Springsteen talks - at length

23-06-2009 The Q Magazine par Paul Rees
Ahead of Bruce Springsteen's headline set this coming Saturday night at Glastonbury, Q joined him and the E Street Band on the road in the US last month for the feature that graces the cover of the current issue of the magazine.

Travelling from Houston to Denver and on to New Jersey aboard their private plane, and capturing them both onstage and off (and in pics). It amounts to a unique portrait of the man and his band on the eve of their first UK festival appearance.

Springsteen himself was in an expansive mood. Hence, here are the thoughts of The Boss that didn’t fit into the magazine…

Q: You have three kids. When was the last time you told them to “Turn that rubbish down”?
BS: “Let me see… I don’t hear everything they listen to. My younger son had a jones for real hard goth. On occasion I could hear, Grrrrrr!… But because of the way I grew up, where so much of what I did was dismissed, if I don’t hear it at first, I’ll try and move in a little bit and see what’s going on there. But it’s not something I’m playing in my own car, you know. My daughter likes rap music. If there’s a rapper on the radio, her and her girlfriends get in the backseat and they just lay it out; they’ve memorized the whole track including, like, the beeps.”

Q: What was the first music to inspire you as a musician?
BS: “Our roots were pre-psychedelic. The bohemian approach of The Stones – which I love so much, and I am a huge fan of – didn’t make a lot of sense to the lives of the kids we started off playing to. What made sense was, hard working soul man – the aspirations of Motown, that if you found a way to find your place, you might be able to move up slightly. These were the things that got you through the night.

“Later in the ’60s there was a psychedelic influence, and I played plenty of psychedelic blues, but all I saw when I was a kid were showmen, the doo wop guys. To me, that was a great gift that I was able to witness and to receive as a young musician. With my band, I wanted to incorporate those values from the beginning.

“The idea of a show was delegitamised through that bohemian notion of selling out, which I always felt was somewhat misguided. Because once you’re onstage, you’re in a show, my friend, whatever you’re doing. There’s certain kinds of people I wouldn’t want to see put on my show, because it’s not who they are. But the idea – and it remains a good one, and a bridge to your audience – was putting on a show with the intent of reaching a deeper level of communication and getting at a deeper truth.

“The bands I loved… The incredible syncopation of tight musicians, the communal aspect of what it took for Sam And Dave, whether they hated each other’s guts or not, to sing that well together. Dave sang low, Sam sang high and they met somewhere in the middle around each other. And that’s the ballet of human existence and communion. And I enjoy orchestrating it every night with my guys.

“I remember, I saw Sam And Dave in The Fast Lane in Asbury Park in 1973 or ’74, some of the last years they were together, and it was still so, so good. The place was maybe half full. I was stood there witnessing a miracle. I actually cried, because of the beauty of what they were doing.”

Q: One of your most moving songs is a bonus track on the Magic album – Terry’s Song, dedicated to your personal assistant of 24 years Terry McGovern, who died in 2007. What’s your first memory of him?
BS: “The first thing I knew about Terry McGovern was he fired me from a place called The Captain’s Garter. He was the manager. He was a legendary lifeguard on the Jersey shore and he ended up, as many of these lifeguards do, bouncing at night in the bars and managing this one place. Steve (Van Zandt, E Street Band guitarist) and I ended up playing there one night. There was a huge crowd and they loved us. We were like, We’re broke and we’ve finally got this gig – this is it! We went back expecting this guy to say, I want you here every Friday night. He says, I can’t use you. What?! He says, This is a bar idiots – people are supposed to drink not listen to music. Years later he began working from Clarence. Those two characters, side by side, was quite a sight – you’ve got the biggest white man you ever saw next to the biggest black man you’d ever seen. When he stopped working for Clarence, he came to work for me for many years.”

Q: You disbanded the E Street Band at the start of the ’90s. What made you reform the band at the end of that decade?
BS: “I felt the band was a very unfinished business, and we still had a lot to do and to say. It all started when I was coming out of a pizza place one night and two young kids came up to me, they were about 20 years old, and they said, We’re huge fans and we’ve never seen the E Street Band. I remember thinking, what was the reason [I broke the band up]? One of the reasons was I was drawing a blank about where we would go next.

“But we got together to play and I wrote a song called Land Of Hope And Dreams and a song called American Skin (41 Shots)… OK, these two songs could have been on any of what people consider to be classic E Street Band records; I can still write for the E Street Band. These two songs address the country right now… There’s still work to do.

“Since I got the band back together, one of amazing things I’ve found is that with the songwriting, over the last decade, it’s come easier than at any time in my life. I’ve been very prolific. It hasn’t been an effort. There’s just a wonderful freedom in doing it now.”

Q: What makes a great show for you?
: “An excited audience is an exciting audience. The audience is a very decisive factor in our show. It is a place of communion, that’s the point. You are in concert, truly, with the audience – they’re the other instrument you’re playing.

“That’s something I’ve learned and studied since I was very young from the very first band I was in, The Castilles. It’s a survival mechanism. We played to all kinds of audiences – supermarket openings, drive-ins, to all black audiences, to all rocker audiences… And we knew how to survive in each situation by reading that audience and, within the realm of what you wanted to do, reaching them. So I go out at night, I know everything I can know about the instruments I have onstage. I go out every night cold about the most important instrument – the audience. It makes it interesting.”

Q: In Denver you asked the band to give you 16 bars of Louie Louie on the spur of the moment and they didn’t miss a beat…
BS: “That’s our professionalism, which I take great pride in – I don’t think that’s a bad word. The competence of our band. The craft. When appropriately applied, those things bring power, energy, focus, intent, purpose, communication of meaning directly to your audience. I know I can always turn round and say something like that, and the band will hack their way through it as best they can. We always leave those edges wide open.”

Q: What’s next?
“The film director John Sayles, a friend of mine and a fellow New Jersey man, said, I don’t worry how my films are going to be perceived in 10 years – they’re there to perform a service today. We were there to peform a service tonight, in Colorado. And in a few nights, I’ll try and do that again in some place else. I don’t where it all leads. I’ve got my pride and my ego, of course, but I just wanna go out and do my job, be with the men and women alongside of me, and serve that audience.”

Interview by Paul Rees, Editor, Q Magazine.

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