Creem, 1981-01, by: Dave Dimartino
DAVE DIMARTINO: They [the crew] all call you the boss?
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: Well, the thing I have with this "Boss" is funny because it came from people like that, who work around you. And then, somebody started to do it on the radio. I hate being called "Boss." (laughs) I just do. Always did from the beginning. I hate bosses. I hate being called the boss. It just started from all the people around me, then by somebody on the radio and once that happens, everybody said "Hey Boss," and I'd say, "No. Bruce. BRUCE." I always hated that. I always hated being called "Boss."
DD: I have lots of relatives is Jersey, Seaside Heights and Point Pleasant. It's a pretty interesting place for somebody to grow up.
BS: Yeah, it's pretty strange. It's real "away," you know? It's like an hour from New York, but it might as well be ten million miles, because when I was growing up, I think I wasn't in New York once until I was sixteen, except maybe once when my parents took me to see the circus. And New York was just so far away. It's funny, because when we first came out, everyone tagged us as being a New York band, which we never really were. We were down there from Jersey, which was very, very different. It's like my sister. She went to New York last year, and said "Hey, I went to New York and we couldn't find Fifth Avenue, so we went home." (laughs) It was like you just didn't go to New York. It was a million miles away. I remember, you didn't talk about it, you didn't think about it. It was all very, very local. That's the way those little towns and stuff are, you just never get out.
DD: I remember we'd go to Seaside Heights when we were 14 and 15 years old. It was a good place to pick up girls.
BS: Yeah. Asbury was where you'd go if you didn't have the gas to get to Seaside Heights. That was a whole other thing.
DD: Bob Seger told us he saw you in LA and you were going through the same problems finishing The River that he had with Against the Wind, that you were pulling your hair out. What made you decide you had the right songs? Last we heard you pulled a tune off it.
BS: Well, from the beginning I had an idea of what I felt the record should be. And I don't think, I'm not interested in going in the studio and (pauses) I don't want to just take up space on the shelf or worry that if you don't have something out every six months, or even a year, that people are going to forget about you. I was never interested in approaching it that way. We never have from the beginning. I have a feeling about the best I can do at a particular time, and that's what I wanted to do. I don't come out until I feel that, and that's what I've done. Because there's so many records coming out, there's so much stuff on the shelves, why put out something that you don't feel is what it should be, or that you feel - and I don't believe in tomorrows - that "Oh, I'll put the other half out six months from now." You don't know what's gonna be happening six months from now. You may be dead, you just don't know. It's like from the very beginning, I just never believed in doing things that way. You make your record like it's the last record you'll ever make. You go out and play at night. I don't think if I don't play good tonight, I'll play good tomorrow. I don't think that if I didn't play good tonight, that, well, I played good last night. It's like there's no tomorrows and there's no yesterdays. There's only right now.
DD: You gotta prove it all night, right
BS: Well that's the thing with the kids. Like if a kid buys a ticket, he comes in, tonight is his night. Tonight is the night for you and him, you and him are not gonna have this night again. And if you don't take it as seriously as he's taking it, I mean, this is his dough, he worked for it all week, money's tough now and there's a certain thing... I just think you gotta lay it all on the line when you go out there and then I feel good afterwards. That's the only way I feel right and it's the same thing with the record.
DD: How do you feel about The River now that it's finished? Are you 100 percent satisfied with it?
BS: Oh, you're never like that, you're never 100 percent satisfied, because you're thinking about all the wrong stuff you did. You always think you could've played that one other song, like tonight. When we started this tour, we said, "OK. We're not gonna play 'Quarter to Three.' We played that the whole last tour, and we're not gonna play it this tour. sure enough, we get backstage (tonight) and this is the first time we had to come out again one more time, and it's like "What are we gonna play? 'Quarter to Three"." So that was probably the swan song of that.
DD: You have to admit that as high as expectations were when you produced Darkness, the expectations for this new album were considerably higher. Do you think you were a little sensitive or paranoid about the final version of this LP?
