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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