YouTalkin’ To Me? Who is Bruce Springsteen?

00-01-2006 Mojo par Phil Sutcliffe

springsteenIn the 30 years since the release of Born To Run the one-time 'future of rock'n'roll' has worn the mask's of Vegas showman, troubled loner and Ordinary Joe. Now, in a remarkable interview at the end of a remarkable year, the real Boss sits down with MOJO for an unprecedented outpouring on life, death, divorce, identity, America... the whole damn thing !

CHICAGO UNITED CENTRE IS HOME TO THE BULLS, THE NBA basketball team who used to win everything back when Michael Jordan was king. It's the usual big, dark cave. But when, for the soundcheck, MOJO takes a solitary spot in the semi-darkness among the 9,000 empty seats, the place bears a strangely private air. Bruce Springsteen is alone on- stage. at the piano talking through the mike to a soundman in a remote location, marked only by a reading lamp. Nobody else is visible except when a tech walks on with the next instrument to check.
Springsteen's wearing a sartorial hodgepodge of suit jacket, blue jeans and baseball cap reversed part way through, the only whimsical moment in the entire process. He sings a verse or two of each song - Saint In The City, You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch), Jesus Was An Only Son - working briskly through piano, electric piano, pump-organ, various acoustic and electric guitars, harmonica, a ukulele (given to him by Eddie Vedder) and finally autoharp. He checks out the "bullet" mike, beloved of Tom Waits, which twists his voice into a deranged howl for Johnny 99. Everything's in good order and requires no comment beyond "OK" and muttered thanks as each new instrument is handed over.
When he's done he picks up some papers, shoves them in a battered black briefcase, walks off on his own like some slightly bohemian clerk on his way to the office, and goes straight to his dressing-room.

It's a prime year for Springsteen, one that's drawn the threads of his past and present together. In spring, he released Devils & Dust, the third of his powerful solo-ish and mainly acoustic albums following Nebraska (1982) and The Ghost Of Tom Joad (1995). In November it was the plush 30th anniversary reissue, with bonus DVDs, of Born To Run, the album that made his career. The two records could hardly better represent the extremes of his appeal down the years, from the big adrenalin thrill of youth to the dark knowledge and doubts of middle age (he was 56 in September).
Born To Run was uninhibited: the appassionato vocals like a street-rough Roy Orbison, the almighty rockin' R&B grunt and Spector-tinselled grandeur of the E Street Band with Clarence Clemons' sax in excelsis and Roy Bittan's piano hinting at dirty concertos. His third album and breakthrough after his first two failed to nail it, it teemed with all-but-doomed youth living it large in a small world, wheeling and dealing, fighting and romancing, chasing a dream of nobody-knew-but-what-the-hell. And it was the last album like that Springsteen ever made.
As a songwriter and musician he moved on into the big world. The broad picture is that, while he never invented a genre nor even experimented much within the idiom, he did bring the whole history of rock'n'roll together with love and verve and imagination and a protean attention to detail. The music was kind of taken care of in the blood, and the soul was right there - anyone who heard what he did when a wordless howl or holler was called for knew what he had inside. But, chiefly, he pulled off his translation from excitable boy to rock'n'roller for the ages by becoming a great storyteller. In fact, that process of development did start on Born To Run with Meeting Across The River, the one slow track, murky with melancholy piano and lonesome trumpet. The stroke that hinted at Springsteen's narrative gift was that he chose to write the lyric as just one side of a conversation. "Hey Eddie, can you lend me a few bucks/And tonight can you get us a ride," asks first-person unnamed. From those opening lines all his fears, failures and serial desilusions of grandeur hang out there in the empty air, unanswered and exposed, until this poor dope who's "planning" a stick-up without a car or a gun has finished his fantasy about impressing his wife - "I'm just gonna throw that money on the bed/She'll see this time I wasn't just talking."

By the following album, Darkness On The Edge of Town (1978), he was committed to developing this craft . It included a crucial stepping-stone in Racing In The Street. Perhaps deliberately confronting the "cars-and-girls" line of criticism that dogged his early years, it started out with a car- obsessed hotrodder in barroom braggadocio mode: "I got a '69 Chevy with a 396/Fuelie heads and a Hurst on the floor." After a bit of boasting about all the races he's won, he suddenly finds himself thinking about his girl, her love, her ageing, her loneliness, the ways his neglect has worn her down until "She stares off alone into the night/With the eyes of one who hates for just being born."

