60 Springsteen Facts for Bruce's 60th Birthday

I've said before that I love Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band the same way a dog loves its master: unconditionally, and with the sort of enthusiasm that makes gratuitous slobbering forgivable, and today, Mr. Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen "“ The Boss, the patron saint of the working man, the protector of all that is holy and righteous on E Street "“ turns 60. To celebrate Bruce's big day, here are 60 things you need to know about/reasons to love Bruce and the rest of the E Street Band.

1. Bruce has fans in high places. Barack Obama has said that there are "a handful of people who enter into your lives through their music and tell the American people's story. Bruce Springsteen is one of those people." He's also said that he ran for President because he couldn't be Bruce Springsteen.

2. Another fan was the late Joe Strummer. The Clash frontman was asked about the Boss for a TV documentary in mid-90s and he responded with a fax that said, among other things, "Bruce is great"¦if you don't agree with that, you're a pretentious Martian from Venus" and "The DJ puts on "˜Racing in the Streets' and life seems worth living again."

3. Dr. Ruth Westheimer once visited Bruce backstage at a show. She told him she liked what he said in his songs about love and sex, but she wished he'd mention contraception once in a while.

4. The late Warren Zevon was also Bruce's friend, fan and collaborator. When Zevon was diagnosed with mesothelioma, he refused any treatment he thought would incapacitate him and headed to the studio—with plenty of friends in tow—to record his final album, The Wind. Springsteen provided background vocals and electric guitar for two songs, one of which won the Grammy for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocal. Springsteen later appeared on a tribute album to Zevon, performing his song "My Ride's Here."

5. Bruce had a bit of a hard time in school. When he was in third grade, a nun stuffed him into a garbage can under her desk, claiming that's "where he belonged." Years later, at Ocean County College, legend has it that his fellow students petitioned the administration to have him expelled.

6. Of course, he had his fans, too. Some of the girls in his high school approached the administration with a petition demanding that Bruce's band at the time, the Castiles, be given more attention and respect.

7. When the Springsteens were living in Freehold, New Jersey, their house was near a Nestle's factory. When the wind was just right, Bruce has said, he could smell chocolate all day long.

8. The first song a young Bruce learned play on the guitar was the Beatles' "Twist and Shout."

9. There really is an E Street. It runs northeast through the New Jersey shore town of Belmar. According to Springsteen lore, the band took its name from the street because original keyboard player David Sancious' mother lived there and allowed the band to rehearse in her house.


10. The titular avenue of "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" is also in Belmar. [Image courtesy of]

11. "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" was guitarist Steven Van Zandt's debut with the E Street Band. He came up with the idea for the horn intro and became the de facto arranger when he sang the line for the horn section.

12. The working title of Darkness on the Edge of Town was American Madness, also the title of a 1932 Frank Capra movie. Early copies of the album were mistakenly released inside covers for Barbra Streisand's Songbird.

13. In 1979, Bruce saw the Ramones play at the Fast Lane in Asbury Park, New Jersey. He met the band and Joey Ramone asked Bruce to write a song for them. Springsteen wrote "Hungry Heart" and considered giving it to them, but hung on to it at the urging of his manager.

14. The first place Springsteen saw his first-wife-to-be, Julianne Phillips? One of .38 Special's music videos.

15. This exchange from Bill Simmons' column on is simply brilliant:

Q: My favorite YouTube clip is the Boss' greatest TV performance: his surprise duet with the Wallflowers at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards. Keep in mind, the VMAs had grown tiresome by the mid-'90s and Bruce had sort of slipped into irrelevancy with passable acoustic albums like Tom Joad. The situation was ripe for "sad former rock star shows up and creeps everyone out" potential (which did happen a few years later with Axl Rose.)

