In the late 1970s, Bruce Springsteen became interested in creating songs with a storytelling aspect, taking on the persona of different characters. This style of songwriting was highlighted on his 1980 album “The River.”
One night, he saw the movie “Badlands,” which starred Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek and was based on the life of a man named Charles Starkweather. This inspired Springsteen to delve deeper into the story of Starkweather and his murder spree in the 1950s with his underage girlfriend, which led to the creation of the song “Nebraska.”
According to Springsteen, this type of writing involves a lot of research and detail in order to create a world that is not one’s own.
Teenage Murder Spree in Nebraska and Wyoming
In 1958, a 19-year-old named Charles Starkweather and his 13-year-old girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate, went on a killing spree across Nebraska and Wyoming. Their spree lasted over a week and resulted in the deaths of 11 people, including Fugate’s mother, stepfather, and half-sister. After being arrested, Starkweather was executed and Fugate served 18 years in prison before being released on parole.
The song “Nebraska” by Bruce Springsteen was inspired by the story of the couple, and the singer read a book about the event and even called the newspaper where the journalist who reported the story still worked.
“Inspiration Behind ‘Nebraska'”
When Bruce Springsteen first called journalist Ninette Beaver to discuss the Charles Starkweather story, she didn’t initially recognize him. However, once he explained himself, they had a productive conversation that helped inspire the song “Nebraska.” Additionally, Springsteen drew inspiration from Southern Gothic author Flannery O’Connor and the 1955 Noir film “The Night of the Hunter.” Despite all the research, Springsteen knew that the song needed something personal to truly come alive. He pulled from his own experiences to create the haunting and thought-provoking album “Nebraska.” The album delves into the darker aspects of the world while also offering hope for redemption.