The stories operate in a political landscape - working-class people struggling to make ends meet, financially and morally - against a backdrop of religious language that rarely suggests true belief And some of them absolutely rut with sex, from I'm On Fire (Born In The USA , 1984), through Highway 29 (The Ghost Of Tom Joad) to Reno (Devils &Dust). Bruce really delivers, somewhere between Aretha’s version of The Night Time Is The Right Time and the kitchcn table in James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice.

Springsteen is a relentless thinker about what he does and, in recent years, writing carefully about the craft and the craftsman, he 's offered two very different approaches. The first, in Songs, his lyrics book, is seriously analytical: "When you get the music and the lyrics right, your voice disappears into the voices of those you' ve chosen to write about... But all the telling detail in the world doesn't matter if the song lacks an emotional centre. That's something you have to pull out of yourself from the commonality you feel with the man or woman you're writing about." So the egos of artist and listener are set aside and they meet in the fictional characters and their stories. But that was 1998. Now Springsteen has turned seriously satirical on the subject, having grown far more interested in uncertainties, especially his own identity and how that relates to his fans. Or doesn't. When MOJO saw him recording his VH1 Storytellershow back in April, he raised the topic in comic vein while discussing Brilliant Disguise - a song from Tunnel Of Love (1987) in which our narrator, who sounds closer to an autobiographical Springsteen than usual, wonders who he is, who his wife is, and how far both of them are faking it.

Springsteen discoursed on how "We all have multiple selves" and began a yarn about how, a while back, he was spending the afternoon at a favourite strip club out on the highway - "that holier-than-thou bastard Bruce Springsteen" having left him to his "simple pleasures" for once. However, when he left, trouble lurked out in the parking lot: "A woman and a man spied me and said, 'Bruce, you aren't supposed to be here.' I could see where they were going with this so I said, I'm not. I am simply an errant figment of one of, Bruce's many selves. I drift in the ether over the highways and byways of the Garden State, often touching down in image- incongruous but fun places. Bruce does not even know I am missing. He is at home right now doing good deeds."
He wound up with his psycho -philosophical QED, "So the self is a mysterious thing." And as we will discover , With Bruce it is.

springsteen BACKSTAGE IS SPARSELY POPULATED : three or four crew, management and the local promoter pad about a brick and concrete corridor wide enough for army manoeuvres. After few minutes' wait, at the appointed time, 6pm, Springsteen appears in the dressing-room doorway and waves MOJO in . He's smiling, with a note of reserve you might almost call English. The room is bare except for a scattering of his possessions on a large glass-topped table - more papers, a personal stereo (he's not taken to i-Pod yet), a paperback copy of his lyrics book Songs. There's a small electric table clock, Woolworths maybe, which faces away from him as he takes a seat. Nothing at all purports to make the place feel "like home".
He sticks one leg straight out on the table and leans back in the black moquette and chrome chair. The seams at the crotch of his jeans are worn white and about to go. He speaks slowly, carefully, pausing often to gather the exact words he's seeking. An odd aspect of his presence close up is that he looks average height, average build when standing, and broad to the point of massive when sitting down. Maybe it's a trick of the blue plaid shirt which, someone says, was a gift from Tom Hanks. It's strange to think that such a solid looking man, at a middle-years artistic peak, should talk and sing so much about ambivalence and doubt. Back in 1987 he was wrestling with the divided soul behind his Two Faces: "One that does things I don't understand/ makes me feel like half a man." Three years ago, on The Rising, he was imagining himself into the traumatised, blank soul of the Nothing Man: "Darlin' with this kiss/Say you understand/I am the nothing man." But maybe now his life and work have arrived at one of those realistic-but-positive spots he made over into romance for All The Way Home on Devils &Dust : "I know what it's like to have failed, baby/With the whole world lookin' on/... Now you got no reason to trust me/My confidence is a little rusty/But if you don't like bein' alone/Baby, I could walk you all the way home." He sits ready, gazing at MOJO with a small frown.

At Storytellers, a fan describing herself as "a person of colour" asked how you "managed to capture the minority experience". You said, "I think it comes from that feeling of being invisible. For the first 16 or 17 years of my life I had that feeling of being not there." Was that one of the foundations of Born To Run?

