Heat Mapping the Rise of Bruce Springsteen: How the Boss Went Viral in a Pre-Internet Era

A friend of mine and former musical collaborator was married this past weekend in Asbury Park, New Jersey, where Springsteen got his start with his first album in 1973. This was deliberate—she’s  a die-hard Jersey girl and the biggest Springsteen fan I’ve ever met. But while Springsteen is firmly rooted in his working-class New Jersey, he is also a poet of Americana writ large (Nebraska is my favorite record), and his songs are as much celebrations of his home state as they are eulogies of it, or rousing calls to hit the road and leave the Jerz behind. All that’s to say, Springsteen is something of a rock-and-roll geographer, so he’s the perfect subject for the Mapbrief project above which charts his career from folk troubadour to arena-rock hitmaker and back again–from 1973 to the present–by showing the impact of each album’s tour on a map of the U.S. Here are some things to keep in mind as you watch the visualization above:

    • each red dot is a performance (data courtesy of the Killing Floor database).
    • the intensity or “heat” generated is a function of the location of a show, the size of the venue, and inversely correlated with the overall population within 40km of the concert location. So for instance, a single arena show in New York City will generate less heat than a single arena show in Omaha, NE.
    • there is a tapering effect applied so returning to a particular area within a few months will reflect a cumulative heat effect (**Click here for interactive map version).

Using the geographer’s methodology of reading expansion diffusion and hierarchical diffusion, creator Brian Timony draws some interesting conclusions about the nature of “going viral” in a pre-internet age, and about the continuing importance of place, despite its ostensible erasure by the Internet. Timony writes, “the Jersey Shore provided a unique, accessible symbolic resonance to audiences that resonates as a Place.  (In stark contrast to the way a million bands from Brooklyn today fail to convince the rest of us of the intrinsic awesomeness of…Brooklyn.)”

It’s worth nothing that almost none of those “Brooklyn” bands actually come from Brooklyn and can claim it in the way Springsteen claims the Jersey Shore. That kind of anchor has always seemed to give him license to explore musical forms and metaphors from the South and Midwest in authentic and personal ways. A counterexample, of course, is Bob Dylan, who seems to come from nowhere at all, but the wandering mystic minstrel also figures into Timony’s scheme. He concludes by noting that the ability of Springsteen, Dylan, and Leonard Cohen to still command the stage and defy the cult of youth in pop culture exemplifies “the wise-man/shaman/entertainer who is best equipped to channel both what the audience wants to hear and what it needs to hear.” Not a strictly “geographical” point, but it’s a hard one to argue with all the same.

via Metafilter

Josh Jones is a doctoral candidate in English at Fordham University and a co-founder and former managing editor of Guernica / A Magazine of Arts and Politics.

Related Content:

Bruce Springsteen Singin’ in the Rain in Italy, and How He Creates Powerful Imaginary Worlds

Bruce Springsteen’s Personal Journey Through Rock ‘n’ Roll (Slightly NSFW But Simply Great)

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