top of page

Bruce "Involvement" Springsteen's recent teamups, focused (sometimes satirically) on philanthropy

Updated: Mar 16

March 14, 2024

Bruce Springsteen's two most recent television appearances, both still available on-demand, explore the "celebrity do-gooder" description often applied to himself and others, as well as the complexities and potential pitfalls of such roles. Both of them find him working in collaboration with others, though in one case on a far more serious note than the other.

In Netflix's documentary The Greatest Night in Pop, about the formation of the 1985 superstar supergroup USA For Africa and the creation and recording of its best-selling anti-hunger charity single "We Are The World," Springsteen's modern-day interview segments stand out. As one of the key artists involved in the project, and as an artist who developed and maintained a strong involvement in supporting anti-hunger efforts both before and after USA For Africa, his perspective on the project's significance and legacy is among the least hyperbolic and most realistic.

In fact, pretty much the entire remainder of the documentary is focused strictly on the songwriting and recording processes behind creating "We Are The World," including some of the music-industry and recording-session politics still in play even on a night when everyone was famously instructed to "check your ego at the door." Very interesting "fly-on-the-wall" kind of stuff, for sure, but overall little time gets spent on adequately placing "We Are The World" within the historical contexts of what preceded it, as well as what would follow it. For example, there's no mention of the late Harry Chapin's groundbreaking mergers of music and anti-hunger activism, including a visit to Ethiopia during its 1970s hunger crisis, despite Chapin's strong connections to and influence on key USA For Africa figures Ken Kragen, Harry Belafonte, Kenny Rogers, Billy Joel, and, yes, Bruce Springsteen. (Fortunately, we recently learned from the Chapin camp that a bit later this year the 2021 documentary Harry Chapin: When In Doubt, Do Something, in which Springsteen also appears, will be reissued along with the release of a new Chapin documentary. Stay tuned...) We also get Kenny Loggins' inside-baseball story of Paul Simon allegedly looking around at the assembled group of USA For Africa superstars in the recording studio and saying, "Whoa, if a bomb lands on this place, John Denver's back on top." Cute quip in an oh-so-hip kinda way, perhaps, except you'll never learn from this doc that just a few years later Simon would go on to flagrantly violate the U.N.'s cultural boycott of South Africa that Artists United Against Apartheid supported, while John Denver would become a vocal ally in the fight against music censorship.

Such contradictions and complexities of celebrity-philanthropy culture also got explored by Bruce Springsteen with another set of collaborators - though this time with their tongues planted firmly in their cheeks - in a recent episode of HBO/Max's Curb Your Enthusiasm. In the second episode of the series' twelfth and final season, entitled "The Lawn Jockey," Larry David's alter ego gets misperceived as a hero in the struggle for voting rights in Georgia. Springsteen appears briefly as himself, seen on MSNBC lauding David's perceived heroism. "Involvement," enthuses The Boss, "That's Larry David's middle name... Larry 'Involvement' David." It's a smart, funny, self-deprecating little satire of celebrity-do-goodism politics, while simultaneously never becoming cynical enough to understate the important civil-rights struggle that continues in Georgia and in many other parts of the U.S.

In real life, Springsteen also doesn't let the limitations and complexities of celebrity philanthropy keep him from still supporting worthy causes when and where he can. Case in point: Bruce is part of the group of famous "ambassadors" participating in the Buddy Holly Words of Love book project, initiated by The Buddy Holly Educational Foundation, and benefiting Teenage Cancer Trust and Teen Cancer America. The project was conceived by The Who's Roger Daltrey as a way to share and sustain Holly's legacy while benefiting two key organizations that support teenagers with cancer.

Words of Love focuses on Buddy Holly's history and enduring importance. Each ambassador is photographed with their specially designed guitar - a replica of Holly's 1943 Gibson J45, named and stylized after one of Holly's songs, and presented to the ambassador as a gift from The Buddy Holly Educational Foundation. The ambassador also shares some handwritten thoughts on why Holly's work remains important and influential. Here's Springsteen's two-page spread:

Other ambassadors include original Crickets band-members Jerry Allison and Sonny Curtis, Paul Anka, James Burton, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Steve Cropper, Roger Daltrey, Dion, Donovan, Bob Dylan, Duane Eddy, Don Everly, Phil Everly, John Fogerty, Dave Grohl, Emmylou Harris, Mick Jagger, Joan Jett, Mark Knopfler, Brian May, Paul McCartney, Van Morrison, Graham Nash, Willie Nelson, Willie Nile, Dolly Parton, Robert Plant, Keith Richards, Nile Rodgers, Linda Ronstadt, Ed Sheeran, Sting, Pete Townshend, Brian Wilson, Ronnie Wood, and The Zombies. Greil Marcus wrote Words of Love's introduction.