Oh, it's one of the building blocks of all rock'n'roll music. Or blues or jazz. It's at the core of songwriting and performance and... almost any creative expression. It all comes from a will and a desire to have some impact - to feel your connection to the world and other people and to experience it. To experience your own vitality and your own life force. Go back through any creative expression and you're trying to pull something out of thin air and make it tangible and visible. That's why you're the magician.

But you also told that woman how painful and unpleasant your experience of invisibility was.

Yeah, uh... (hesitates)

It reminded me of the story about you as an eight-year-old boy in Catholic school; you got your Latin wrong and the nun who taught you stood you in the wastebasket because "that's what you were worth".

(Laughs hoarsely and heartily.) I suppose that was about as symbolic as you could get. So, yeah, the idea of struggling against the wasted life has always been behind my songwriting. And obviously class and race play an enormous part in that here in the United States.
if you saw the shock expressed when, during Hurricane Katrina, suddenly all these people who had been marginalised were on television and visible. And people's shock... was shocking to me. Those people who had been marginalised - who you're normally seeing on the nightly news in handcuffs being arrested, that's basically all you ever see of them - suddenly there they are with their kids, their families, and the country reacted with a sad sort of shock, and that's just part of the history of class and race and it's a permanent connection to the heart and the birth of blues and jazz and R&B and rock'n'roll music.
That music is one of the tools by which the invisible, the people who were born on the margins, have made themselves visible. It's crucial and critical to making that kind of music. And I wanted to make a big noise. You want to let people know that you're here and you're alive.

Did coming from New Jersey play a part in the sense of being disregarded that fuelled Born To Run?

Maybe the thing that was different back then was I'd never met a anybody who'd made an album . You were much further out of the mainstream, particularly before localism in pop music became accepted. I mean, one hour out of New York City and you were in the nether world. Nobody came to New Jersey looking for bands to sign. That didn't happen and the sense of being further away from those things was very pronounced. I did shows in my late teens and early twenties when I was playing to thousands of kids, but nobody really knew about that. We were acting independently of the record business and the concert business; they were just local events.And we were guys who had never been on an airplane until the record company flew us to Los Angeles.
Today I hardly know a band without a CD. Any local band, I go to their show and they're selling a CD. But that wasn't the case in the '60s and early '70s. The machinery, the technology, to make records was not in your hands. So when I got a record contract I was the only person I had ever known who had been signed, that was the big change, and then we made a couple of records and they didn't sell that well but still it was miraculous. And then Born To Run came along and (breaks off, with a tilt of the head at everything that followed).

In terms of your standing then, something unprecedented happened: you got the covers of Time and Newsweek in the same week (October, 1975). But then you seemed to hate it when they came out. Why?

That was the big decision I made. A moment came along when I said, "Gee, I'm not going to do these interviews." So I wouldn't have been on those covers. But then I was like, "Why wouldn't I do that?!" This is my... (halts a rush of words to consider). I had tremendous apprehension and a good deal of ambivalence about success and fame - although it was for something that I had pursued very intensely. But it was: "I'm never gonna know unless I do this." You know? You're never gonna know what you're worth or what your music is worth or what you had to say or what kind of a position you could play in the music community... er, unless you did it. So I said, "Well, this is my shot and I'm gonna take this."

You were talking about rock'n'roll springing from political and social issues. How was your political consciousness when you recorded Born To Run?

It didn't exist. That was the last thing in the world that I was...

Even though you grew up in the '60s?

No, you're right, I don't mean it to that degree. In the '60s, the United States felt more like South America or Central America when I went on the Amnesty tour there [1988, with Sting, Peter Gabriel, Tracy Chapman]. At the press conferences it was all very intense political questions and everybody was involved in these tumultuous events in Argentina and then we played right next to Chile where they'd just gotten Pinochet tottering and so everybody was imbued with political consciousness. In the States in the late '60s, if you weren't involved in protesting against the Vietnam War and what the government was doing and the way the culture was changing, people thought there was something wrong with you. So that was bred into you and I carried that along with me and at times it came forth and at other times it would recede,
but in the early '70s I wasn't particularly aware of it. After the end ofthe Vietnam War people felt at loose ends and there was a lot of instability. Look at Born To Run and it would be one of my least political records, certainly on its surface. I was motivated by records that I loved, by the sound I wanted to make and the feeling that I wanted to bring forth. A feeling of enormous exhilaration and aliveness. That was what I was pursuing. A cathartic, almost orgasmic experience.

