From boardwalk bum to billionaire

The news wire says that Bruce Springsteen has sold his music catalog for about a half a billion dollars, and that ain't hay. According to the reports, the deal includes the rights to his recordings as well as the rights to the underlying songs. The buyer is Sony, which is basically the record company he's been with for 50 years.

I believe Bruce has owned all of those copyrights in his individual capacity ever since his ascent to stardom in the late '70s. In the early days of his career, when his first two records were going nowhere, he had gotten into a nasty dispute with a manager guy, and that had kept Bruce from becoming the Boss for a year or so. Once that mess was cleaned up, he took off like, well, like a cosmic kid in full costume dress. And from then on, the copyright notices all showed his indivdual name as the owner of everything.

The business of being Bruce has been extraordinarily well-managed, and I'll bet the guy was already at a half billion net worth, not counting the music rights, even before this transaction. Over the last decade or thereabouts, he's been milking it, sometimes painfully so, but I wouldn't begrudge Springsteen a penny of what he's made.

I hope he's content, at least on some level. It sounds like he has trouble being happy. But he's made a lot of other people happy, to be sure. As an early adopter, I had the great pleasure of introducing a bunch of folks to his records, and especially to his live performances, which for a long time would make your hair stand on end, they were that amazing.

I remember a friend, whom I had urged to listen, telling me later how Bruce's second album was like looking down from her bedroom window at the neighborhood she had grown up in years before.

Johnny was sitting on the fire escape watching the kids playing down in the street
He called down, "Hey, little heroes, summer's long, but I guess it ain't very sweet around here anymore"
Janey sleeps in sheets damp with sweat; Johnny sits up alone and watches her dream on, dream on
And the sister prays for lost souls, then breaks down in the chapel after everyone's gone
Jane moves over to share her pillow but opens her eyes to see Johnny up and putting his clothes on
She says, "Those romantic young boys, all they ever want to do is fight"
Those romantic young boys, they're calling through the window,
"Hey, Spanish Johnny, you want to make a little easy money tonight?"

Why is Springsteen selling it all now? I don't know, but a bunch of big hitters in pop songwriting have been doing it. I wrote about Dylan's transaction here. Since then, Paul Simon did likewise. I guess it's part estate planning, part tax planning, maybe a prediction about the future of the music industry. And it seems more than a little like retirement. Cash out, let somebody else worry about running the intellectual property.

But man, you gotta wonder what Springsteen is going to do with all that money. Papa said he knew that Bruce didn't have any.