BS: No, because nobody's expectations are higher than your own. You do what you can do and that's the way it stands. People have their expectations and I try to live up to a certain thing I feel myself And I know I have strict ideals about the way we do things, the way the band does things, so outside forces, they play a secondary role. Like, I know when I've done all I can do after a show and I know when I've done all I can do when I make a record. And you know when it could be better like there was something wrong with the stage or you couldn't quite say what you wanted to say. But, you know, people's expectations are gonna be what they're gonna be; in the end you're gonna disappoint everybody anyway. (laughs)
DD: OK, but if I were you, I know I'd have been scared. With No Nukes, the talk about you as the highlight, the viable screen commodity, all building up to the long-awaited LP. All I know I'd be happy as hell to be out on the road and not have to deal with all that.
BS: Yeah, well that's the reality, like you're hit with the reality every night. All the other stuff it's like, what's to be frightened of That somebody's not gonna like it? That's just not that much, you know?
DD: On opening night in Ann Arbor you had to stop on occasion because the band hadn't learned the new songs completely.
BS: Well Ann Arbor, that was a wild show, because I came out and we started playing and we went into "Born to Run," which I'd just listened to in the dressing room like ten times.
DD: To try and remember the words?
BS: Yeah, and I went up to the mike and I couldn't remember the words, and I was up there and said, "Oh shit. I don't know these words." And I thought, "Not only do I not know these, I don't know any of the others." This was all taking place within about five seconds. "What the hell am I gonna do?" I mean, you can't stop. And then out in the audience I hear "In the day we sweat it... " and it was GREAT And then it was fine. That was an amazing audience.
DD: But how do you feel about that? You seem to be one of the only performers that the audience truly loved. Not to flatter you, but it seems like you probably haven't been up against an audience that wasn't totally familiar with you and hadn't memorized the lyrics of all your songs. Do you ever wish you were facing an audience as a complete unknown?
BS: I opened for Black Oak Arkansas. I opened for Brownsville Station and I opened for Sha Na Na. I"m 31 and I've been playing in bars since I was 15, and I've faced a lot of audiences that don't give a shit that you're onstage. And if you're calling percentages, we've had only two to five percent nights like tonight against 95 percent in the 10 to 15 years we've been playing when, let me tell you, that did not happen. That does not happen, and it keeps you from ever getting spoiled, because you know what it's like when nobody gives a damn when you come out there. It keeps you in certain places, it stays with you. There are no free rides. When we first started playing, I'd go to every show expecting nobody to come, and I'd go onstage expecting nobody to give me anything for free. And that's the way you have to play. If you don't play like that, pack your guitar up, throw it in the trash can, go home, fix televisions, do some other line of work, you know? Do something where that's the way you feel about it. And the night I stop thinking that way, that's the night I won't do it no more, because that's just the bottom line. I don't gauge the show by the audience reaction; I don't gauge the show by the review in the paper the next day. I know what I did when I'm done, I know how I feel, and I know if I'm comfortable when I get on the bus to go to the next town. I know if I feel good and I know if I feel bad. I know if I can go to sleep easy that night. That's the way that we judge it and that's the way that we run it. And if we didn't, that noise that you were hearing, that would not be happening in the first place.
DD: Do you ever worry about that? Do you think that might not happen in the future, that you might not give your all?
BS: No. I'm not that kind of person. I don't have any fear about that because, I guess, I have other things that are much more frightening that keep me from falling into that.
DD: What's it like these days getting recognized?
BS: People don't recognize me that much. They don't. If you go around humming "Badlands" or something (laughs), they might. People just don't look for you. They recognize you outside the show, but it just doesn't happen otherwise. I mean, back home, if I go around a bar or something on a Saturday afternoon, forget it.
DD: Do you still do that?
BS: Yeah I do that. I mean that's what you do when you go home, there's nothing else to do when you go home. But if you do that in the bars back home, most of the time people do recognize you so they don't bother you. It depends. It just doesn't happen to the point where it really bothers you or something. It just doesn't happen.
DD: Do you get approached frequently to produce other artists or appear on their records? I know you just worked with Gary US Bonds.
BS: Some bands, yeah. Some people ask me, but I can't go in there and do things the way I do my own records, I just wouldn't feel right doing it. I wouldn't feel right, behind them, you know. And plus, I am not a producer. I've always felt that essentially I'm a playing musician, that's what I've done the longest. I'm a playing musician. I go out on the road and play, we do live rock 'n' roll shows and everybody has a good time. And then on the side, after that, I write the songs and make albums, but I feel most like myself when I'm playing, when we're doing shows.