But Bruce comes out looking leaner and meaner than he had in years, complete with bad-ass goatee and leather jacket, and snatches "One Headlight" right out of Jakob Dylan's feeble hands. He nails a great guitar solo, makes tons of great Bruce faces and even turns in the classic sharing-vocals-at-the-same-mic-stand move. You're literally watching Bruce rediscover his ability to rock as the song goes on. It's like Elvis' 1968 comeback special. Watching this live with my college buddies at the time, I predicted a Bruce creative surge, which actually happened in the late-'90s, peaking with his reunion with The E Street Band and what is still the only artistically valid musical statement about 9/11: The Rising.

So, it begs the question: what would be the sports equivalent? You'd need a superstar, returning after a notable absence, who makes a comeback and rediscovers his "love of the game," and in the process, mortally wounds or breaks the spirit of an up-and-coming star with a great pedigree, right?
--M. Drury, Hoboken, N.J.

A: "¦I actually remember watching that live, seeing Bruce and saying, "I'm not getting my hopes up, but he looks pretty damned good," then watching in disbelief as he completely blew Dylan off the stage....Before we get to the answer, I wanted to point out a couple of things before you dive into the video:

1. The Wallflowers were flying pretty high at the time (looking back, you could even make the case that they were the most underrated mainstream band from the latter half of the '90s), and it's quite possible that Bruce completely derailed young Jakob, who already had enough of an uphill battle as Bob Dylan's son before another music legend hijacked his signature song as he was standing right there. I always thought the Wallflowers should have been bigger than they were. What would have happened if Bruce didn't agree to play the '97 VMAs? We may never know.

2. There's nothing funnier than Bruce creeping over to someone else's microphone, then overpowering the other guy as spit flies everywhere. (I'm convinced this is why Little Stevie initially left the E Street Band, he just couldn't take it anymore.) I always thought this would be a good SNL skit -- just Bruce walking around and randomly hijacking somebody else's microphone in various places (a street performer in a subway station, Michael Buffer doing "Let's get ready to rummmmble," a stewardess giving the pre-flight instructions, and so on).

3. "One Headlight" couldn't have been more in Bruce's wheelhouse. One of the best examples of a song that would have been twice as good if the band had just given it to the Boss from Day 1 and said, "Look, this could be a hit for us, but it's a potential Hall of Fame song for you, you have it." Some other examples: "See a Little Light" by Bob Mould; "Taillights Fade" by Buffalo Tom (and just for the record, I absolutely love those guys, but that would have been a top-five Bruce song); "Way Down Now" by World Party; "Rain King" by Counting Crows; "Expresso Love" by Dire Straits; the theme to "Beautiful Girls"; "Turn the Page" by Bob Seger; and my personal favorites, "Santa Monica" and "You Make Me Feel Like A Whore" by Everclear. Bruce also would have done much better with "I Am Mine" than Pearl Jam did because Eddie Vedder mailed in that entire album during his "I don't want to be famous anymore" stage. But this should be Bruce's next album: "Songs I Should Have Sung."

4. So what's the sports equivalent of Bruce blowing Dylan off the stage? I was leaning toward MJ and the Bulls sweeping the Magic in the '96 playoffs, with the post-baseball MJ as Bruce and Nick Anderson (already reeling after blowing those four freebies in the '95 Finals) as Jakob Dylan. But I like this example better: Jack Nicklaus roaring from behind to win the '86 Masters, with Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros (both of whom choked down the stretch) combining for the Dylan role. Remember, Norman was considered Nicklaus' heir apparent at the time, and everyone thought Seve was going to become the dominant golfer of that decade; they ended winning three more majors combined and that's it. Plus, the Nicklaus/Springsteen parallels are almost perfect, right down to their popularity, their respective résumés and the similar points of their careers at the time of the events. That seems like the logical choice to me.

16. With the sole exception of 1995's The Ghost of Tom Joad, all of Bruce's albums since 1975's Born to Run have been in the Top 5 of the US Album Chart.

17. Springsteen lore has it that Bruce was once spotted in a movie theater watching Woody Allen's Stardust Memories (which comments on artist/fan relations). The fan who saw him challenged Bruce to prove he didn't regard his own fans with the contempt as the Allen stand-in in the movie by coming to meet his mom and have dinner. Bruce did so and supposedly still visits the fan's mother every time he's in St Louis.