But then, in 1978, you made Darkness On The Edge Of Town and that “darkness” became a prevailing metaphor in your lyrics.

Mmm. With Born To Run there was a certain degree of your-dream-came-true. You'd found an audience and you've had that impact. So it was just part ofmy nature for better and for worse to go, "Well, what does this mean? What is its personal meaning? What is its political meaning? What does this mean not just to me but to other people?"There's the concern about the fame, which is interesting because it makes you very present and you have a lot ofimpact and you have force, but it also separates you and makes you very, uh, singular.
You're now having an experience that not many other people you know are having. Its irony is that it carries its own type of loneliness. And a whole series of new questions. So I said, for me, really the rest of my work life will be to pursue those answers. Born To Run was a pivotal album in that, after that, my writing took a turn that it might not have in other circumstances. Darkness On The Edge Of Town was an immediate and very natural response to, uh, "How do I stay connected to all these things?"

It was in the Darkness period that you started yo ur campaign of self-education and particularly studying American history.

Well, Born To Run did have those big themes on it. I was interested in who I was and where I came from, the things I thought gave my music value and meaning, so I pursued that information. Also I was just naturally inquisitive. High school was just so boring and I never went to college so I missed out on a moment when I may have been - and I say "may have been" more susceptible to learning things. So in my mid-twenties I pursued a lot of things that I found inspired me. History inspired me. I guess I was aware of wanting to write about the place where I lived, the people I knew. You wanna get everthing you can get out of it and you wanna give all that you can give. You wanna explore the self, you know.

The Grapes Of Wrath became very important to you - the John Ford film, the novel and Woody Guthrie's Dustbowl songs. What got to you about the 1930s and 1940s?

A lot of the blessings and the curses were closer to the surface. Look at the movies. From the John Ford film of Grapes Of Wrath I got that elegiac view of history - warmth, fidelity, duty - the good soldier's qualities. But film noir came out of those periods too and they were popular films. I think you see that again through the early '70s, big films like Taxi Driver. People had interest in the undercurrents, the underbelly, an interest in peering behind the veil of what you're shown every day. There was a sense that there was more than what you are seeing and what was being presented to you, and that was pervasive in the country at large, I think, not just in the progressive elements of society. I mean, the Vietnam War didn't end with the hippies being against it or the progressives being against it, it ended when the truck drivers were against it. The '30s and '40s, the early '70s again, those were times when things were in great relief. People were willing to look past society's mask. That was compelling to me.

Looking past that mask, what did you see?

Just that people were... I do kind of touch on it in some of my early things - Lost In The Flood (from Greetings From Asbury Park, 1973). 1 was trying to get a feeling for what was actually going on, what were the forces that affected my parents' lives. I suppose you would have to say it all goes back to your immediate personal experience. Those are the things that shape you. The whole thing of the wasted life, it was very powerful to me.

Did you go on to read political books like the Communist Manifesto?

No, I didn't read that. But I went through a lot of what was out there it seemed, bits and pieces of a lot of different philosophers. But a book that had an enormous effect on me was America by Henry Steele Commager [and Allan Nevins], a very powerful history of the USA. It went back to that core set of democratic values that the country guided itself by sometimes and sometimes not. It was the first thing I read that made me feel part of a historic continuum - feel our daily participation and collusion in the chain of events. As if this was my historical moment. In the course of your lifetime how your country steers itself is under your stewardship. So what did you do? That was an interesting idea to me in terms of how to look at your life, your work and your place.
That was very tangible for the first time and it directed some of my writing - along with you want to rock and have fun. You see the effects in Darkness, River and Nebraska. It's certainly in the song Born in The USA; that's a Vietnam veteran who's on fire because he's colliding with the forces of history. But this guy has accepted that personal and historical weight - it's angry, there's a social element, there's a lot less innocence.

With Born In The USA were you deliberately commenting on Reagan's America - with him in the middle of his first term when you wrote it or was it post-Vietnam issues that stirred you up, the problems the veterans were having 10 years on ?

I was moved a lot by the veterans I’d met. I’d become close to some of them.Vietnam wasn’t written about almost at all until a decade after it stopped- earlier, all I remember is the Deer Hunter and a great Nick Nolte movue which hardly got shown called Who’ll Stop the rain (both 1978). But in the early ‘80s there was the birth of the Vietnam Veterans Of America. My friend Bob Muller was heading it up and we did a benefit for them on the RIVER tour (1981). I remember going to see The Deer Hunter with Ron Kovic, who wrote Born on the 4th of July, and he was looking for things that reflected his experience. The song came out of all that.Bob Muller was the first guy I played it to. That was something.

