In many ways, not all of them immediately apparent, Mike Appel was to Bruce Springsteen what Colonel Tom Parker was to Elvis Presley, and what Albert Grossman was to Bob Dylan. All three managers, Parker, Grossman, and Appel, shared the ability to recognise the raw talent of their clients before anyone else and had the savvy to exploit it to maximum commercial potential. With an extraordinary dose of good fortune, providence, prophecy, or perception, each happened upon one of the three most influential talents in the history of rock and roll.

All three artists—the “King,” the “Poet,” and the “Boss”— functioned under similar creative paradoxes. While helping to liberate the youth of their respective decades from the restrictions of their elders, they remained unable to free themselves from the clutches of their own idealised manager/daddies. Elvis’s expressive individualism showed itself first and most forcefully in his appearance: the dress, stance, hair, and moves so different from those of anyone before him (and some might argue since). It didn’t really matter that he couldn’t play the guitar all that well, or that he could sing better than anyone else —at first, Elvis’s look was enough to reject the image of Brando’s then-predominant bruiser type and help establish the pretty-boy vernacular of the teenage fifties.

Elvis’s physical beauty was in and of itself the ultimate revolt against the gritty ugliness of the Depression generation whose kids grew up to fight World War II. The eventual disillusionment that followed the Allied victory; the onset of the Cold War; the domestic paranoia of the fifties; the social, political, sexist, and racist repression and economic recession—all became the governing world of the fathers of postwar America’s teens. To Elvis, Vernon Presley represented everything worth rebelling against, perhaps nowhere more than in his treatment of Elvis’s mother. A womanizer, a thief, a ne’er-do-well who paid little attention to his son, Vernon undoubtedly resented the amount of affection Gladys heaped upon the boy. Elvis’s adolescent narcissism, combined with his well-documented attachment to Mom (with her enthusiastic encouragement), most clearly expressed itself in his image of the prototypical hip-swiveling, blue haired rocking mama’s boy.

Elvis’s subsequent lifelong attachment to Colonel Parker, whom Presley rightly credited with making him a star, suggests a psychological changing of the guard, a replacement of the real father (Vernon) with an idealised version (the Colonel) who not only approved of Elvis’s look, manner, and music, but who (like Gladys) enthusiastically encouraged it. It was Parker, not Vernon, who guided the boy out of the ghetto of anonymity into the kingdom of fame, and in doing so became the primal father figure for rock’s premier rebel.

The story is familiar now, how Elvis was never able to untie the bonds of control Parker wrapped around the King’s psyche. Long after it became apparent that the Colonel was dedicated more to his own interests than to Elvis’s, Presley remained unquestioningly, if unwillingly, loyal. Unable to wrest control of his movie and recording career from the Colonel’s iron clutches, his marriage a bust, and perhaps most painfully, his awareness of his lost youth reflected in the death of his mother, Elvis simply gave up. Psychologically attached to the Colonel’s exploitative embrace and desiring, perhaps, to “reunite” with Gladys, Elvis simply followed up his existential death with the real thing.

Yet during Elvis’s lifetime, the story of the Colonel and his teenage truck driver with the million-dollar hips had all the charm of a Hollywood rags-to-riches fairy tale, complete with loving, doting parents and a benevolent wise-old-man manager. Of all the books written about Elvis, none have ever provided the essential missing ingredient needed to tell the complete story of their relationship—the Colonel himself.
Throughout his entire professional association with Elvis, Parker refused any direct contact with the press and declined all interviews, preferring the relative anonymity of the invisible background. One can only wonder what revelations might have been forthcoming had the Colonel ever decided to tell his side of the story. Without question, that version, as one-sided as it might have been, would still be among the most valued, if not the mostvaluable, for its privileged viewpoint of the lifelong tar-baby relationship that revolutionised America’s music and manner.