DD: Dave Marsh's book was obviously a great success. What are your feelings about it?
BS: Yeah, that was terrific, that was really exciting. You know, we didn't put an album out for that whole year and then came the book, and kids would come up with it and say "Hey, sign the book." It was really just a nice thing for everybody.
DD: The guys in the band, you've all been friends for years and all that. When Marsh's book came out there was a big deal about you, the picture on the cover of you smiling, did the guys come up to you and say "Oh, come on Bruce. We all know'you're just a little shit."
BS: No. (laughs) It's like you don't think that much about it. Most of the people I'm with have been my friends for a long time, in my band, and they're all in the book. I mean, since I was 16 I've known Steve. You just sit there and look at the book and there's all those things happening, but you just accept those things happening.
DD: With your success you've created a familiar "Springsteen sound." When you hear new artists that seem to Imitate your sound do you think about what you've created?
BS: No, I never have those particular feelings. Myself I've been influenced by so much music. Even on the new album there's some Johnny and the Hurricanes kind of stuff I don't think about it.
DD: How, did your involvement with Gary US Bonds come about?
BS: We met in a bar right by my house and we just started talking. He's just a great guy with a great voice. He's just got this voice, and there's only one of this voice. The stuff on his records didn't have that sound. That sound was him, that was his voice, and when he sings, that's what he sounds like. There was a situation because of the nature of the music business where there was so many people. What happened was that the music business changed from where there were writers and singers and producers. Now a kid comes up and he's got to do everything. Well, that's no good, because people don't do everything good. That's why there are so many bad albums, because people don't do everything good. Maybe someone's a hell of a producer, maybe some kid is a hell of a songwriter or a great singer, or maybe some kid ain't a good singer and songwriter. They're sort of forced by the way the thing is based now to attempt to do all these things. They think they should. In the '60s, what happened was you had all these tremendous people out there, these great singers particularly, who were popular back then, who were just stopped, run over, you know. In a flash, 20 years old. Now, they just don't fit in, they don't fit the structure of the music business. Who is their audience? Gary was like that. Gary's a great singer, but it's hard now. It's hard to get people to pay attention.
DD: Do you wonder what your record might sound like if you didn't produce yourself?
BS: Our method now is a very personal way of recording, where somebody coming in from the outside would have a difficult time. We wrote and recorded about 48 songs [for The River] and at one time I thought they were all gonna be on (laughs). And somebody sitting there seeing four albums being recorded, well, you gotta be in it for life, you know? To just have the patience and the perseverance. And we recorded that stuff real fast, there was not a lot of overdubbing, not a lot of takes even. We just recorded so much stuff.
DD: What was the major criteria for the completion of the album, the selection of songs?
BS: I'd say the main thing was trying to focus on exactly what I wanted on the album, and what I wanted to do with the characters. Like on Darkness, that stopped at a certain point. Well, what happens now? I don't feel different every six months, it takes a while. What I wanted to do, and what I hoped was working out was those little four-song albums they tried to put out for a while, I don't know if they're gonna keep doing it or not, those "Nu Disks" [10" EPs like Black Market Clash, circa 1979] or whatever you call 'em. I wanted to, from time to time, release those with all the stuff that's in the can and all the stuff that for one reason or another didn't make it on. I wanted to put those out in between albums so that it was a different kind of thing. I don't think they're gonna make those anymore.
DD: How did you end up on [Lou Reed's] Street Hassle?
BS: He called me up in the studio, it was funny. We were at the Record Plant; I hadn't really met him and I liked his stuff I always really liked it. He called me up and said I've got this part," and it was related to Born to Run," I guess, in some way, and said "Come on upstairs," and he had these words, and I went upstairs...
DD: And you read them.
BS: Yeah, and so I did it once, no, I think I did it twice, and he just picked one and I was real happy.
DD: Did you enjoy the No Nukes shows?
BS: That was great. That was one of the favorite shows that we ever did. I liked working with all those different people. What happened was when we first started, the way we got to playing by ourselves was inadvertent. We never meant to do shows by ourselves. But we couldn't get on any other tours. People will tell you today, if you're a new band, you can't get on other tours, people won't take you out. And if you're good, then forget about it. You're never gonna make it out. So, at the time, we were doing pick-up shows for absolutely anybody that would put us on. But it got to a point where just nobody would put us on, we couldn't get any shows. So we started playing clubs by ourselves. Then eventually the shows started getting longer and developed into what it is. But the thing about the Nukes show was we only played an hour, and it was fun (laughs), because you could go like a runaway train in an hour. We could come off and dance around the block after that, so it was funny. And I wanted to do something with that, and it was just one of the best things. I felt real good about it.