18. There's a fantastic bootleg community within the larger world of Bruce fans. The most notable sources for such bootlegs probably being Jungleland and The Bruce Springsteen mp3 Bootleg Index. Amid the studio outtakes and concert boots, there's also some really neat fan-made compilations at the Bootleg Index. Want a collection of great performances of "Thunder Road" spanning 25 years? Praise the superfans, it's there.

19. When Bruce tells us that "they blew up the Chicken Man in Philly last night" in "Atlantic City," he's referring to Phil Testa, the underboss of the Philadelphia crime family under Angelo Bruno. Bruno was killed in 1980, and Testa, who got his nickname from his involvement in a poultry business, succeeded him as don of the family. His nine-month reign ended when conspirators in the family placed a nail bomb under his porch and detonated it when he walked out the front door.

20. After a 1976 concert in Memphis, a most certainly inebriated Springsteen went to Graceland at three in the morning, jumped the wall, and ran to the front door. Security grabbed him before he could make it to the door and sent him packing. Knocking wouldn't have done much good, anyway. Elvis was in Lake Tahoe at the time.

21. According to Frank Stefanko, a photographer and friend of Bruce, Springsteen is a pretty good photographer and enjoys taking pictures of "weird Jersey billboards [and] funny signs on the sides of diners."

22. When Bruce decided to dissolve the E Street Band in 1989, he gave each member $2 million in severance pay.

23. In December 1999, the crew of the Space Shuttle Discovery was woken up with Bruce's song "Rendezvous" on the day they were scheduled to rendezvous with the Hubble Space Telescope.

24. In May 1977, Bruce and Steve Van Zandt went to an Elvis Presley concert in Philadelphia. A few days later Bruce wrote "Fire," and allegedly sent a demo of the song to Presley that summer, hoping he might cover it. Whether the tape got sent or not, Presley died that August and Bruce wound up giving "Fire" to Robert Gordon. Gordon's version of the song was covered by the The Pointer Sisters who made it a hit in 1979.

25. The Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts in Philadelphia, where Ben Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanack and Frederick Douglass' diaries have been preserved, recently prepared some Springsteen-abilia—including dozens of notebooks containing everything from lyrics to tour information and a to-do list that lists "extra garage door openers"—for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum exhibit "From Asbury Park to the Promised Land: The Life and Music of Bruce Springsteen." Best item: an orange composition book with lines on the cover for the owner to fill in a name, address, and subject. The spaces read: "Bossinheimer Jones / Cool Street / Your Mama."

26. There's more Springsteen ephemera at the Asbury Park Public Library, which houses the Bruce Springsteen Special Collection, possibly the world's largest collection devoted to the Boss and his bands. The collection—which is open by appointment to the public—includes some 10,000 books, magazines, fanzines, web articles, newspaper articles, academic journals and papers, comic books, song books, tourbooks, etc., with items from 42 different countries dating as far back as 1964.

27. When then-CBS President Clive Davis heard the ten tracks slated for Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., he didn't think the album had a hit single on it. Springsteen went back to work and composed two more songs with more commercial potential, "Blinded by the Light" and "Spirit in the Night." Problems arose when keyboard player David Sancious and bassist Gary Tallent weren't able to return to the studio to record the new songs. On top of that, Bruce wanted to incorporate saxophone into both songs, but didn't have a sax player. He got in touch with Clarence Clemons, who came to the studio for a session. The two songs were recorded with the one-off lineup of Clemons on sax, Vini "Mad Dog" Lopez on drums and Springsteen on everything else (except the piano on "Blinded," which was played by Harold Wheeler).

28. The title for "Kitty's Back," from The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle was inspired by a neon sign Springsteen saw promoting the return of popular stripper a Jersey Shore club.