Apart from reading, you explored America more literally by just driving around the country.

Well I travelled a lot from the time I was 18 or 19. My parents were gone ( factory worker Doug and legel secretary Adele moved from Freehold, New Jersey to California in 1969) and they didn’t have any money to buy me a bus ticket much less an airplane ticket so I’d drive out to the West Coast maybe once a year to see them. We’d take these big country trips, three or four or five of us - and a dog -jammed into the cab of a truck and you’re driving three days straight without stopping. Just the stuff you did when you were a kid.


COME THE 80s ,THOUGH, SPRINGSTEEN REALLY wasn’t a kid anymore. Pictures of America as seen through a car window were still important to him - that’s the point of view in Wreck on the Highway (The River, 1980), Mansion on the Hill (Nebraska) and my Hometown (Born in the USA) , as well as the cover picture of Nebraska ( from the bottom in monochrome : dashboard, snow on a windscreen wiper, road and empty land, cloudy sky).But it wasn’t a matter of grabbing unfocused snapshots on the move. With diligently, deepened knowledgeand wider awareness added to instinctive, passionate insight, he developed and extended the charmed life of success and public esteem begun by Born to Run.

This period reached a wildly dispropotionate crescendo though,with Born in the USA. The title track blitzkrieg kicked open the door to a whole new audience withe the E Street Band playing more widescreen than ever and Springsteen in character as the crazed Vietman Veteran “burning down the road / Nowhere to run , ain’t got nowhere to go”. But these agonies of ecstatic self-destructiveness were often misunderstood - in the 1984 US Presidential election, Ronald Reagan first tried to co-opt the song as a patriotic anthem (his advisors only heard the hook-line and then his Democrat opponent Walter Mondale did the same. Springsteen forbade both sides to use the song, but the politicians weren’t the only ones whistling but not listening. With more pop-infected singles Dancing in the Dark and Cover me hurrying it along, the album sold out more than 15 million worldwide, which was about three times the core audience he’d previously reached.
In Springsteen ,this experience of hyper-fame snagged many of the same nerves as the Time and Newsweek covers had back in 1975. as he noted in Songs, “A songwriter writes to be understood”, and he hadn’t been , or not by a large proportion of this new audience. What’s more , he called the album a “grab bag”, lacking the coherence he always strove for and which he had found in the plain and slow selling Nebraska. Yet with its broad-push appeal and seemingly anthemic feel, Born in the USA, brought Springsteen a host of fans who took him for a rock god and worshipped him, revered him, as a hero who could do no wrong.

Springsteen enjoyed the reponse on stage, no doubt, but felt a fundamental unease that much of this huge audience was “transient” and if , courted further, could distort “what you do and who you are”. Seeking to re-establish control of his career - and to express himself both more subtly and more clearly - he recorded the subdued album Tunnel of Love. At its heart were the identity-challenging Two Faces, Cautious man, One Step Up and the song that’s been so much on his mind again of late, Brilliant Disguise. He found his own (smaller) audience again, all right, with many of those core fans still regarding it as his best ever.

But by then “control” was exactly what he didn’t have, not in any area of his life. The spell had broken.

The first flicker came in 1985, when he hit trouble with two former senior roadies. Mike Batlan ( who’d recorded Nebraska on a 4-track Teac) and Doug Sutphin quit their jobs and sued their ex-boss for $6 million in punitive damages. When a judge threw that out, they lodged further suits against Springsteen for hundreds of thousands in alleged unpaid overtime -and trivial yet resonant - docking their wages for loss of his canoe in a storm. The Springsteen camp fought it all the way for six years, creating bad publicity all the while, through to an out-of-court settlement - which meant the publicly aired issues were never publicly resolved.

Then in 1988, his first marriage fell apart. Worse, the story broke messily in the tabloids on a European tour via paparazzi pictures of Springsteen keeping company with backing singer Patti Scialfa. Separation and divorce from Julianne Phillips, his wife of three years, followed in short order.

Finally, in November 1989, he parted with the faithful, beloved E Street Band - albeit after personal explanations to each member (Clarence Clemons told Mojo years ago "I was shocked, hurt, angry all at once") and offers of severance pay which, it was reported, may have totalled $2 million a man.