DD: I was told you plan to be on tour until next summer.
BS: Because I want to play in the summertime this year. I just miss doing that, I miss travelling around and playing in the summertime. We haven't done that in a while. We're gonna do this tour, and then it stops for Christmas a little while, and then we go to Canada, and then the South and then overseas. I want to do that because we've never been overseas, we've only been overseas for four shows, and that was in 1975. We've only done two shows in England and that was the kind of shows that, well, one was the kind of show that, when I think back upon it, was the kind of show that I don't want our shows to go. That was the worst, and that was when I was real down.
DD: Talking about moods, I thought that the Wild and Innocent LP had a real happy mood to it across the whole record. Born to Run was a mixed bag, but one of the reasons I especially liked Darkness was its consistency of mood. It ultimately seemed very depressing, especially "Racing in the Street." Are there any kind of moods on the new LP that you can put your finger on?
BS: Well, it's different. When I did Darkness, I was very focused on one particular idea, one particular feeling that I wanted to do. In the show there are all sorts of things, there's a wide range of emotion.
DD: But when I listen to Darkness, I wanna go slit my wrists.
BS: Yeah. Like you say, that's my favorite record, Darkness, so this time one of the things that I felt was that on Darkness, I didn't make room for certain (pauses) things, you know. Because I just couldn't understand how you could feel so good and so bad at the same time. And it was very confusing to me. "Sherry Darling" was gonna be on Darkness, "Independence Day" was a song that was gonna be on Darkness, and the song I wrote right after Darkness was "Point Blank" which takes that thing to its furthest. Because at the time, I remember because Jon asked me, I said "Jon, I just can't see all this different stuff being on it because it's gonna be too confusing for people," and he said "No, it's not gonna be too confusing for people," and I said, "Well, I guess it's gonna be too confusing for me." It just is that way for me right now, for some reason.
DD: I was surprised that there weren't any razor blades attached to the LP.
BS: Yeah, well it wasn't meant to be that way. After Born to Run and all that stuff I felt that was just the way it was. And so when I did this album, I tried to accept the fact that, you know, the world is a paradox, and that's the way it is. And the only thing you can do with a paradox is live with it. I wanted to do that this time out; I wanted to live with particularly conflicting emotions, because I always person ally, in a funny kind of way, lean toward the Darkness kind of material. When I didn't put the album out in '79, it was because I didn't feel that that was there, I felt that that was missing and I didn't feel that that was right. And even when the band says "Why isn't this on it, why isn't that on it," what do you say, "Gee. I don't know"? It was something where I just got a bigger picture of it, I felt, what things are, of the way things work, and I tried to just learn to be able to live with that. I mean, how can you live when sometimes things are so beautiful, and I know it sounds corny but...
DD: So I'm gonna listen to The River and I'm gonna feel that paradox' you're talking about?
BS: I think so. In the end, I think that's the emotion. What I wanted was just the paradox of those things.
DD: Did a lot of the time spent in deciding what tracks went on the LP work to this whole approach of balance? Does the paradox correspond to the way you personally feel?
BS: Well there's the thing where a lot of stuff just ROCK rocks, and that was the main thing. There's a lot of idealistic stuff on there, there's a lot of stuff that, hey, you can listen to it and laugh at it or whatever, some of it is very idealistic, and I wanted that all on there. At first, I wasn't gonna put it all on there, but sometimes I just feel those things. Sometimes when I'm playing... like life just ain't this good, you know? And it just ain't. And it may never ever be. But that doesn't make those emotions not real. Because they are real and they happen. And that stuff happens onstage a lot, when people sing some of the songs it's like a community thing that happens that don't happen in the street. You go out on the street and it's just a dream. Hey, that's the way it's supposed to be. And a lot of songs we do now, they're just dreams, but they're based on an emotion that's very real, and they're always being possibilities. To say no to that stuff is wrong, to say no to it is wrong and to give yourself to it is a lie. To give yourself over is an illusion. On the album I was interested in, I saw it as romantic. It's a romantic record and to me, romantic is when you see realities and when you understand the realities, but you also see the possibilities. And sometimes you write about things as they are, and sometimes you write about them as they should be, as they could be, maybe, you know? And that's basically what I wanted to do. And you can't say no to either thing. If you say no, you're cheating yourself out of feelings that are important and should be a part of you.