29. The song "Thundercrack," which appears on Tracks, was regularly performed live from 1972 until drummer Vini Lopez left the band amid controversy in "˜74. When Springsteen was finishing the overdubbing and mixing for Tracks in 1998, he brought Lopez to record in order to keep the song's gang vocals true to the song's original intention.

68-south-st30. According to local legend, a fan bought the screen door of the house at 68 South St. (left side of this duplex) in Freehold, NJ—a house Springsteen had once lived in—from the homeowner in the early '80, thinking it was the screen door mentioned in "Thunder Road." [Image courtesy of]

31. Bruce's then-wife Julianne Phillips and then-wife-to-be Patti Scialfa both appear in the music video "Glory Days." Awkward.

32. In November 1996, Bruce played a benefit concert in the gymnasium of his former grade school, the St. Rose of Lima School in Freehold, NJ. Only Freehold residents were allowed to purchase tickets.

33. In September 2005, "Glory Days: A Bruce Springsteen Symposium" drew a crowd of 330 educators, journalists, historians, musicologists, and fans to hear over 100 presentations on Springsteen scholarship. This weekend, another symposium will take place at Monmouth University and include a tribute to Danny Federici and presentations like "Springsteen: The Road to Resilience in Hard Times," "Born (Again) in the USA: The Age of Springsteen," "Springsteen and Social Consciousness Panel," "Songwriters By The Sea" and "Ten Years Burning Down the Road: Bruce Springsteen in the 21st Century."

34. Thanks to the Boss, the Stone Pony is one of the most famous nightclubs in the world. It's so closely associated with Bruce that you might think he got his start at there, but the club only opened in 1974, when Springsteen already had two albums out.

35. Springsteen has taken the stage at the Stone Pony some 90 times, but except for private charity shows in the last few years, these appearances are rarely billed as his gig and most are just guest appearances at other artists' shows.

36. He has a comet named after him.


37. Madam Marie, the fortune-teller in "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)," is as real as E Street. Marie Castello told fortunes on the Asbury Park boardwalk from 1932 until her death in 2008 at age 93. The fortune-telling booth is still there and is run by Madam Marie's family.

Phew"¦let's break from some videos, shall we?

38. In this wonderful bit of satire, Adolf Hitler is excited about traveling to Jersey to see his first Springsteen show. And then everything goes wrong.

39. One of my favorite things to do while listening to Bruce is overemphasizing the quirks of his speech: the "meehgic in the night" in "Thunder Road", the "hoo ha heh huh" in "Born to Run", the incomprehensible countups and countdowns in various songs. Ben Stiller apparently enjoys this, too.

40. As you might know, we here at the _floss are huge fans of the music on Sesame Street, from Stevie Wonder's brilliant performances, to "Mahna Mahna." Sesame Street has done two Bruce covers that I know of (if I missed any let me know): "Born to Add," a mashup of "Born to Run" and "Jungleland" sung by a character called Bruce Stringbean...

...and "Barn in the USA," which features Stringbean backed by the S Street Band.

41. Here's Weird Al having a bit of fun with the Boss, interrupting (improving?) the video for "Brilliant Disguise."

42. Bud Light's "Real Men of Genius" ads somehow never get around to paying tribute to Mr. Over-the-Top Springsteen Fan. Luckily, this parody fills in the gap.

43. Finally, here's one of my favorite Bruce performances: Thundercrack at the Convention Hall in Asbury Park, featuring the Max Weinberg 7.

And we're back!

asbury-park44. In 1972, Springsteen saw the "Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J." image in a boardwalk souvenir store. He bought it, brought it to Columbia Records and told them that was the title and image he wanted on his first album.

45. A line from the song "Night" on Born to Run goes "the circuit's lined and jammed with chromed invaders." The Circuit is a nickname for the drive around Kingsley Street and Ocean Avenue in Asbury Park.

46. The live debut of the E Street Band, with Max Weinberg on drums and Roy Bittan on piano, occurred in September 1974 at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, PA. That show marked the first time that Springsteen earned $5,000 for a night's work.

