Inspired by Bruce Springsteen’s Humanitarianism, Local Sculptor Creates Portrait of “The Boss”
Commuters to and from Princeton using the Alexander corridor will have noticed new artwork at the corner of Alexander and Faculty Roads. Sited at Larini’s Service Center and gas station, the bust of famed New Jersey rocker Bruce Springsteen is drawing the interest of local residents and tour bus visitors alike.
Titled, “Bruce Springsteen, Soulful Humanitarian,” Steve Zorochin’s sculpture has placed Princeton on the map of rock music history through its appearance in a newly published book, Rock Atlas USA: The Musical Landscape of America by David Roberts, which pays homage to legends of American music. Mr. Zorochin’s sculpture is featured inside and also prominently on the back cover between photos of Janis Joplin and a pink Cadillac.
The cast cement sculpture, which has a hand-patinated finish that gives it the look of bronze, was previously displayed in Asbury Park and Long Branch, places of significance in Mr. Springsteen’s life. Its current location recalls the first day of November 1978, when “The Boss,” performed at Jadwin Gymnasium on the Princeton University campus.
“I really admire Bruce as a humanitarian. He’s keeping it real, man, there’s nothing pretentious about him,” said Mr Zorochin, in a phone interview from his home on Jefferson Street. “I’m grateful to Ken Larini for giving me a location for the Springsteen piece, even though I’m sure he’d probably prefer Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Here it is on the corner of what will be Princeton University’s newest arts campus.”
Born and raised in Princeton, where he graduated from Princeton High School in 1970, Mr. Zorochin lived for a while in Manasquan. But when his home was destroyed by Superstorm Sandy, he moved back to Princeton where he is currently recovering from a fall in February on the ice outside his home. He suffered a massive haematoma and credits neurosurgeon Seth Joseffer of the Princeton Brain and Spine Institute for saving his life. “As soon as Dr. Seth saw me, he told me to call my wife. His prognosis was that I had to have immediate surgery, but after five days, I walked home,” he said.
The artist also credits two major influences on his life and work, his former Princeton neighbor, the folk singer Cynthia Gooding (1924-1988), and noted figure sculptor Joe Brown (1909-1985), a professor at Princeton University until retiring in 1977.
Born in Minnesota and brought up in the midwest, Ms. Gooding moved to New York City, to develop her musical career. She performed there in the mid 1940s, including long standing appearances at the Club Soho in Greenwich Village. One of the first musicians to appear on the Elektra label, she is remembered for a 1962 interview she did with Bob Dylan on the radio show she hosted for WBAI.
“She was a national treasure, pre-Joan Baez,” said Mr. Zorochin. “I had a chance to meet a lot of interesting people who came to her house.” Although inspired by Ms. Gooding, Mr. Zorochin didn’t follow her lead into folk music. When he sang, it was classical music, performed with Princeton Pro Musica.
Professor Brown specialized in sculptures that depicted athletes, which is no surprise, since he had been one himself. The son of Russian immigrants, he grew up poor in South Philadelphia He won a football scholarship to Temple University but left before graduating to work as a professional boxer before turning to the arts. He was the boxing coach at Princeton University until the late 1960s and a professor of art from 1962. His works are featured on numerous college campuses and in collections that include the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. His monumental Benjamin Franklin-Craftsman (1981) sits at the corner of Broad Street and John F. Kennedy Boulevard in Philadelphia. “Joe Brown took a kid wandering around campus and gave me direction,” remembered Mr. Zorochin, who went on to study at the School of Visual Arts in New York and the Boston Museum School.
Mr. Springsteen lives in Colts Neck and is known for guarding his privacy. So how did the sculptor work without a sitter? “Though it’s always great to model from life, I used shots from movies to inform the work, in particular Bruce as he appears singing ‘One Trick Pony,’ the song he wrote for the Mickey Rourke film, The Wrestler,” said Mr. Zorochin.
“Bruce Springsteen uses his art to help people and that’s what art is all about,” said Mr. Zorochin. “When he played Jadwin Gym, I wasn’t so much a fan of his then, I was more interested in blues and had my own garage band for a time.” Still, the artist is planning a full length portrait of the New Jersey rocker as a way of “paying respects.” “When I showed the head to Springsteen’s first drummer, Jimmy Lopez, who was playing in Freehold recently, he told me: ‘Dead on, man, beautiful.’”
He’s also at work on a portrait of Sid Bernstein, the man who brought The Beatles to Shea Stadium and the Rolling Stones to the Academy of Music in Manhattan.
According to the sculptor, his “real anchor piece,” is a monumental tribute to Captain John T. Dempster that stands outside the Mercer County Fire Training Center on Basin Road. “Dempster, who was know as ‘Cap’ was quite a character in the Trenton Fire Department; he was 85 when I did this life-size portrait of him.” The sculptor was later commissioned to create the bronze award presented to recipients of the David N. Kershaw Award in commemoration of the first president of Mathematica Policy Research in Princeton. In addition, he has created two crosses, one Catholic and one Protestant, for the Princeton University Memorial Chapel, and numerous bronze commemorative plaques.