Springsteen & Teleprompters

A newspaper reporter’s recent article questioning Bruce Springsteen’s use of a teleprompter must have struck a nerve with someone on the tour. The paper received a rebuttal from E Street guitarist Nils Lofgren.

Photo: AP Photo
Philips Arena, Atlanta, Ga.

Writing under the headline “Bruce Springsteen uses a teleprompter in performances: Does it matter?” the Washington Post’s Paul Farhi wrote about the artist’s reliance on the device, noting that many artists, including Tom Petty, Elton John and Barbra Streisand, have been known to seek a little electronic aid when it comes to remembering lyrics.

“Springsteen is such an exciting performer precisely because his art has always seemed to lack artifice,” Farhi wrote. “He is exuberant but also sincere and he makes his fans believe it, too. His tunes aren’t just tunes; they’re mini-anthems of hope and possibility and unrealized dreams. They’re little musical novels.

“Which is why a teleprompter tampers, ever so slightly, with the spell Springsteen has cast for nearly 40 years. If he believes as deeply as we assume he does, why the need for a cheat sheet?”

Fans could probably answer the question as well as anyone. Considering Springsteen performs 25-plus songs a night and has been known to change his mind and call out a title to the E Street Band only moments before launching into the song, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he relies on a little help. Plus, as you can find on YouTube, Springsteen has often played “Stump The Band” with his audiences, resulting in performing cover versions of tunes moments after hearing a fan shout out the title.

But Farhi received an explanation from someone a little closer to the action – E Street axeman Lofgren.

Lofgren opens his message by saying Springsteen and E Street played “192 different songs” on the “Working On A Dream” tour and that “dozens of those songs were from audience-request signs Bruce would collect and dump in front of the drum riser,” after which, he would search through the pile until he found a song to play, “much like the college kid rummaging through the pile of dirty laundry in search of one clean shirt.”

“Many songs were covers we had never performed live. EVER!” Lofgren wrote. “He would show us the sign and then immediately ‘frisbee’ it down the stairs to the teleprompter crew to surf the net and find the lyrics while we all talked up a quick arrangement at his microphone, knowing he’d be counting it off in 20 seconds.”

Lofgren also noted that many of those songs were “Bruce songs unrehearsed or played in years or decades,” and closed his message by saying the teleprompter “has a much more ambitious use and purpose” than the original article indicated.

Photo: AP Photo
Nils Lofgren, Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt at the Apollo Theater in New York.

But instead of questioning the use of a teleprompter, WaPo reporter Farhi might have questioned why the teleprompter isn’t used more often by concert performers. Artists forgetting the words to tunes, even their own biggest hits,aren’t that uncommon and a teleprompter can help keep those embarrassing moments far and few between.

We must point out that Farhi’s article also mentioned Pollstar chief cook and bottle washer Gary Bongiovanni as saying, “I can’t imagine he’s using [a prompter] for ‘Born To Run.’”

Note to Gary: Springsteen could have used a teleprompter in 1980 on opening night of “The River” tour in Ann Arbor, Mich. That’s because he forgot the lyrics to the evening’s first song which was, you guessed it, “Born To Run.”