Springsteen Takes A Stand In British Court For His Music

Testifying to prevent distribution of early recordings, superstar rocker reportedly describes his bleak days as struggling musician.

Bruce Springsteen testified in Britain's Royal Courts of Justice in London, England, Thursday in a lawsuit filed by the superstar-rocker to prevent the distribution of some of his earliest recorded material.

Describing his formative years as a singer, songwriter and guitarist, the New Jersey-native painted a bleak picture of his finances back then, depicting a blue-collar character that could have been straight out of one of his own songs, according to the British newspaper The Guardian.

"All I know is that in 1976 a lot of money had come in," Springsteen was quoted as saying. "It came in to Laurel Canyon Productions -- and I was on the cover of Time and Newsweek and I was broke ... I didn't have a place to live at the time. I had a sleeping bag on the floor of my friend's apartment."

Springsteen filed the lawsuit against the Middlesex, England firm Masquerade Music to prevent the company from releasing a CD of 19 songs that he wrote and recorded in 1972. The project was assembled by the U.S. label Pony Express Records under the title Before The Fame.

Masquerade Music, the British company that is the defendant in Springsteen's case, contends it obtained a license from Pony Express to release the songs. Pony Express claims it purchased the material from Springsteen's former manager and producer, Jim Cretecos, in 1995.

Last month, Pony Express (and its publishing arm, JEC Music) filed its own case against Springsteen in federal court in New Jersey, alleging that Springsteen, known throughout the world for such classic coming-of-age songs as "Born To Run" (RealAudio excerpt), has used his fame and influence to block the American release of the album.

Frank Cozzarelli, attorney for Pony Express, said he believes the outcome of the British suit will have no impact on the American litigation.

"I don't see it having a bearing one way or another," said Cozzarelli. "If they win, I don't foresee the United States courts having any interest with British copyright law. There's a precedent with Microsoft vs. Electro-wide Ltd. Under that case, the British courts are supposed to recognize U.S. copyrights and give full enforcement of the rights to the copyright holder, which in this case is my client, not Mr. Springsteen."

When questioned by Masquerade Music's legal representative, Guy Titton, as to the possibility that some of the material included on the album may have been recorded during a jam session with Cretecos and was therefore legitimate, Springsteen explained in detail that this was not the case, according to the report.

"Impossible," Springsteen said. "Nice try, but no! What you are dealing with is the texture and quality of the basic sound. There is a very fundamental and different sound between a two-track recording and a multi-track. It is very noticeable."

Springsteen also denied knowledge that the recording is available for sale in the U.S.

Springsteen's former manager, Mike Appel -- who was fired by "the Boss" in 1976 after a bitter dispute over the singer's earnings -- flew to London on Friday to testify on Springsteen's behalf, according to Steven Jump, the 41-year-old owner of the U.K.-based Springsteen fanzine Badlands.

"Mike Appel was supposed to testify after lunch," Jump said. "That's almost dramatic news in itself. Mike Appel flew to London on the Concorde this morning and arrived in London to testify this afternoon."

As an avid Springsteen fan who has heard the album in question, 39-year-old Joe Schwind wrote in an e-mail that Before the Fame has appeal, but only when taken in the context of Springsteen as a developing musician.

"The songs on Before the Fame are for the most part substandard and very unrepresentative of what most listeners would think of as Bruce Springsteen music," Schwind contended. "This doesn't mean they don't have their place within the Springsteen catalog, but barring accurate context (i.e. a 22-year-old kid writing four songs a day and filling them with as many ideas and images as he can fit on to a page of lyrics), the music on [the album] cannot work as mainstream art.

"It would be like taking Steven Spielberg's high-school film project on his pet turtle and releasing it to 2,500 theatres as another sequel to 'Jurassic Park.' "