47. When the band was recording, "Jungleland," the epic that closes Born to Run, it took 16 hours (with no bathroom breaks, at least according to Clemons) to work out and record Clarence Clemons' sax solo. When the Boss pointed this out to Clemons, he was surprised. He thought it had only been five.

48. According to Springsteen lore, Bruce first met Clarence "Big Man" Clemons while playing at a club in Asbury Park. It was a stormy night with strong winds and when Clemons opened the door to the club, it flew off its hinges. Springsteen likes to use the story as proof that Clemons, the E Street Band's personal Paul Bunyan, can blow the doors off any room he's in.

49. We're not the only people celebrating Bruce's birthday. If you live in Philadelphia, check out the World Café tonight for The Boss' Birthday Bash, featuring local musicians covering their favorite Bruce songs.

50. One might consider October 19, 1984, "the night Rosalita died." As far back as the song was written, almost every regular set at a Springsteen concert was closed with an extended version of "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)." But on that fateful night in Tacoma, Washington, Rosie was dropped from set list. Springsteen biographer Dave Marsh has said the song was to disrupt the expectation of ritual from the fans and remind them that the Boss was in charge.

51. Ernest "Boom" Carter doesn't have the same name recognition as some other E Streeters, but even if you're only a casual Bruce fan, you've heard his work. Carter's only performance with Springsteen was his drum track on "Born to Run." Carter's successor to the drum throne, Max Weinberg, has said that he could never reproduce Carter's drum parts in concert and eventually stopped trying.

52. Weinberg isn't a fan of Darkness on the Edge of Town because his performance on "Something in the Night" bothers him. Towards the end of the song, the band cuts out and Bruce starts singing over Max's drums. A few seconds into it, Max loses the beat and noticeably slows down the song.

53. Bruce inspires some pretty extreme acts of fandom (besides this post, I mean). Over the summer, JamsBio presented us with "No Retreat, No Surrender," a "worst-to-first countdown of every album cut in Springsteen history" plus some bonus songs. In all, they ranked and wrote about (sometimes at length) 200 songs. They ranked "Real Man" from Human Touch last and "Born to Run" first.

54. If you've ever read Stephen King's The Stand, you probably can't help but imagine Bruce as the character Larry Underwood. Well, King felt the same way, saying the in the foreword for the reissue of the novel that Springsteen, based solely on his music videos, would've been a perfect choice for the book's movie adaptation.

55. In 1984, a Houston radio station poked some fun at Springsteen's epic concerts by having early-morning deejays claim that the show Springsteen started the night before was still going on.

56. When Springsteen played near Washington, D.C., in 1988, Oliver North's secretary sent a note to Bruce backstage saying she'd like to meet him. His written reply was, allegedly, "I don't like you. I don't like your boss. I don't like what you did. Thank you."

57. Bruce and the E Street Band have toured and performed all over the world, but their strangest show might be the matinee they played Sing Sing prison in 1972, a set that featured plenty of R&B covers and Clarence Clemons singing Buddy Miles' "Them Changes."

Why We Love Bruce Springsteen

58. Rick Shea, fridaybrucefix: My friend Howard and I caught a handful of shows on the Reunion tour. One night, during the extended intro to "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out," Bruce was working the crowd into a sing along frenzy, making it clear that he would not kick the song into gear until HE decided the crowd was singing loudly enough. I turned to Howard and said "That man standing on the piano is in complete control of the building." He was.

One of the things I love about Bruce is his absolute mastery of his craft. I can't think of a better band leader and entertainer. He is entirely comfortable, at home, and happy on stage, in complete control of the building. His mastery comes out in his song selections and arrangements, in the emotional arc and pacing of his shows, and in his quarterbacking of his band. While he's a great vocalist and musician, his greatest talent may be his songwriting.