The book is currently available only in a "Deluxe" edition limited to just 500 copies, quarter-bound in apple leather and cloth, with black and sonic blue foiling, and gold page edging. The front cover is screen-printed with artwork created exclusively for this project by Ronnie Wood. Each numbered copy is signed by Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend. Additionally, Deluxe copies include a photographic print of a previously unpublished portrait of Buddy Holly. Hand-numbered and blind-stamped with Buddy's signature, the 8" x 10" print is suitable for framing. Completing the boxed set, an exclusive 7-inch vinyl pressing features two rare home recordings made by Buddy Holly.

It costs over £943 - more than $1200 - to pre-order a copy of this edition before its September 2024 publication. This approach towards limited-edition, high-end pricing of books may help to raise some badly needed funds for worthy organizations and causes, but the downside is that very few readers get access to important books and cultural information. Here's hoping that a book like Words of Love eventually gets re-published in a less expensive edition accessible to many more readers.

Another relatively recent book project that is similarly pricey not only involved Springsteen, but also is centered around a very important period of his musical career. Published late last fall, photographer Lynn Goldsmith's Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band (full book-cover/spine title Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band: Darkness On The Edge Of Town) is 364 pages' worth of Goldsmith's images and recollections of her time spent in the late 1970s with Bruce and his band, as she captured on film hundreds of photographs taken mainly during the recording of Darkness on the Edge of Town and the tour that followed its release. As Springsteen himself (who also had a romantic relationship with Goldsmith during this period) writes in the book, “These photos remain a record of a time when I truly played for my life, night after night.”

In this case, the high price-tag of $750/copy (with the now-sold-out first 200 editions, each accompanied by a numbered/signed Goldsmith print, having been priced $1000 higher per copy) doesn't directly benefit any particular charity or cause. Goldsmith, however, spent a substantial amount of her own money to win her precedent-setting U.S. Supreme Court case last May. So depending on how you feel about the ramifications of Goldsmith's victory, and whether you can afford such a steep price for her book, you might be a bit more willing to fork over the bucks to help support the offsetting of her legal expenses.

And finally, the latest all-star "celebrity do-gooder" collaboration to feature Springsteen drops officially tomorrow, when Mark Knopfler's Guitar Heroes' recording of "Going Home (Theme from Local Hero)" gets its official release. This new recording of Knopfler's instrumental - part of his beautiful score to the great 1983 film Local Hero, and later used as the run-out music for Newcastle United, Knopfler's hometown soccer club - also benefits Teenage Cancer Trust and Teen Cancer America, as the Words of Love book does.

Springsteen performs with more than fifty other guitar heroes, including the late, great Jeff Beck, who made his final recording for this project. (The Guitar Heroes version of "Going Home" begins with Beck's guitar track.) But not everybody involved wields an axe. Roger Daltrey, Teenage Cancer Trust’s Honorary Patron and co-founder of Teen Cancer America (with Pete Townshend), added harmonica, and Ringo Starr is on drums along with his son Zak Starkey, their two drum tracks switching from one to the other. Sting completes the rhythm section on bass.

The complete lineup of Mark Knopfler's Guitar Heroes consists of Joan Armatrading, Jeff Beck, Richard Bennett, Joe Bonamassa, Joe Brown, James Burton, Jonathan Cain, Paul Carrack, Eric Clapton, Ry Cooder, Jim Cox, Steve Cropper, Sheryl Crow, Danny Cummings, Roger Daltrey, Duane Eddy, Sam Fender, Guy Fletcher, Peter Frampton, Audley Freed, Vince Gill, David Gilmour, Buddy Guy, Keiji Haino, Tony Iommi, Joan Jett, John Jorgenson, Mark Knopfler, Sonny Landreth, Albert Lee, Greg Leisz, Alex Lifeson, Steve Lukather, Phil Manzanera, Dave Mason, Hank Marvin, Brian May, Robbie McIntosh, John McLaughlin, Tom Morello, Rick Nielsen, Orianthi, Brad Paisley, Nile Rodgers, Mike Rutherford, Joe Satriani, John Sebastian, Connor Selby, Slash, Bruce Springsteen, Ringo Starr and Zak Starkey, Sting, Andy Taylor, Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks, Ian Thomas, Pete Townshend, Keith Urban, Steve Vai, Waddy Wachtel, Joe Louis Walker, Joe Walsh, Ronnie Wood, Glenn Worf, and Zucchero.


bottom of page