Although he married Scialfa and they started a family - they have three children now - the music went off the boil when, in 1992, after a long hiatus, he released two separate albums, Human Touch and Lucky Town, on the same day. They were reviewed at the time (and are generally remembered) as his least satisfying since his debut.

Moving onto your late '80s emotional turmoils: your first marriage ending, the roadies case, breaking up the E Street Band. Time for some self-examination?(Laughs, stands up and walks across the room to get some water, talking en route.)

I'm aIways doing that! Soon as I get up in the morning. It'd be nice to get away from it, but it's one of those things I'm stuck with. It's been good for my music and my work, I think, and ultimately it's been good for my life but, uh, I've never been... I think on-stage is about as carefree as I get, that's when things switch off and you're just living, you know. Most of the rest of the time it was always my nature to analyse and so, uh, I can 't say there was any particular period when...

OK, specifically the strange case of the roadies, why did you pursue it for so long and make it such a big event?

It was very intense because it was a divorce case. In general, the things I've been, uh, involved with have been divorce cases. With Mike [Batlan] it was very similar where you have people you've known for a while and relationships go sour and in the end that's what it is. That's what that was.

Did the parting from the E Street Band come under the same heading?

That was just a moment when I didn't quite know where to go next and it needed to stop for a while. We needed a moment of discontinuity. It sent people out into the world on their own - me too - and it ended up being really healthy. I think if you talk to most of the guys they would agree with that. I didn't know what I wanted to do, I didn't know what I was going to do with the band, so I said, "Well, I'll see what happens."
Now, playing with them again over the last five years I know, well, I'm with these people till it's over. That 10 years apart, it's not that people change so much but, as I said when I inducted U2 into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, one of the rules of rock'n'roll is, "Hey, asshole, the other guy's more important than you think he is!" (Snorts and laughs.) It can take time away from people to get a view on that. But we've had long deep relationships and it's gonna go until it's done.

When you talked about Brilliant Disguise on Storytellers you said the song questions the difference between appearance and reality in everybody. Then you pointed at yourself and said, "So this is my public self" and somebody applauded...


And, clapping sarcastically, you turned to that person and said, "What, you think I worked well on that lying, cheating public face ... ?" (Giggles startlingly, maybe half pleased he was so direct, half worried he went too for in giving a fan such a hard time.)

It's just... the reason I talked about Brilliant Disguise is it's about identity. And your identity is so multi-faceted and diffuse it's amazing that every part of you is in the same place at one time! That's the way that I experience it. So part of what I was talking about was that there's an act of presentation. That's daily life. If there are two people in a room there's a play of some sort going on. That's human interaction. And me talking about it is away of dispelling some of the myths that buildup around you and which tend to box you in. I don't like that. That song is asking, "is it me or a brilliant disguise?" And the answer is it's almost always both. You know, you've gotta put out an enormous amount of your real self for it to feel real. You can't... it's not something... for it to feel real, it has to be real. At least, that's the way that I operate. But it doesn't have to be all, it's not all, you know?

Not the whole of you, you mean?

Exactly. It can sometimes be just a very specific slice that may be very deep but... We forget that every adult was brought up on fairy tales so it's natural to go on and, politically for example, want to believe that your President is an honest, nice man. The inability to turn to an adult perspective once you get to the age where you have some political weight is a great tragedy, and this is a period of history when it seems the most obvious type of disguise is on display to the entire world and yet those are the people who are still in power.

You're thinking of the "war on terrorism"?

Well, although elements of that are real and true, it was basically co-opted. But to go back to the question of my identity when I'm on-stage: it's not a face that's dishonest, it's a face that's incomplete and a couple of things I did that Storytellers night were... What happens is when you have a lot of success your complexity tends to be whittled down into a very simple presentation, not necessarily by the artist or musician, it's just the way that people want one-sentence explanations for everything and everybody; he's the nice guy, he's the nasty guy. And so, with my audience, one of the things I've tried to do is retain the complexity of human life or human experience. I want to see and be seen thin those parameters. That's where your freedom is and that's where your true dialogue, a deeper dialogue with your fans, can take place. So I was taking... a kick at that.

Given the events of the late '80s, did you feel that your fans' opinion of your integrity had been blemished - that people were thinking less of you?