Bruce writes extraordinary songs to which we each connect in our own way. By writing so openly and honestly about his life, he encourages us to think about ours. Some songs act as mirrors through which I reflect on matters in my own life. Others are windows into issues and questions in other people's lives and in the world around me. His music and lyrics entertain and inspire me, and his songs continue to be great company on my life's journey.

Thanks Bruce, and happy 60th!

59. Peter Chianca, Blogness on the Edge of Town: "Why do you love Bruce Springsteen?" My initial response is wondering whether "love" is even the right word "“ admire and respect, yes, but love? He's not my wife, or a puppy. On the other hand, I do write a whole Springsteen blog, which some would say puts me in restraining order territory. So why is it?

I suppose it could be how he annoyed snooty grammarians the world over when he wished that "these Badlands start treating us good." Or how he's never once interrupted Taylor Swift on national television. Or that he's the rare artist who still actually has something to say, be it about 9/11, George Bush or mature relationships. (No offense, Fergie.)

Also, by playing raucous concerts while pushing 60, he makes us feel like there is hope for middle age, even if just standing through one of those concerts at age 40 makes my ankles hurt for three days. He can even inspire people with small children and ankle pain to actually go to a show that doesn't feature a Muppet or a guy in a dinosaur suit.

And he can make those same people feel like we did at 16, when music mattered and rock n' roll could set us free, and maybe even save the world. For that last reason alone, just having Bruce still out there gives some of us "“ OK, me "“ a little more faith in humanity. And if that's not worthy of a little love, I guess I don't know what is.

60. Matt Soniak: Some of my most vivid childhood memories involve driving home on summer nights from"¦somewhere "“ the amusement park, a backyard barbecue, wherever, there were a lot of nights like this "“ my mom and my brother would be asleep in the backseat and I'd be up front next to my dad, the Springsteen fanatic. We would, more often than not, be listening to Born to Run. I don't think I really had any interest in music at that age, and I really didn't get it, but I knew I liked that album. I liked the way the band essentially became one instrument on "She's the One," I liked the sound of the harmonica on "Thunder Road" and more than anything I liked the saxophone solo on "Born to Run." That sax made the hair on my arms stand straight up every time I heard it, and it still does today.

My father died one New Year's Eve almost a decade ago, so I never got a chance to really understand him or connect with him anymore than a stubborn teenager can connect with his equally stubborn father. I've had Born to Run this whole time, though, so I've been able to grasp that a little better. And because of his attachment to it, that album (and, really, all of Springsteen's music), has been the lens through which I've come to understand him—if only just a little bit.

"Born to Run" provides the occasional encouraging shove that my dad once gave me, a reminder that, no matter what sort of hell you find yourself in, there's open road in front of you and all you need to do is go. It may not be better than wherever it is you wind up, and the journey there may be just as awful, but Bruce has a way of making even the worst, most miserable moments in life sound so downright majestic. Good or bad, if that sax solo is the soundtrack to anything you do, you're lucky to have experienced it.

Happy Birthday, Bruce.

A special thanks to Rick and Peter for taking the time to gush talk about Bruce with us, and to Erica Palan, who contributed some E Street trivia.

Michael Campanella/Getty Images
10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
Michael Campanella/Getty Images
Michael Campanella/Getty Images

Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.


"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.


"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles


"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole


"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles



"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole


"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles


"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."


A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios

"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole

How Apple's '1984' Super Bowl Ad Was Almost Canceled

More than 30 years ago, Apple defined the Super Bowl commercial as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to Super Bowl XVIII, nobody watched the game "just for the commercials"—but one epic TV spot, directed by sci-fi legend Ridley Scott, changed all that. Read on for the inside story of the commercial that rocked the world of advertising, even though Apple's Board of Directors didn't want to run it at all.


