The events of 9/11, when terrorists reduced the twin towers to rubble, have had a profound influence on Bruce Springsteen's music. They now appear to have devastated his marriage.
The singer was yesterday reported to have split from his wife of 15 years, the songwriter and backing singer Patti Scialfa, after developing a friendship with a widow of one of the 9/11 victims he met at a TV benefit show.
"The Boss" - one of the world's best known musicians and a hero of liberal America for many years - and Scialfa are said to be this weekend leading separate lives.
Springsteen is reported to have met the, as yet unnamed, woman in 2001 when he organised the charity telethon event America: A Tribute to Heroes. Rumours about problems within the singer's marriage started after Springsteen was spotted in the company of the widow on a number of occasions.
Yesterday, all members of Springsteen's entourage were under strict orders to say nothing about the reports, which surfaced in the New York Post.
"Bruce and Patti are separated but everyone has been sworn to secrecy," said a "friend" of the couple, who have three children - teenagers Evan and Jessica Rae, and their youngest, Sam.
Springsteen and the woman - who, like his wife and bandmate, is a redhead - are said to have been seen out together at an upmarket beach in Monmouth, New Jersey, and at the Stone Pony, a nearby watering hole where Springsteen has played impromptu gigs. There are also reports that he has been spending less time at the family home and more time at a guest house on the couple's nearby farm.
But other friends say the singer might still rescue his relationship with his wife. Springsteen took a holiday with Scialfa and their children in New York State last month, but recently he has been spotted alone with his children at a local beach.
"He's just a really big flirt," one friend told the Post. "There's nothing going on."
Another friend said: "Bruce and Patti are very much partners. They go at it a lot and fight, but they also work at it a lot ... Patti is a strong woman. They are not going anywhere."
Scialfa's mother, Victoria, said: "I don't know anything about it. I don't want to talk about it."
A spokesman for Springsteen declined to comment.
Ironically, the star's reaction to 9/11 is widely credited with kick-starting a creative upsurge in his songwriting. Previously best known for his chronicling of blue-collar America with beer-hall favourites such as "Born to Run" and "Philadelphia", he won renewed acclaim with the release of his album The Rising, a response to the World Trade Center attacks. It included the track "Into the Fire", about a fireman going into the towers. In his next album, Devils & Dust, he turned his focus to reflections on the Iraq war.
Springsteen's love life was last in the headlines in the late 1980s, when he began his affair with Scialfa - she was one of his backing musicians on tour - while he was still married. It led to the breakdown of his relationship with his first wife, model Julianne Phillips, after four years. He declared he would never marry again after the divorce cost him £9m, but backtracked in 1991, a year after he and Scialfa had their first child.
Springsteen, 56, first found fame in the early Seventies, chronicling the struggles, experiences and aspirations of ordinary Americans. But he found a worldwide audience almost a decade later when he released his album Born in the USA. The album's title track was misinterpreted by many as overt nationalistic posturing, when it was actually a bitter response to the treatment of Vietnam veterans. Since then, his work has become increasingly introspective and he is regarded as an elder statesman of American music.
Scialfa accompanied her husband for live performances this year and was in his band when he played in London to promote his latest album We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions.
The charity telethon was organised by Springsteen within a fortnight of 9/11 and included performances by 21 musicians, including Neil Young and U2, as well as contributions from Tom Hanks and Jim Carrey.