The age difference between Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan is seven and a half years, yet their music remains separated by that great chasm of time between the end of the Truman-Eisenhower-Nixon fifties and the dawn of the Kennedy-Johnson-Nixon sixties. Dylan’s rise effectively warehoused the Presley era of white American rock and roll, and along with it the King himself. Although Dylan began his career as a Woody Guthrie imitator in physical appearance, vocal style, and lyric content, it was the addition of sixties “hip” to the ingredients of his enormous talent that helped redefine Elvis as fifties “square.”
Dylan’s rebellion took many forms, feeding not only on the music of the fifties that drove him straight to Highway 61, but on the music makers of the fifties, whose look, sound, and attitude he brilliantly, if savagely, mocked. Dylan grew his hair long, like Elvis, but with an attitude, satirising the brilliantine Dippity-Do that greased the previous generation’s physical veneer. Whereas Elvis’s clothes were the long collar, pressed pants, shiny shoes of the Saturday-night, working-class, dress-up-and-go-drinking variety, Dylan’s public persona identified with the blacks, tees, turtlenecks, and boots of the liberal, middle-class, coffeehouse crowd. Elvis sang what was handed to him, rarely if ever protesting the script, while Dylan quickly rejected everything that came before in favour of his own music, his own words, his own way. Finally, if Elvis’s voice was the stuff of sweet-fifties romantic dreams, Dylan’s was the gruff of bitter-sixties social nightmares.

Yet, the scenario of Dylan’s greatest rebellion, and greatest failure, bears remarkable resemblance to that of Presley’s. Like Elvis’s, Dylan’s childhood was dominated by a loving, doting mother and a distant, unapproving father. Dylan’s father, a furniture dealer, insisted his six-year-old son accompany him into the homes of his customers unable to keep up their payments and help repossess the furniture. This was a nightmare Dylan would recall a hundred ways in his early songs of social protest that championed the good, poor folk against the inherently (to him) evil, well-to-do landlords, land barons, judges, racists, and warmongers (among others).

No other era in recent American history has produced so vocal a reaction to the sociopolitical-psychological gap between father and son as did the sixties. If the Vietnam War divided the country politically, so did it generationally. When the sons of World War II veterans (and the daughters who stood with them) refused to support the war in Asia, the lines were clearly drawn. Those who opposed the war rejected not only the politics of their country, but the dominion of their fathers. Rock shed its fifties innocence as Kennedy was assassinated (the idealised father of a generation), The Beatles arrived, and the Gulf of Tonkin erupted. And Dylan’s rebel rhetoric grabbed a nation’s youth by its wet ears.
Elvis, whose musical fortunes dwindled when he enlisted in the armed forces, was from that moment on seen by the children of the sixties as a part of their fathers’ world, while Dylan redefined rock’s primal scream by singing not only to but for a generation, rejecting the values and commitments of all who came before. But he didn’t do it alone.

His manager, Albert Grossman, showed the way. Unlike the Colonel, Grossman was inherently urbane. Whereas the Colonel’s musical roots derived from country/western, Grossman came out of the Chicago jazz and folk scene. Whereas Parker was the ultimate daytime carny, Grossman was the eternal night side intellectual. What the two men did have in common, however, was the ability to recognise raw, undeveloped musical genius. Grossman realised the nascent talents in the ripsaw vocals of a young, unvarnished Bob Dylan and encouraged him to go for the intellect. By doing so, he gave the young man from Minnesota the essential ingredient missing from his real father (and possibly longed for by Dylan)—the license of approval to drive top speed down the back roads of his mind.

Dylan’s key career move, like Presley’s, was the replacement of his real father with an idealised father figure. Having accomplished that, he spent the next fourteen years financially (and most likely emotionally) dependent on Albert Grossman. Grossman, like the Colonel, personally managed all the money, handled all the publishing, booked all the dates, scheduled all the interviews, and paid all the bills.

At a very high price. Once Dylan became disillusioned with the style and tactics of his personally created father superior, it took him years to escape from the prison of arrested emotional adolescence to which he’d sentenced himself. It wasn’t until 1974 that Dylan was able to free himself from the long reach of Grossman’s financial and emotional grasp—a turning point he marked by the celebrated, aptly titled “comeback” album Blood on the Tracks. When the end finally came and all financial connections between the two were severed, Grossman’s place in Dylan’s world, and the world of rock and roll, faded quietly into the background. Grossman retired to Woodstock, New York, to live out the rest of his days.
And steadfastly refused to talk to the press. Grossman never granted a single interview on the subject of Bob Dylan. He turned down all offers, many for astronomical amounts, to write his memoirs. And when he died, the secrets of his soul died with him. Without Grossman’s version of events, the book on Dylan will remain forever incomplete.

