03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Bruce Springsteen: From Sing Sing Prison to Kennedy Center Honors

When I met Bruce Springsteen on this very date back in 1972, I could not have imagined that the scrawny kid in the hooded sweatshirt from New Jersey, whose first "record" (as we used to call them) had not yet come out, would one day play the Super Bowl, let alone be star attraction at the Inaugural of any president, and then receive prestigious Kennedy Center honors (as he did last night). And to think that I met him in... Sing Sing Prison.

I've watched, sometimes at close hand, this amazing evolution since December 7, 1972, when I first met "Brucie" -- at Sing Sing -- and helped write and publish the first magazine article about him. But for the first few years I knew him I swear I never heard a "political" sentiment escape his lips. Now President Obama, last night, calls him "the real Boss."

Bruce did me a real solid last year, writing a brief preface for my book on Iraq and the media, So Wrong for So Long, but his solid for Obama on the campaign trail in 2008 -- runnin' on the Barack streets? -- meant much more, obviously.

Now, to Sing Sing, in a nutshell: For nearly all of the 1970s, I worked as the #2 editor at the legendary rock/political magazine Crawdaddy. One day in early December 1972, I got a call from a fast-talking chap named Mike Appel, inviting me to a promo gig for his client, someone named Bruce Springsteen. Actually, I knew the name somewhat because Billboard had reported that a kid had been signed by John Hammond at Columbia who just might be "the new Dylan" -- a claim that had doomed many before him. I had mentioned this in an item a few weeks earlier, spelling the kid's name "Springstein."

Anyway, the invite was modestly intriguing and then Mike mentioned that the gig was in... Sing Sing Prison, an hour or so up the river from Manhattan. Well, I'd always wanted to step inside The Big House (as a visitor, anyway), and always had a weakness for those "new Dylans," so I accepted, as did my friend and top editor, Peter Knobler.

So we showed up on the morning of December 7, 1972, my birthday, under an overpass of the West Side Highway and climbed into the band's van, where we learned that besides Peter and myself, not a single other member of the New York rock world had accepted the invite.

Off we went. Space prevents a full account of that amazing day at Sing Sing -- for one thing, an inmate jumped on stage and we all feared for our lives as he whipped out a tiny sax -- but we loved Bruce, the guys and his music enough to go see him that night play his first E Street Band show in NYC at a small club. About 15 others were in the audience. Here's pretty much what it looked like, with Bruce going from solo to calling up the band.

Then we got a test pressing of Greetings from Asbury Park. We were so knocked out that Peter, with my help, produced a 10,000-word piece for our next issue titled, "Who is Bruce Springsteen and Why Are We Saying These Wonderful Things About Him?"

Later, Crawdaddy produced the first cover story on the kid, and Bruce remained a buddy for years after. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Greg Mitchell's latest book, "Why Obama Won: The Making of a President 2008," includes a couple sections on Springsteen. Check out his blog for info his upcoming Web series and book, "An Incompleat History of Rock 'n Roll."