If you haven't seen it, here's a fuzzy YouTube version:

"WHY 1984 WON'T BE LIKE 1984"

The tagline "Why 1984 Won't Be Like '1984'" references George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984, which envisioned a dystopian future, controlled by a televised "Big Brother." The tagline was written by Brent Thomas and Steve Hayden of the ad firm Chiat\Day in 1982, and the pair tried to sell it to various companies (including Apple, for the Apple II computer) but were turned down repeatedly. When Steve Jobs heard the pitch in 1983, he was sold—he saw the Macintosh as a "revolutionary" product, and wanted advertising to match. Jobs saw IBM as Big Brother, and wanted to position Apple as the world's last chance to escape IBM's domination of the personal computer industry. The Mac was scheduled to launch in late January of 1984, a week after the Super Bowl. IBM already held the nickname "Big Blue," so the parallels, at least to Jobs, were too delicious to miss.

Thomas and Hayden wrote up the story of the ad: we see a world of mind-controlled, shuffling men all in gray, staring at a video screen showing the face of Big Brother droning on about "information purification directives." A lone woman clad in vibrant red shorts and a white tank-top (bearing a Mac logo) runs from riot police, dashing up an aisle towards Big Brother. Just before being snatched by the police, she flings a sledgehammer at Big Brother's screen, smashing him just after he intones "We shall prevail!" Big Brother's destruction frees the minds of the throng, who quite literally see the light, flooding their faces now that the screen is gone. A mere eight seconds before the one-minute ad concludes, a narrator briefly mentions the word "Macintosh," in a restatement of that original tagline: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'" An Apple logo is shown, and then we're out—back to the game.

In 1983, in a presentation about the Mac, Jobs introduced the ad to a cheering audience of Apple employees:

"... It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and -controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"

After seeing the ad for the first time, the Apple audience totally freaked out (jump to about the 5-minute mark to witness the riotous cheering).


Chiat\Day hired Ridley Scott, whose 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner had the dystopian tone they were looking for (and Alien wasn't so bad either). Scott filmed the ad in London, using actual skinheads playing the mute bald men—they were paid $125 a day to sit and stare at Big Brother; those who still had hair were paid to shave their heads for the shoot. Anya Major, a discus thrower and actress, was cast as the woman with the sledgehammer largely because she was actually capable of wielding the thing.

Mac programmer Andy Hertzfeld wrote an Apple II program "to flash impressive looking numbers and graphs on [Big Brother's] screen," but it's unclear whether his program was used for the final film. The ad cost a shocking $900,000 to film, plus Apple booked two premium slots during the Super Bowl to air it—carrying an airtime cost of more than $1 million.


Although Jobs and his marketing team (plus the assembled throng at his 1983 internal presentation) loved the ad, Apple's Board of Directors hated it. After seeing the ad for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested that Chiat\Day be fired, and the remainder of the board were similarly unimpressed. Then-CEO John Sculley recalled the reaction after the ad was screened for the group: "The others just looked at each other, dazed expressions on their faces ... Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. Not a single outside board member liked it." Sculley instructed Chiat\Day to sell off the Super Bowl airtime they had purchased, but Chiat\Day principal Jay Chiat quietly resisted. Chiat had purchased two slots—a 60-second slot in the third quarter to show the full ad, plus a 30-second slot later on to repeat an edited-down version. Chiat sold only the 30-second slot and claimed it was too late to sell the longer one. By disobeying his client's instructions, Chiat cemented Apple's place in advertising history.

When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak heard that the ad was in trouble, he offered to pony up half the airtime costs himself, saying, "I asked how much it was going to cost, and [Steve Jobs] told me $800,000. I said, 'Well, I'll pay half of it if you will.' I figured it was a problem with the company justifying the expenditure. I thought an ad that was so great a piece of science fiction should have its chance to be seen."

But Woz didn't have to shell out the money; the executive team finally decided to run a 100-day advertising extravaganza for the Mac's launch, starting with the Super Bowl ad—after all, they had already paid to shoot it and were stuck with the airtime.

