STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. – How do you talk to Mike Appel without talking about Bruce Springsteen?
It’s simple. You don’t.
But there’s more to Appel than his time as Springsteen’s first manager, the man who discovered the Boss and help launch him on a road that has taken Springsteen from the Jersey Shore bars to Broadway, and made him America’s rock laureate.
For starters, Appel wants to follow Springsteen onto the Great White Way. He’s written a musical called “Stage Door Johnny,” and is in serious discussions to get it mounted.
“No one should be a ‘stage door johnny’ in his or her own life,” Appel, 76, told the Advance recently. “No more waiting in the wings of your life like so many people actually do.”
Even hard-core Springsteen fans may not realize that Appel has been an Islander for decades. He used to live on Todt Hill, which Appel said reminded him of Old Brookville, L.I., where he grew up. These days, Appel’s in Dongan Hills.
And Appel said an Island Broadway icon, the late composer Galt MacDermot, who inspired him to write “Stage Door Johnny.”
“He told me there are no ‘sacred cows’ on Broadway,” said Appel, a songwriter in his own right who worked in Wes Farrell’s bubblegum factory penning songs for the Partridge Family, and later produced and wrote songs for heavy metal pioneers Sir Lord Baltimore.
For the musical, which has been in the works for more than 15 years, Appel started with his best songs and then wrote a story “that uses those songs in an organic and natural way.”
It’s not how Broadway shows are generally conceived, but Appel thinks his approach will give the show and its songs a chance to reach a mainstream audience.
He said, “I chose Broadway at this time in my life because there are virtually no outlets for songwriters of my generation to reach the baby boomer and classic rock audience other than Broadway.”
Appel said the show might even get millennials to dig into the classic rock of the past and use it as inspiration for their own work.
The Springsteen-Appel story is part rock legend, part cautionary tale.
Appel was Springsteen’s manager, and produced Springsteen’s first three records: “Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.,” “The Wild, the Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle” and the iconic “Born to Run.”
It's that last album, which Appel co-produced, that famously got Springsteen on the cover of Time and Newsweek simultaneously.
But the two had a business falling-out that birthed an epic court battle. The legal fight was settled, and the two have rebuilt their personal relationship. Springsteen invited Appel to one of the Broadway shows, and had him come backstage.
“It was an ignorant time,” Appel said of the split. “He didn’t know, and I didn’t know, about the lawyers and their jockeying for their own benefit. And I learned that.”
Appel said, “It was a sorry time. It was a disappointing time, but absolutely I had to go my own way sooner or later. Could I have stayed around for another album or two? Maybe. I don’t know whether that would have been easy. Remember, I have my own opinions on things, and Bruce trusts me. But he is the Boss, and he doesn’t have that moniker for no reason.”
The two stay in touch, and Appel will talk about the Springsteen connection on May 19 at 3 p.m. at Hamilton Park House, the home and performance space in New Brighton owned by couple Ray Heffernan and Maureen Campbell. Appel will be interviewed by Jonathan Pont of “Backstreets,” the magazine devoted to all things Springsteen.
“Bruce is in a class all by himself,” Appel said. “No one can compete with what he does, plain and simply. He is who he is and he’s simply the biggest there is.”
But Appel hopes that at least some of Springsteen’s Broadway mojo rubs off.