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Bruce Springsteen Song Characters Ranked by How Healthy Their Relationship is With The Boss

He goes by many names. Bruce, The Boss, uh, “old fuss and feathers” maybe. More importantly, Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen has got stories. LOTS of stories. And within those stories are even more characters. We all know the songs, but have we ever taken a deep dive into the actual well-being of all the Marys, Billys, Sherrys, Terrys, and, yes, the Shaniquas? Possibly. But we’re doing it again here. We’re ranking the health of the relationships between Bruce and his characters. Nothing like taking an incredibly complex, nuanced, and intangible concept like human connection and slapping numbers on them.

Now by our count, Bruce has 104 songs that mention somebody by real name (with apologies to all you Magic Rats, G-Mans, and Fish Ladies), so we had to cut down because we know you don’t want to read all that and we certainly don’t want to write all that. So we just picked 20, ranked from least healthy to most healthy. (Note: to qualify for this list, Bruce—or whatever he was calling himself in the song—has to explicitly interact with said character, not just play the role of narrator).

20. Cindy (“Cindy” from The Ties That Bind)

She’s clearly not into you, Bruce. You’re playing up the way-too-common rock trope of aggressively ignoring the “no.” She’s got her parents lying for her. Move on.

19. Frankie (“Highway Patrolman” from Nebraska)

The endurance of familial bond. Frankie might be a blood relative, but he’s still toxic. By not holding Frankie accountable for his actions, Joe chooses brotherhood over morality. To some, this may seem honorable, but if we really care about Frankie, we want him held accountable. Get him some therapy or something. Letting him off the hook just because he’s your brother tells me you don’t value him as much as you value your relationship with him. Not healthy and also potentially endangering other innocent people.

18. Candy (“Candy’s Room” from Darkness on the Edge of Town)

Ah, yes. The “I’m humanizing this sex worker so obviously she has to fall in love with me” angle. Pass.

17. Mary (“The River” from The River)

Harrowing tale of two young lovers forced to grow up quick, check. Bittersweet tale of loyalty, commitment, and sacrifice, check. Bruce hearing the story of his sister getting pregnant in high school and thinking “Oh yeah, let me put myself in this story, first person,” [red flag emojis].

16. Sherry (“Sherry Darling” from The River)

Pro tip: if your love song for somebody is 93% about their mother…it is not a healthy relationship. Freudian-by-proxy.

15. Mary (“Mary Queen of Arkansas” from Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ)

There’s a large power dynamic here that isn’t totally healthy. The overall tone of the lyrics paints a one-sided relationship in which Bruce is hero-worshipping a non-reciprocating, distant Mary. It’s clearly got Bruce outside his head, because a functioning cognition would never produce the line “I’ve been a shine boy for your acid brat and a wharf rat of your state.” Bonus points for potential, if not problematic, non-binary representation way back in 1971 (“You’re not man enough for me to hate or woman enough for kissing”). You be you Mary.

14. Mary (“Thunder Road” from Born to Run)

Bruce is plainly stating what he has to offer (“I’m no hero, that’s understood”). Honesty and realism is essential to any healthy relationship. What’s troubling is the line “Don’t turn me home again.” Is this not the first time Bruce has made his pitch? Is he not respecting the “no” from Mary? Then we find out Mary’s tendency to waste her summers “praying in vain for a savior to rise from these streets.” Sure sounds like Bruce is obsessed with Mary and Mary is waiting for someone better. It also sounds like Bruce is one of many (“There were ghosts in the eyes of all the boys you sent away”). Don’t torture yourself, Bruce, find someone who sees your value.

13. Mary Lou (“Mary Lou” from Tracks)

In trying to portray himself as a romantic candidate brimming with gritty realism, Bruce comes off a little mansplain-y, a little gaslight-y, and pretty condescending. What’s wrong with Mary Lou setting her bar high? This song was written in 1979, so Bruce was in his Darkness “disillusionment is unavoidable” era while Mary Lou clearly still living her Wild, Innocent life.

12. Cynthia (“Cynthia” from Tracks)

It’s platonic (“You don’t smile or say hi but baby that’s alright ‘cause I don’t need to hold you or taste your kiss”) but a little resentful (“You ain’t the finest thing I’ll never have”). It’s good to see platonic representation in songs, but it undermines the impact when constantly compared to sexual opportunity.

11. Gloria (“Gloria’s Eyes” from Human Touch)

Just because a romantic relationship dies, doesn’t mean it’s unhealthy. Not every relationship works out and that’s okay. You can’t convince me, however, that this song isn’t about erectile dysfunction and Bruce’s slapstick, sitcom-esque attempts to cover (“I was you big man […] I tried to trick you, yeah but baby you got wise […] you cut me right down to size […] at night I pray as silently as you lie/some day my love again will rise”). Big yikes.

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