Well... I don't have a problem with that (laughs). That's the way I would put it. Life is a messy business. Just as much for me as, I imagine, anybody else. My feeling at that moment was my... I was worried about my real life, not how my image was. Here I was trying to do things that were really hard for me to do; I was trying to connect with somebody (Scialfa) and get a family started and for somebody like me that was probably the hardest thing I ever had to do. I had a grasp that those were the things that were going to matter to me as I moved forward. As to people's perceptions of me, I didn't have and I don't have complete control over that and it goes up and down and in and out and that's OK By then I had 20 years of work behind me and I thought, "I'll stand on that." If people see you making a mess or stumbling around, well that's life too. You don't do everything right, you know. You make bad decisions or wrong decisions or misguided ones and as far as I know that's how everybody's living out there, so I didn't have a problem with people seeing me do the same.

OK, but maybe that attitude didn't work with the fans who feel the kind of reverence that made it hard for them to see you as that fallible human being.

I'd say in general those things are always a good deal of your own making, you have to take some responsibility for it, and when I was younger I probably felt differently about it. But certainly as I got into my middle age, how people felt about me... wasn't quite as important to me. I was trying to find integrity within my own experience, my own life and, uh, I'm always going to trust the art and be suspicious of the artist because he's generally untrustworthy flimflam, a stumbling clown like everybody else. That aspect, the reverence I attracted, dispelling it is important because it hinders your communication and diminishes the complexity of the dialogue you're trying to have with your fans.

There's quite a transition from the early '90s albums to The Ghost Of Tom Joad.

Yeah, but people talk about the records from the early '90s... I joke about it on stage, "I'm told this is my weakest record." But if you go back to the songs from Lucky Town and Human Touch, I play a lot of them on this tour. The production on Human Touch we didn't quite get right, I think, but I look at those records, Tunnel Of Love, Human Touch and Lucky Town, and it was me writing personally, looking at relationships and how they were playing. I was also interested in not being' the other guy' at that moment. I wasn't writing like that for a time, I didn't have those good songs in me, and the moment you're trying to write something that conforms to a particular... (tails off)
But then I did move back in that other direction . Streets Of Philadelphia probably started it. Then Tom Joad. I was living in California at the time and there was a lot of border reporting in the media. California had become very multicultural, a big Hispanic population. Go back to Freehold now, central New Jersey, 10 years later that's happened there [the latest census shows his hometown's 11,000 population is 28 percent Hispanic] . I did have a feeling it was what the country was going to look like and feel like in another decade or so and it gave me a new perspective. I remember writing Tom Joad very quickly. I'd gotten into my mid-forties and when you're younger you feel, "This is gonna stop, it's gonna get fixed" [the social ills he was addressing] and then by the time you're in your forties and fifties, oh, you I 've seen it cycle around a few times under a lot of different guises.
It's cliché, but when you're writing passionately it... What people are experiencing with Born To Run, what makes music different from the other arts is it conveys pure emotion.

Given what you've seen, what are your political beliefs now and , presuming you're somewhere on the left doesn't having great wealth present a conundrum?

I don't know how to describe my political views in left/right terms. I started out following my instincts and it seemed the country was best when it stuck to that democratic thread of good ideas and good values. The past 20 years or so have been. rough h. A large number of people have been marginalised, generation after generation. So what I think is it's a reasonable expectation to have full employment, health care and education for all, decent housing, er, day care for children from an early age, a reasonably transparent government... Big money in politics is dangerous and antidemocratic. Well, to me these are all conservative ideas.

Do you see it like that? Really?

Economic stability. Health. That's not remotely radical. All these things are in Jesus's teaching. Ali part of a humane life. But we have failed in almost all of these civil ideals. It all seems common sense to me. These points are no a political philosophy, but goo things I wanted my music to advocate. I find that vision in Woody Guthrie... well, even in The Animals' records, back before I heard Woody. Working-class music, that's part of pop history -natural politics. I didn't go to college, I'm not a socialist economist, but these are things the guy on the street can understand.

But what about the personal wealth issue?

I'm a child of Woody and Elvis. They may not be opposite ends of the spectrum. Elvis was an instrument of revolutionary change. Elvis drove a pink Cadillac and Woody wrote a song about a Cadillac, he was not dismissive of those pleasures. What you do with the conundrums, you try to deal with it as thoughtfully and responsibly as you can. I don't know if there's a clear answer. You live with the contradictions.

