A conversation with Eric Meola about his shoot for Bruce Springsteen's
seminal Born to Run album.
I was sitting in the front room of Max's Kansas City late one July day in 1973, reviewing a photo shoot that just had wrapped, when I was introduced to Eric Meola. A few minutes later, I happened to notice a somewhat familiar figure walk by the table and head into the back room; it was Bruce Springsteen. Eric excused himself and also went into the back room, because as it turned out that night Bob Marley and The Wailers, in their first New York City appearance, was the opening act for Bruce Springsteen in what would be a legendary six-night stand. I was already a Bruce fan and decided then and there to stay for the show, which was a great one, and the first of many I attended.
Subsequently, as I got to know Eric, I visited his studio and viewed his commercial assignment work and published his photography over the years editorially. When I first saw the Born To Run album cover, with its bold black-and-white photograph and elegant, yet simple design, I knew it would become an instantly recognizable classic.
A few weeks ago, while sitting with Eric in his Long Island home on the day he received the first printed copy of the book, Born To Run: The Unseen Photos, we chatted as we paged through it together and I couldn't help but ooh and aah over a number of these never before published images, presented so beautifully in the quadratone printing.
You're known for your color imagery -- a lot of which is centered on primitive cultures. How did you come to photograph Bruce?
I had heard some of Bruce's songs in the spring of 1973. I have this vivid recollection of standing on 18th Street near Gramercy Park, later that year, and a guy rolled down the window of his car and "New York City Serenade" was on his radio. And it hit me. That fast.
I lived around the corner from Max's Kansas City and one afternoon I walked by and saw that he would be playing there that night, so I went. And that was it. ... The show was the usual early Seventies "take no prisoners" Bruce. So I started going to Bruce shows in New Jersey, and ran into him one day. I started photographing the stage shows, and got to know Clarence. ... At that time, I was, for all intents and purposes, a groupie. But I wanted more than anything to get the message out, that there was this guy and you just had to go and see him.
What was Springsteen like to photograph more than 30 years ago?
At the time I didn't think he knew much about being photographed -- at least not on his first two albums. But Born to Run was different. Looking back, I realize he had given it a lot of thought, and that he had a sense of projecting a persona that went along with the songs and the lyrics for that album. But he didn't know how to communicate that to me -- what it was he was after. There was so much else going on for him -- writing the music, the lyrics, getting the sound right in the studio. If you look at the covers of the first two albums there's no sense of who he was or who he was about to become. He was searching, but so was I.
And, somehow, it all came together on that one hot June day in 1975.