DD: Do you have a girlfriend now? Do you find yourself lacking the time for strong relationships like that and does it affect your material?
BS: That always affects you, and I've always had a girlfriend, same one now that I've been going out with for a couple of years, and that always affects a lot of things. The band, some of the guys are in their 30s, some are in their early 20s, and I realize that you think different then, you don't think the same way you did when you were 20, and I try to stay in tune to that fact. And the music I write has, I think, those extra 10 years in there. And there's other guys who do other things, younger things, and they say that, you know? And on this record, it was funny, some of the guys got married, some... it was just a sense of the conflict everybody feels; you want to be a part of it. You want to walk down the street and feel that you're a part of all those people. There's a combination with people where you're drawn to being with them, while at the same time you're horrified by them, repulsed by them, scared by them. That was the other thing I hoped I was gonna be able to get in the record, that you have both of those feelings and they're both real and they're both honest and that that's the way it is.
DD: I'm sure you agree that while there's "x," amount of words and "x" amount of melodies, the combination of both is unlimited as are the effects. One of the strong points of Darkness, I thought, was the conflict of moods between both.
BS: It was different, yeah at the end of Darkness, the guy ends up feeling very isolated.
DD: There are parallels, between that character's feelings and your own life, starting out as a happy guy with happy music. that suddenly ends up on the cover of tons of magazines. How, much of that music is about a character and how, much is about yourself?
BS: Every guy that writes a song is writing about himself in the most general way I'm talking, like it comes outta you. Why did it come out of you? And all the facts are changed, you think up a lot of stuff and some stuff is real, I don't know. I had a funny... New Jersey was funny. It was very insulated. I grew up playing in bars since I was 15 and I always liked my job. I liked going down to that club, and if I made $35 a week or whatever, it didn't matter because I liked the job I was doing and I was enjoying it. I was lucky enough that from when I was very young, I was able to make my living at it. And it went along and, I mean, I never knew anyone who made a record, I never knew anyone who knew anyone who even knew anyone in the professional music business. (laughs) We didn't even brush up against people like that back then, you were away from it. You weren't there. And that's the way it was same bunch of guys, same town. And when I got out more, well, things changed. You get older and things change. I mean, I liked my job.
DD: Do the guys in the band miss going out and playing?
BS: That's the way it is. People miss it, but, believe it or not, I'm going as fast as I can. (laughs)
DD: Is that really true?
BS: I was burning up man, let me tell you, I ain't kidding you. (laughs) The stuff is really... like we didn't do a whole lot of takes of each song. I don't think there's a song on there that went anymore than ten takes, and most of them were done under five. The only overdubbing is vocal overdubbing, and that's not on everything. Most of the stuff we recorded very fast, and when you get a chance to listen to it, we recorded it in a big room and we got a real hard drum sound. Of them all, I think it's the album that most captures what happens when we play. But it's the kind of thing where I don't know if I'll ever make records fast, because I don't see the point in making them fast.
DD: Well, there's a view, in the rock world that you should go in bang them out as it's more spontaneous that way. Would you say The River is spontaneous?
BS: It is very spontaneous. Spontaneity, number one, is not made by fastness. Elvis, I believe, did like 30 takes of "Hound Dog," and you can put THAT thing on. The idea is to sound spontaneous. I mean it's to be spontaneous, but it's like these records come out that were done real fast and they sound like they were done real fast. If I thought I could've made a better record in half the time, that's exactly what I would've done. Because, I would've rather been out playing. It's the kinda thing where, I mean, I know what I'm listening to when I hear it played back, and I just had particular guidelines. And one thing, it's not a musically put together record. I mean, the performances were fast. I think the thing that takes the most time is the thinking, the conceptual thing. It takes a certain amount of time for me to think about exactly what it is I wanna do, and then I gotta wait until I finally realize that I've actually done it. You know, we made the Gary US Bonds thing real fast, and a lot of the things on this were made very fast It's just the ALBUM that took a long time.
