Everyday People: Elvis Presley, Bruce Springsteen, and the Gospel Tradition


  • Brian Conniff


Bruce Springsteen has often referred to Elvis Presley as the primary inspiration in his own vocational journey. This essay considers Elvis’ complex significance over the long course of Springsteen’s career. Elvis has been Springsteen’s most important point of entry into older populist traditions, including the blues, country, and gospel. He has also been, in his later isolation and self-destruction, Springsteen’s main cautionary tale. More recently, Springsteen has seen Elvis as the originator of a version of Rock and Roll that draws directly from gospel—particularly from the interactions between the minister, the choir, and the congregation—to create a “front man” who moves the audience toward a collective experience of restoration and hope. Along with Elvis’ populist eclecticism and his crossing of racial boundaries, this dynamic of gospel redemption has played a central role in Springsteen’s music, from the late 1960s, when he set out on his own career in the midst of the racial uprisings in Newark and Asbury Park, through his most recent albums and some of his most powerful recordings and performances, including “Land of Hope and Dreams.” Throughout, the gospel tradition has shaped Springsteen’s understanding of an American identity with a need for collective redemption grounded in the music and the religious faith of “everyday people.”

Author Biography

Brian Conniff

Professor of English, University of Scranton