The Final Boss: All the Times ‘The Simpsons’ Failed to Convince Bruce Springsteen to Guest Star

Born to run — away from Springfield
The Final Boss: All the Times ‘The Simpsons’ Failed to Convince Bruce Springsteen to Guest Star

What do Paul McCartney, Stephen Hawking, Michael Jackson, Jasper Johns, James Woods, 50 Cent, Mark Zuckerberg, Jim Jarmusch and Gary Coleman all have in common? 

They’ve each guest starred on The Simpsons

From its early glory days up until today, The Simpsons has been able to get pretty much whoever they’ve wanted to appear on the show. That said, one of the biggest names in music has yet to satisfy the hungry hearts of Simpsons writers: Bruce Springsteen.

Time and again, the legendary Jersey boy has been approached to appear on the animated sitcom, but convincing him to do so has thus far proven futile. Here are all of the episodes in which the Simpsons writers took a leap of faith and reached out to the Boss, only to be left with sad eyes when he said, “No surrender!”

One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish (1991)

The first time The Simpsons tried to get Springsteen was for a random appearance way back in Season Two. In “One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish,” Homer listens to “The Good Book on Tape,” which was narrated by Larry King (who played himself). Back in 1992, Matt Groening said at an appearance at UCLA that Springsteen was originally going to be “The Good Book” narrator, but he declined. 

Radio Bart (1992)

Season Three’s “Radio Bart” was the first big attempt at securing Springsteen, which would have involved a small appearance as himself. However, Jay Kogen, a writer on the show back then, takes the blame for Springsteen’s refusal. In a story he’s told a few times over the years, he said he saw Springsteen coming out of the Century City Theaters and thought, “I can get Bruce Springsteen!” 

Wearing his Simpsons jacket, Kogen started shouting “Bruce! Bruce! Bruce!” as he was running up to Springsteen. “I’m a producer of The Simpsons! We’re trying to get you for an episode, and we’ve been calling your manager!” Kogen said, “like a crazy person.”

“Bruce said that he was very interested,” Kogen continued, “but I think that was just to get away from me because we never heard from him again. It’s totally my fault. I ran at Bruce! He stepped in front of his wife to protect her. I pointed at my dumb Simpsons jacket like it was proof I worked on the show. He’d say anything to get away from me.” 

Retelling the story on Twitter in 2019, fellow Simpsons writer Mike Scully replied to Kogen, saying, “That’s weird. Cornering people when they’re trying to have a private night out usually makes them like you. That’s right, Jay, I’m blaming you for my dreams not coming true.” 

In the end, the part intended for Springsteen went to Sting, though you can read the table draft of “Radio Bart” with Springsteen on the Internet Archive if you want a glimpse of what could have been.

Homerpalooza (1996)

When new showrunners Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein had an episode on deck in Season Seven featuring Homer as a circus freak at a music festival, the pair tried to book as many musical acts as possible. As Weinstein tells me, “I love Bruce Springsteen so much, and I know Mike Scully is a massive fan, too. I honestly don’t remember how much effort (I put in). I just remember he was a top choice, and I think we heard a ‘no’ from him. 

“I will also say that who we got — Smashing Pumpkins, Cypress Hill and Peter Frampton — were all fantastic, hilarious, and ultimately iconic, and I wouldn’t change that ‘Homerpalooza’ lineup even if I could.”

When You Dish Upon a Star (1998)

It would be a couple of years and another new showrunner before the show would make another run at Springsteen. In a DVD commentary recorded in 2007, writer Rich Appel said, “The original idea for this was Mike (Scully)’s. He had mentioned it to me, celebrities moving into town, he immediately pitched that one of the celebrities is Bruce Springsteen, hoping that Bruce Springsteen would agree to do the show. And so, when I first wrote it, I laboriously thought of as many Bruce Springsteen jokes as I could and then, well, Bruce Springsteen said ‘no.’”

Grift of the Magi (1999)

Scully would eventually reach out to Clarence Clemons (RIP), a member of Springsteen’s E Street Band, for a small part in Season Nine’s Christmas episode, “Grift of the Magi.” “We wanted a deep narrator voice for the end of the episode and thought of Clarence,” Scully explains. 

After the recording, Scully had Clemons sign a few albums. Then, Scully says, “As (Clemons) exited the studio, I desperately called out, ‘We’d love to have the whole band on the show sometime!’ and he gave me a big smile and said, ‘You know who you gotta ask!’ and exited.”

A Tale of Two Springfields (2000)

Still undeterred, Scully would make one final plea to his idol. “I wanted Bruce and the E Street Band for ‘A Tale of Two Springfields,’” he says. “We wrote a scene where they’re staying at a hotel in Springfield, and they all sleep in a giant bed like The Three Stooges. Then they were going to play on top of the wall at the end of the show.”

While Scully was aware that Kogen may have scared Springsteen away from the show, he really wanted to get to the bottom of why Springsteen continued to turn them down. “Finally, one of his reps told me, ‘He just likes to play music and hang out with his kids.’ I thought to myself, ‘That fucker!’” Scully laughs, before adding, “Anyway, we wound up getting The Who and going to London to record them, so it all worked out in the end.”

Love Is a Many-Splintered Thing (2013)

The latest push for the Boss was more of a joke about not getting Springsteen than a concerted effort to finally change his mind. In the Annie Hall-inspired “Love Is a Many-Splintered Thing,” Bart tries to win over the heart of Mary Spuckler (again). When Lisa suggests that he compliment her, Bart ponders, “What would my heroes say?” and imagines Marvel’s Wolverine giving him advice as well as E Street Band drummer Max Weinberg.

When Weinberg tells Bart to “tell Mary to play the drums! It’s the only thing anyone listens to in any band!,” a caption reading “Springsteen Not Available” appears beneath him. Later in the episode, Weinberg reappears, and the caption “Steven van Zandt Also Not Available” flashes on the screen. 

Rubbing salt in this longtime wound? Despite seemingly only wanting to play music and hang out with his kids, Springsteen did recently play himself in the final season of Curb Your Enthusiasm


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