DD: Why did you change your opinion about bootlegs?
BS: I felt that there was a point there where, when it first started, a lot of bootlegs were made by fans, there was more of a connection. But it became, there was a point where there were just so many. Just so many that it was big business. It was made by people who, you know, they didn't care what the quality was. It just got to the point where I'd walk in and see a price tag of $30 on a record of mine that, to me, really sounded bad, and I just thought it was a rip. I thought I was getting ripped, I wrote the music, the songs - it all came out of me! And I felt it was a rip, and the people who were doing it had warehouses full of records and were just sitting back, getting fat, rushing and putting out anything and getting 30 fucking dollars for it. And I just got really mad about it at one point.
DD: Are you ever gonna come out with some of this live stuff? I've got some that I like just because I'm a fan.
BS: I don't know. I have a hard time listening to them, because I always hear the bad things. I guess the main thing is that I just want to make a live record. The plan was to do a live one after this one.
DD: Some of the stuff is great like the CBS tape of "Santa Claus" and the Greg Kihn song "Rendezvous." Why did you give that away? Did it sound too much like a Born to Run song?
BS: That song I wrote in about five minutes before a rehearsal one day. We played it on tour and we liked it, and I liked him because I liked the way he did "For You" on that early album, and we just had it around and I told him "Hey, we got this song that we're not recording now." That's mainly how some of those songs got out. I just wrote them fast.
DD: I remember you playing tunes like "Independence Day," "The Ties That Bind" and "Point Blank" two years ago. Were those written for Darkness but just didn't fit your concept?
BS: The reason they got thrown out was because of this thing I was telling you about, the way I felt about the Darkness album. I don't know, that's just the way I felt about them at the time.
DD: Are you your own worst critic?
BS: I think you certainly should be. That's the way you have to be. You have to be most severe with yourself
DD: Do you anticipate a large critical backlash after being on top for so long?
BS: That stuff happens all the time, besides, that's happened to me already, I've lived that already. And it's the kind of thing that just happens; people write good things and then they don't. The first time I went through that it was confusing for me, it was disheartening. I guess I felt that I knew what I wanted to do and what I was about. The same old story when I was 25 when that first happened and I'd been playing for 10 years. Now I'm 31, so I went through that. When you first come up and people start writing about you, you're just not used to it. It's just strange. There were a lot of things that brought me real down at the time, and there were a lot of things that brought me real up. I was very susceptible to being immediately emotionally affected by something like that at the time. But I went through it, I saw it happen, I saw how it happens. I was younger and I was much more insecure. I hadn't put the time in that we've put in since then, and seen some of the things that happened since then happen. I've seen all sides of the music thing, and now, whatever happens is only gonna be a shadow of that moment. So if a lot of people wrote a lot of good stuff and then they wrote a lot of bad stuff whatever happens, it happens. You have a concern about it, because I spent a long time and put a lot into doing a record. Same old story, anybody who says it ain't a heartbreaker, it ain't true. (laughs) But that's the way things are, and I'm at a point now where I got a better perspective on a lot of those things.
DD: Any changes is the future?
BS: No, I don't see changing the particular way that I do that thing right now, because...
DD: You're happy.
BS: Yeah. Because if I felt that if I was just sitting there and squeezing the life out of the music, I wouldn't do it. But that's not what happens, that's not what we do. The physical act is not what takes the time, I mean, this was our fifth album. We rented the studio. We knew how to make a record. As fast or slow as we wanted to, you know? The physical thing is not the story, it's how you feel inside about it, and that don't run on any clock, just how you feel inside. Just where you are today and what your record is gonna be saying out there, and what the people that buy that record are going to feel and get from it. I had an idea, and I wasn't going to go half way with it, wasn't no point in it. Like I said, I don't trust no tomorrows on that kind of thing. And I'd rather do the time and the time is no fun to do because if I didn't do the time there, I couldn't walk out there on that stage. We're going to be playing a lot of shows, and we're going to be out there for a real long time. And when I go out there at night, I just like to feel like myself like I've done what I have to do. And when I play those songs onstage, I know those songs, I know what went into them and I know where I stand. And people will and people will not like it, but I know that it's real. I know that it's there.
Interview conducted October 9, 1980, at Cobo Hall, Detroit, Mich.