On Born To Run's thirtieth anniversary, having worked so much on the re-release material, how do you see the album now?

I look back with a lot of amusement on the band at that particular moment, the audacity and insecurity that was all right above the surface. When I came back off The Rising tour [2002] 1 was excited about the band and I both reflected on the present and took a look in the rear-view mirror, kind of saying, "Where do I go now?" And I'll tell you what, the finiteness of your experience is real once you're in your late fifties. This (he gestures at his life, pointing both hands hard at the ground) is finite. There's x amount of years left in what we're doing. I don't know how many. I hope there's a lot. I feel like there's plenty to do, plenty of songs to write, I feel about that the same as I did when I was 24 years old. But part of taking your place in the world is letting that clock tick. Letting that clock tick and being willing to listen to it tick and understand that your mortal self is present and walking alongside of you all the time now.


Nothing like intimations of mortality to draw an interview to a close... Springsteen's due on stage in less than an hour. Standing up, shaking hands, he says, "I hope I was helpful," and offers more time on the phone. As MOJO leaves he's unhurriedly poking about among the bits and bobs scattered across the table, muttering, "Right, let me see 'what I'm doing here... "

Until showtime he's alone again in his dressing-room, apart from a visit from long-time, Zen-calm tour manager George Travis. Usually, team members say, in the last hour or so before a gig he spends some time handwriting a setlist for photocopying to the crew. This changes substantially show to show - here in Chicago a dozen different songs from the previous night when MOJO saw him in Minneapolis. Even when he's on-stage it's more a basis for negotiation than a promisory note.

List complete, he'll sit and play guitar a bit, gathering himself in. No conspicuous signs of nerves except, just when he's due on, he might suddenly decide to change his shirt. When he's set and he starts his walk towards the stage that's one time nobody ever talks to'.", him. And from then on, he's told them, he doesn't see anyone, not a face, only feels a crowd and a place, he's so deep inside himself.
"I've liked Suicide for a long time," he said. "I met the guys late in the '70s in New York City when we were in the studio at the same time. You know, if Elvis came back from the dead I think he would sound like Alan Vega. He gets a lot of emotional purity I came across Dream Baby Dream again because Michael Stipe included it on a compilation and I thought maybe I could do it.
"It's a mantra and it works because the night is filled with so much narrative and detail and then at the end there's just those few phrases repeated and they are the essence of everything else I'm saying and doing in the course of the evening. The night opens and opens and then, at the end, when you think it can't open any more it does and it's completely embracing. It's yeah, I guess... I have, an eye for a lot of detail and this is about it it's so simple and so purely musical."


A COUPLE OF WEEKS LATER, Springsteen calls as promised. He's in cheery form, having finished filming the show in Boston. He clears up a few points from our last meeting fore asking for a final question.

Well, we've done politics, work, money, sex, time, death and the divided self OK. Religion. You've described yourself as "a runaway Catholic" and said that, although you use religious imagery in your songs for its resonance, you don't need to know The Truth. Does that mean you've definitely decided you don't know?

"Yeah, the spiritual life is going to be a life of mystery," he says. "Why would you not be humble in the face of that mystery? Why would you assume that the answers can be handed down to you, A to Z, no room for doubt? That's child-like, that desire for answers. Adult life is dealing with an enormous amount of questions that don't have answers. So I let the mystery settle into my music. I don't deny anything I don't advocate anything, I just live with it. "We live in a tragic world, but there's grace all around you. That's tangible. So you try to attend to the grace. That's how I try to guide my - self - and our house, the kids."

What do you mean by "grace"?

"Grace to me, it's just the events of the day The living breath of our lives .. Woodie Allen once said he found himself happiest when he was standing in the kitchen in the morning buttering his toast. So you're chauffeuring your kids somewhere and you think it's a burden and something happens.. it's there."

And the strip-club denizen, unholy Bruce, is he still around ?

"Unholy Bruce is alive and well," he laughs. "Narcissistic, sexually obsessed, talks a good game then runs off in the other direction Likes a good drink, lets the good times roll. I'll tell him you asked after him."

Born To Run 30th Anniversary Edition is out now. The box set includes three separate discs including a DVD of the legendary 19 7 5 Hammersmith Odeon concert; a DVD of Wings For Wheels: The Making Of Born To Run, with new ver before seen archival footage and new interviews with all the band members an many others; and a CD of the remastered Born To Run

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