The age difference between Dylan and Springsteen is eight years, approximately the same as that between Presley and Dylan. Again, the generational divide far exceeds the linear, as the children of the seventies woke up to the worst morning-after since the day Buddy Holly’s plane went down. Kent State, Watergate, the ongoing Vietnam War, rebounding racism, and the rush toward harder drugs all but crushed the utopian future their older brothers and sisters had dreamt of. As late as 1975, even though he’d long abandoned social protest, Dylan remained an icon of the sixties. The children of the seventies wanted someone they could call their own and found him in the person of Bruce Springsteen.
Springsteen’s persona perfectly resolved the conflicting elements of his predecessors. Springsteen combined Presley’s sensuality with Dylan’s poetic intellectualism while somehow managing to reflect neither. He was a preener, to be sure, but he never hid behind it, as Elvis did. And he was a poet, without question, although his imagery and sub text never disguised itself in dense metaphor. Whereas Presley found solace “Crying in the Chapel,” and Dylan anguish beyond “The Gates of Eden,” Springsteen declared his inability to function as a “Saint in the City.”

What has always made Springsteen special is his ability to acknowledge and educe the essential qualities of the best of those who came before, without mimicry or derisiveness, in order to create an extraordinary body of work immediately identifiable as his own. That talent has helped place him among the great originals of rock and roll.

Yet the similarities in the lives of Presley, Dylan, and Springsteen startle in their resonance. Anyone who’s ever attended a Springsteen concert (or heard his “live” album) knows well the troubled history between father and son, the fights over hair length, draft dodging, the infamous “goddamn guitar” harangues Bruce suffered at the hands of his “old man” that left deep emotional scars and affected every aspect of Springsteen’s professional and personal life. Perhaps, then, it’s not so surprising that Bruce would look for someone in his self-created world to replace his father in a more perfect way. Mike Appel, like Colonel Parker and Albert Grossman before him, made no secret of his admiration for the talents and potential he saw before him. Whereas Springsteen’s “old man” kept turning down the stereo, Appel promised to turn up the volume of Bruce’s life. Springsteen’s mother, on the other hand, perfectly fit the mold of Presley’s and Dylan’s. She was the parent Springsteen brought onstage during the Born in the USA tour for “Dancing in the Dark,” a terpsichorean extravaganza of overwhelming Oedipal proportion.

In a recent poll taken by Backstreets magazine, a Bruce fanzine, readers were asked to submit what they believed was Springsteen’s best career move. The overwhelming consensus was the firing of Mike Appel as manager and producer. Not surprising, in light of the fact that much of what has been written about Appel (as was the case with the Colonel and Grossman) has been uncompromisingly negative. The two semi-authorized biographies of Springsteen (Dave Marsh’s Born to Run and Glory Days) dismiss Appel in a few, mostly negative paragraphs. In fact, much of the Appel-Springsteen relationship has been so distorted that it would seem to readers that Bruce sprang full blown from the obscurity of New Jersey to international fame not only without the help of but despite Mike Appel. The truth is, Springsteen’s career wasn’t simply assisted by Mike Appel, Springsteen had no career until he put himself in Appel’s hands. To tell Bruce’s story without Mike Appel’s is like trying to hear the ticking of a clock that has no mainspring.

Until now. For the first time, Appel has decided to “go public” with his version of how he discovered Bruce Springsteen, what it took to make him a star, and why and how he lost him. But this isn’t just his version. In addition to dozens of interviews conducted with others involved in the story, crucial support documents, contracts, depositions, and personal diaries have also been made available. Indeed, as the saga unfolds, it will become clear that Appel’s role was less the shining, mythic Sir Gawain; Jon Landau’s, more the All About Eve Harrington; and Bruce’s, the Hamlet in black dress leather haunted by the ghost of his real father, fighting to break the emotional, legal, often surly ties to his idealised one, Mike Appel.