This is Part Six of SPIN’s November 1985 cover story, “The Meaning of Bruce,” wherein we asked seven writers to consider the Springsteen phenomenon. (Check out the other essays, by Tama Janowitz, Richard Meltzer, Amiri Baraka, Glenn O’Brien, Rich Stim, and Eric King, respectively.)
Bruce Springsteen’s immense appeal is due largely to his lunchpail. When he shows up for work, he’s never without it. Bruce’s lunchpail is chrome, with a round lid and black handle, about the size of a small house that a large hero sandwich can live in. Or a six-pack. When Bruce drives to work, his lunchpail sits next to him in the passenger seat of his pink Cadillac. Once, someone who has lost his job came up to Bruce while he was waiting for a light and Bruce opened his lunchpail and gave the guy half his sandwich.
Bruce’s lunchpail has been up and down the Turnpike; to the camps of New Jersey; to the Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey; and to a Giants football game. Bruce Springsteen’s lunchpail has been through the Holland Tunnel. Bruce’s lunchpail has been to places other lunchboxes only dream about.
Bruce, of course, is not the only rock star with a lunchpail. Wham! has one (in fact, two), but who wants a “haircut” lunchbox. Billy Idol’s got one that’s never got any lunch in it. And Madonna’s got one, but it’s got a hole in it.
Most rock stars don’t carry a lunchpail to work. They prefer crowded restaurants, where they sit at choice tables and order up a storm. Not Bruce. When the lunch whistle blows, Bruce leans against a wall and eats out of his lunchpail, except when he’s really slumming; then he paper-bags it. Sometimes, when Bruce feels like eating somewhere extravagant, like at a sidewalk cafe, he sets up a card table, chair, and umbrella outside his apartment building and eats his lunch there.
New York Yankee Don Mattingly, the Bruce Springsteen of baseball, also shows up for work with his lunchpail—a Bruce Springsteen lunchpail.
Ronald Reagan once asked Bruce for his lunchpail, but Bruce said no way. Lee Iacocca called Bruce and offered him $12 million to use his lunchpail to promote Chryslers, but Bruce was out to lunch.