The Fans’ 25 Favorite Magazine Covers From The Springsteen Special Collection

#01 - ROLLING STONE - NOVEMBER 15, 1990

Leibovitz Magazine Cover Wins Voting By Springsteen Fans

Annie Leibovitz’s famous photograph of Bruce Springsteen virtually airborne against the backdrop of an American flag won top honors in fan voting for the 25 all-time favorite Springsteen magazine covers.

 The finalists were announced by The Friends of the Bruce Springsteen Special Collection after a month long online election. Christopher Phillips, editor of the Springsteen quarterly Backstreets and president of the Friends organization, said the winning covers were published in the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Japan, Greece, France and the United States and cover virtually all phases of Springsteen’s Hall of Fame career. Leibovitz’ photo, on the cover of the Nov. 15, 1990 Rolling Stone, was one of three by the celebrated photographer to finish in the top 25.

Colleen Sheehy, curator of Springsteen: Troubadour of the Highway, the first ever museum exhibition devoted to Springsteen’s career, said Leibovitz’s photo captured Springsteen “as a rock ‘n’ roll super hero, mythological, appearing almost like the Greek god Mercury, with wings on his feet,” while “his ripped, worn jeans, white t-shirt, baseball cap, and beat up guitar convey an everyman quality.” This duality, Sheehy said, embodies both the energy and buoyancy of Springsteen’s music and “cemented his connection with deep seated American themes, principles, and dreams,” although the juxtaposition with the flag would at times prove troublesome for Springsteen during the mid 1980s when social conservatives used the flag to depict values which were at odds with his own.

Newsweek‘s Oct. 27, 1975 cover of Springsteen as a rising star, photographed by Mary Alfieri, finished second. In very close balloting, Time‘s Aug. 5, 2002 cover, with a somber portrait photographed in the post 9-11 era by Gregory Heisler, narrowly edged out Time‘s illustrated cover by Kim Whitesides from Oct. 27, 1975 for third place.

Director of education at the Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, Sheehy described Springsteen on the Newsweek cover as “something to behold: his eagerness, his energy, his beauty, his big heart, his big dreams-and that shaggy hair and beard. He’s looking into the light, as though anticipating what lies ahead, which turned out to be a career that even he could not have imagined in 1975. At the same time, the title ‘the making of a rock star’ now seems pale and somehow doesn’t do justice to what has unfolded since then.”

The Heisler photo, Sheehy said, was taken at a time when Springsteen had become “our folk philosopher, our public poet, our citizen leader,” expressing the deep and confused emotions that many Americans felt and the political questions that many Americans were pondering. “He did this with a plainspoken, poetic language and forthrightness that eluded politicians, who bumbled and sputtered and seemed to fake courage and conviction.” In the Time photograph, Sheehy said, “with Springsteen never looking more serious, his eyes pierce right through the phoniness and distance of mass media to speak right to our souls, something that few leaders were doing at the time.”

Rounding out the top five was an exuberant dual portrait of Springsteen and long-time E Street Band guitarist Steven Van Zandt shot during the band’s Reunion Tour and published in the June 2000 issue of the Spanish publication Ruta 66.

Along with Leibovitz, other repeat photographers on the top 25 list were Alfieri and Neal Preston, both with two winning photographs.

The election followed an extensive selection process during which more than 750 Springsteen magazine covers in the Springsteen Special Collection were narrowed down to a group of 50 prior to the voting. The election did not include covers of fan magazines, tour books, song books, other books, or comic books, all of which are included in the Collection’s holdings of over 4,000 publications.

In total, seven of the winners were published in the 1970s, six in the 1980s, nine in the 1990s, and three in the 2000s. The covers were almost equally divided between photographs of Springsteen’s epic live performance and images posed by renowned photographers, including Leibovitz’ Feb. 5, 1981 Rolling Stone cover of a bundled up Springsteen ice skating on a deserted pond.