’s music and life and visited an archive on the musician at Monmouth.
“The woman who runs the archive, Eileen Chapman, she has become a really good friend — she has known Springsteen since childhood,” he said. “She managed The Stone Pony for about 15 years, so she’s super plugged-in to the whole scene down there. And, for me, this is a real fun thing. I’ve been able to discover the whole shore scene.”
Allen believes that although Springsteen’s career dates back four decades, his music still rings true to millennials.
“The students cherish him,” he said. “He’s a really great subject for students to study, simply because he channels so much of musical history through his own songs. I think a lot of people relate to him through his working class, every-man persona.”
Allen hopes that when students complete the course in December, they will be “world experts” on Springsteen. In addition to analyzing Springsteen’s entire music career, the students will read critical texts about Springsteen’s creative process, as well as form their own criticism on his artistic choices.
Junior popular music culture major Garret Manyoky, who is currently enrolled in the class, said, “I chose the course because, though I don’t know too much of [Springsteen’s] music, I am a fan of many of his songs. I plan on listening to his full studio discography sometime in the future before the class starts.”
People are able to connect to Springsteen not only sonically, but in terms of his message, Allen said.
“I think a lot of the content [in his songs] is relevant to what’s going on in America today,” he said. “It still speaks powerfully of the idea of people being manipulated by forces they can’t control and the American Dream being stolen from the hands of the people who really most need it.”
Springsteen’s music, according to Allen, has a “rich” relationship to the concepts of philosophy, psychology, the arts, politics, religion, humanism and history. This is evident, considering that colleges and universities across the state — such as Princeton, Rutgers and TCNJ — have courses on Springsteen in these departments. Allen’s course will be the nation’s first in the music department, he said.
“Here’s this musical genius right on our doorstep, who only lives about 20 miles from Rider, and I find it incredible that nobody has really thought to do something [like this],” he said. “It seems like a no-brainer.”
Allen is looking forward to hearing students’ perspectives on Springsteen’s music in an era where hip-hop and rap music is at the forefront.
“How do you contextualize Springsteen and the pop music today — does he fit? And if he doesn’t, does that mean he’s still relevant?” he said.
Manyoky expects to become immersed in Springsteen through this course.
“I hope to know more about Bruce Springsteen, not just the music, even though that is the area that fascinates me the most about him,” he said. “Since he has such a large discography, I think it would be interesting to see how his writing process has changed over the years.”
Allen trusts that this course will provide students with an in-depth look at a local legend.
“It’s going to make them cherish this wonderful music that came out of the Jersey shore and became an international phenomenon,” he said.
If you are interested in enrolling in Unpacking Bruce Springsteen, please contact Stephen Allen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in the 3/27/18 edition.