Richard Ford, Bruce Springsteen, and Me

My Heretofore Unknown Role in Turning Richard Ford Onto Bruce Springsteen – Thereby Paving the Way for Ford’s Most Memorable Character, Frank Bascombe -- of New Jersey

Richard Ford (photo Greta Rybus)

Richard Ford (photo Greta Rybus)

by Seth Rogovoy

One day back in 1978, I was talking to my English 101 professor, Richard Ford (yes, that Richard Ford), about Bruce Springsteen. Ford, to my surprise, wasn’t familiar with the Boss. I knew he would like his music, so I invited Ford over to my dorm room to listen to some of his records.

At least, that’s the way Richard Ford – now the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of great American novels including “Independence Day,” “Canada,” and “The Sportswriter” – tells the story in a short essay in today’s Wall Street Journal.

Says Ford, “I first heard ‘Wild Billy’s Circus Story’ in 1978. A student of mine at Williams College— Seth Rogovoy, who’s now a journalist—insisted I come hear the album. I had no idea who Springsteen was. Typical of me. But we listened in his little student apartment, and I heard “Wild Billy”—the tuba, the mandolin and the accordion posing as a calliope, and the wonderful sweet syncopation of that rather singular song.”

'Wild, Innocent and the E Street Shuffle' era Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

‘Wild, Innocent and the E Street Shuffle’ era Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

What came as much of a surprise to me as to everyone else reading Ford’s comments is the fact that he credits his exposure to “Springsteen’s New Jersey songbook” as giving him the inspiration or confidence to forge ahead – at a time, he says, when he “ran out of luck as a writer” – and set “The Sportswriter” – the book that really turned things around for Ford and garnered him great critical acclaim and commercial success (as well as his subsequent Frank Bascombe novels, including his brand new “Let Me Be Frank With You” – in the Garden State.

One bit of trivia: There’s a character in “The Sportswriter” named Seth. It’s not based on me; the character is an English professor, for one. But it was a kind gesture on Ford’s part to acknowledge our friendship by naming the character after me (he explained this to me in a note before the book was published). He’s done that sort of thing with several people with whom he’s crossed paths over the years.

One more piece of Ford trivia that makes it seem we were destined to cross paths: Ford titled his debut novel “A Piece of My Heart,” after the song made famous by Janis Joplin. The song was written by my cousin, Jerry Ragovoy, whom I wrote about here.


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