Bruce Springsteen In Focus 1980-2012 (Book Review)
Bruce Springsteen In Focus 1980-2012, Debra Rothenberg
Like hundreds of thousands of other rabid fans, Debra Rothenberg has had an obsession with Bruce Springsteen for most of her adult life. But unlike most of the others, through her camera, the Fairlawn, New Jersey native has been able to get close enough to get a perspective on Springsteen that shows as much of his warm, engaging side as it does the Rock God persona.
A concert photographer with the New York Daily News since ’99, Rothenberg began shooting Bruce during her college days in Rochester New York. Ironically, she wasn’t a fan in her early teen years, relying on Barry Manilow for her rock fix. Introduced to Springsteen’s music at 16 by a summer school teacher who played it as background music for his printing class, Rothenberg quickly became a convert, attending her first Bossman show in 1980, and shooting him for the first time the following year.
But Rothenberg didn’t get much of him on camera at first. Moving to Seaside Heights and hanging around the Stone Pony, she kept just missing him, but built up her skills shooting the other artists who frequented the club.
She gradually moved to larger arenas to cover Springsteen and his major tours, but the intimacy of a small club atmosphere is still reflected in Rothenberg’s photos. Bruce Springsteen In Focus 1980-2012 is two hundred pages of Brooce worship. But what makes this collection a standout is the way he allowed her to capture him looking vulnerable and down to earth but with his rockgodliness still intact.
“Bruce and photography are the only drugs I need,” Rothenberg once told a friend who asked if she was on drugs when she looked wide eyed and dazed at being up close with Him in her lens in the early days. Neither drug seems to have addled her work. In many of the photos, Springsteen seems to exist only for her, like in the sweaty but wholesome fresh faced farmboy/athlete shot (below) from the Giants Stadium show in ’85.
In an ’87 Stone Pony shot, he looks like a young. bronzed Stallone, all Jersey attitude and sweat stained jeans. And even though you’ll get several glimpses of the Iron Hoss Boss iconic poses like the ’92 ones from the Spectrum in Philly with Springsteen portrayed beside himself in a two page foursome resembling a beefcakey, Jersified Arnold Schwarzenegger, for most of the book Rothenberg captures him smiling and at ease.
Rothenberg’s shots of him performing at the 2012 Light Of Day Festival in Asbury Park to benefit Parkinson’s disease victims are some of the most warm, relaxed looking photos of him ever published. Looking like he’s just come up from a basement shredding session with some old pals, he’s comfortably rumpled looking in a faded plaid shirt and scruffy torn jeans, drink in hand, big smile in place. There’s also a portfolio of great shots from the Stone Pony in ’87 with a beefed up Boss swinging Little Steven off his feet and another of a very sweaty tank topped boss shaking a leg with Patty Scialfa.
The text is a mix of pro and amateur contributors with Rothenberg contributing a running commentary on the pictures. One of the most touching anecdotes is the final one, provided by a fan who had danced with Springsteen 34 years ago and had come back with her 17 year old daughter to see him on his ’12 Wrecking Ball tour. Daughter Kelly Smith held up a sign that read “34 years ago my mom danced with you onstage. Can I?” Rothenberg captured Springsteen holding up the sign and the daughterly dance, and Smith recalled the moment: “There was so much I wanted to say to him. In the end though, I didn’t say much and I’m glad it was that way. Just getting to dance with Bruce was more than enough.” Like Smith’s, Rothenberg’s encounters with Springsteen are rare opportunities to get up close to an icon not afraid to show his tender side while rocking you senseless. Thanks, Debra and Bruce, for sharing.