Dancing in the dark is one thing. But, as Bruce Springsteen has just discovered, doing it with another man's wife is the sort of misdemeanour that can play havoc with your reputation as the wholesome champion of blue-collar America.
The veteran singer, who has been grandly chronicling the common man's struggles for more than 30 years, was yesterday forced to mount a robust PR offensive after a curious incident in which he was named – he claims incorrectly – as the proverbial "other man" in a bitter divorce case.
Arthur Kelly, a mortgage company manager from West Long Branch, New Jersey, alleged in court this week that his wife of 17 years, Ann, had slept with Springsteen "at various times and places too numerous to mention" after meeting him at a gym.
Mr Kelly's claim emerged in a lawsuit over custody of the couple's two children, along with various maintenance payments. To the delight of the nation's supermarket tabloids, it was swiftly published online, where fans learned some of the gory details of how Ms Kelly had allegedly "committed adultery with one Bruce Springsteen, who resides in Rumson, New Jersey, and Colts Neck."
So far, so rock 'n' roll. But right now, The Boss, who at almost 60 is 16 years older than Ms Kelly, has plenty to lose from allegations of infidelity – and not just the affections of his wife of almost two decades, Patti Scialfa, a former backing singer with whom he has three children.
To a certain breed of denim-wearing, Democrat-voting American weaned on his Vietnam protest song "Born in the USA", or a vast back catalogue chronicling the struggles of the working man, Springsteen is supposed to be a proud symbol of the clean, honest family values that underpin their great nation.
His standing in the public's affections was underlined by the manner in which he led the showbusiness community's cheerleading for Barack Obama and was invited to headline a string of the President's election fundraisers, together with his inauguration concert in Washington.
Yet this week's scandal comes on the back of a string of minor setbacks which have left followers wondering if, for the first time since he achieved fame in the mid-1970s, Springsteen could perhaps be about to suffer a rare consumer backlash.
The launch of his current world tour, which will take in this summer's Glastonbury festival, has already been dogged by an unfortunate ticketing scandal. And this week's events follow hard on the heels of an embarrassing brouhaha over Springsteen's business dealings with the union-bashing retailer Wal-Mart.
Meanwhile initial attempts to ride out the Arthur Kelly scandal without having to mount a PR offensive were swiftly abandoned. Late on Thursday, Springsteen's publicist decided to refer questions about the affair to a carefully worded statement on his website. "I hesitate to use this website for anything personal believing it should remain a place where fans of my music can come free of the distractions that occasionally arise with the rest of my job," it read. "However, due to the unfounded and ugly rumours that have appeared in the papers over the last few days, I felt they shouldn't pass without comment. Patti and I have been together for 18 years, the best 18 years of my life. We have built a beautiful family that we love and want to protect, and our commitment to one another remains as strong as the day we were married."
That comment may have initially seemed well-chosen. But on close examination, it left fans with an eerie sense of déjà vu. For it soon emerged that the statement had originally been posted on Springsteen's site in 2006, when he had been also accused of cheating on Ms Scialfa, this time with a 9/11 widow he met while organising a benefit concert for victims of the terrorist attack.
Quite whether Springsteen, or indeed any star, can get away with "recycling" a denial of marital indiscretion remains to be seen. He does, after all, have "form" for playing away from home: in 1988 it was reported that he was romancing Ms Scialfa behind the back of his then-first wife Julianne Phillips. Ms Phillips duly filed for divorce just two months later.
The alleged affair certainly sits uncomfortably with Springsteen's standing as a totemic hero of America's working class – a reputation which has helped him sell more than 120 million records, winning a staggering 19 Grammys, two Golden Globes and an Oscar in the process.
In contrast to other veteran stars, he has never really suffered a dip in popularity. But his recent track record has been mixed. Last year, he released the critically acclaimed album Magic, which was widely heralded as one of the finest records of his career. However his more recent efforts have received mixed reviews. Although he's still selling out stadiums, and in February received the symbolic call-up to play at the annual celebration of Americana that is the Super Bowl half-time show, many critics felt Springsteen's most recent album Working on a Dream didn't live up to the standards of its predecessor.
The decision to embark on a world tour this summer with his longstanding backing group, the E Street Band, also raised fears that Springsteen was a little too eager to cash in on his buoyant popularity.
"It's really surprising that Springsteen would go back out with a new record and world tour so soon," said Rob Kirkpatrick, whose book Magic in the Night: The Words and Music of Bruce Springsteen came out last month. If you think of all the big albums and tours he's done with the E Street Band in the past, there was always a down period of a year or two. He just ended the Magic tour in the summer of '08, and here we are in early '09 with a new disc in the books and a new itinerary underway."
Apropos of the new album, he notes: "Perhaps because it followed so fast upon Magic, Working on a Dream does feel somewhat like a "cutting-room floor" record, with the material perhaps not being as strong as its predecessor."
The launch of the tour also made headlines in the US for the wrong reasons after Springsteen was caught up in a row over ticketing arrangements. Fans hoping to buy seats for concerts in the US through the website of the official retailer Ticketmaster were instead directed to TicketsNow, a subsidiary of the firm, which sells tickets at vastly inflated prices. This prompted Springsteen to issue a statement saying he was "furious" and had been unaware of the affair. "We perceive this as a pure conflict of interest," he said, on behalf of his band. "The abuse of our fans and our trust by Ticketmaster made us as furious as it has made many of you."
The firm's behaviour is currently the subject of both a class action lawsuit and an ongoing Justice Department investigation.
Meanwhile in January, Springsteen found himself at the centre of another potent row after he signed an exclusive sales deal for a greatest hits album with the US retailer Wal-Mart. The move led to allegations that Springsteen had betrayed his principles, since Wal-Mart refuses to recognise trade unions and has been frequently criticised by organisations like Human Rights Watch for its treatment of low-paid staff.
"It was a mistake," he later told The New York Times, admitting that his management had "dropped the ball" and adding: "We were in the middle of doing a lot of things, it just kind of came down and really, we didn't vet it the way we usually do."
But Springsteen has a large management team, whose job is not supposed to involve making "mistakes". And issuing apologies and denials has recently developed into an uncomfortably regular habit.
In September, Springsteen will turn 60. For his popularity to continue into his seventh decade, he may have to head off in a fresh direction. "As fresh as these last few albums have been, it wouldn't be a huge surprise if Springsteen were to head off on yet another new path for his next project, whenever that may be," adds Mr Kirkpatrick. "But he's still at the point where people will be looking forward to what's next."
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