1984 - Big Brother


When the ad aired, controversy erupted—viewers either loved or hated the ad, and it spurred a wave of media coverage that involved news shows replaying the ad as part of covering it, leading to estimates of an additional $5 million in "free" airtime for the ad. All three national networks, plus countless local markets, ran news stories about the ad. "1984" become a cultural event, and served as a blueprint for future Apple product launches. The marketing logic was brilliantly simple: create an ad campaign that sparked controversy (for example, by insinuating that IBM was like Big Brother), and the media will cover your launch for free, amplifying the message.

The full ad famously ran once during the Super Bowl XVIII (on January 22, 1984), but it also ran the month prior—on December 31, 1983, TV station operator Tom Frank ran the ad on KMVT at the last possible time slot before midnight, in order to qualify for 1983's advertising awards.* (Any awards the ad won would mean more media coverage.) Apple paid to screen the ad in movie theaters before movie trailers, further heightening anticipation for the Mac launch. In addition to all that, the 30-second version was aired across the country after its debut on the Super Bowl.

Chiat\Day adman Steve Hayden recalled: "We ran a 30- second version of '1984' in the top 10 U.S. markets, plus, in an admittedly childish move, in an 11th market—Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters for IBM's PC division." Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld ended his remembrance of the ad by saying:

"A week after the Macintosh launch, Apple held its January board meeting. The Macintosh executive staff was invited to attend, not knowing what to expect. When the Mac people entered the room, everyone on the board rose and gave them a standing ovation, acknowledging that they were wrong about the commercial and congratulating the team for pulling off a fantastic launch.

Chiat\Day wanted the commercial to qualify for upcoming advertising awards, so they ran it once at 1 AM at a small television station in Twin Falls, Idaho, KMVT, on December 15, 1983 [incorrect; see below for an update on this -ed]. And sure enough it won just about every possible award, including best commercial of the decade. Twenty years later it's considered one of the most memorable television commercials ever made."


A year later, Apple again employed Chiat\Day to make a blockbuster ad for their Macintosh Office product line, which was basically a file server, networking gear, and a laser printer. Directed by Ridley Scott's brother Tony, the new ad was called "Lemmings," and featured blindfolded businesspeople whistling an out-of-tune version of Snow White's "Heigh-Ho" as they followed each other off a cliff (referencing the myth of lemming suicide).

Jobs and Sculley didn't like the ad, but Chiat\Day convinced them to run it, pointing out that the board hadn't liked the last ad either. But unlike the rousing, empowering message of the "1984" ad, "Lemmings" directly insulted business customers who had already bought IBM computers. It was also weirdly boring—when it was aired at the Super Bowl (with Jobs and Sculley in attendance), nobody really reacted. The ad was a flop, and Apple even proposed running a printed apology in The Wall Street Journal. Jay Chiat shot back, saying that if Apple apologized, Chiat would buy an ad on the next page, apologizing for the apology. It was a mess:


In 2004, the ad was updated for the launch of the iPod. The only change was that the woman with the hammer was now listening to an iPod, which remained clipped to her belt as she ran. You can watch that version too:


Chiat\Day adman Lee Clow gave an interview about the ad, covering some of this material.

Check out Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld's excellent first-person account of the ad. A similar account (but with more from Jobs's point of view) can found in the Steve Jobs biography, and an even more in-depth account is in The Mac Bathroom Reader. The Mac Bathroom Reader is out of print; you can read an excerpt online, including QuickTime movies of the two versions of the ad, plus a behind-the-scenes video. Finally, you might enjoy this 2004 USA Today article about the ad, pointing out that ads for other computers (including Atari, Radio Shack, and IBM's new PCjr) also ran during that Super Bowl.

* = A Note on the Airing in 1983

Update: Thanks to Tom Frank for writing in to correct my earlier mis-statement about the first air date of this commercial. As you can see in his comment below, Hertzfeld's comments above (and the dates cited in other accounts I've seen) are incorrect. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Frank, in which we discuss what it was like running both "1984" and "Lemmings" before they were on the Super Bowl!

Update 2: You can read the story behind this post in Chris's book The Blogger Abides.

This post originally appeared in 2012.


More from mental floss studios