Springsteen - The Q Interview

Q, 1992-08, by: David Hepworth
In a rare and candid Q interview, Bruce Springsteen describes the "primitive issues" that have haunted his last five years: women, friendship, fame, and the search for connection. "Success makes life easier," he tells David Hepworth. "It doesn't make LIVING easier."
New York, May. Bruce Springsteen and Tom Hanks appear on a promotional slot for Saturday Night Live. Kneeling at their feet are Wayne and Garth of the all-conquering Wayne's World, doing the shtick with which they greet all superstar guests, genuflecting while intoning "We're not worthy, we're not worthy." After a few seconds of this routine, Wayne pauses and, looking up at Hanks, confides: "Tom, nor are you..."

Bruce Springsteen used to find his status as American cultural hero discomfiting. These days, seven years on from the glory days of the 'Born In The USA' tour, he's more likely to laugh it off. On 'Lucky Town,' one of the two albums he released in April, he even offers 'Local Hero,' a song which has some fun with his own mythic status, describing the sensation of finding a kitsch portrait of himself in a shop "between the Doberman and Bruce Lee."

"The first verse of that song is completely true," he confesses. "I was driving through a town I grew up in and I looked over and there was a five and ten cent store with a black velvet painting of Bruce Lee, a picture of me on 'Born In The USA' and a picture of a dog next to me! I said Wow, I gotta get a photo of that! It was on sale for $19.99."

But did he invest?

"Actually, I did." He shakes his head with some wonderment at the notion of a songwriter ending up as a plaster saint. "You get to a point where you're like Santa Claus at the North Pole."

* * *

Bob Dylan's never-ending tour has pulled into Hollywood. Springsteen and Jon Landau, his manager/producer/friend for the last 17 years, join the crowds at the Pantages Theatre to watch the Godfather of all the legends continue the process of "dismantling his myth." An enquiry about whether he thinks it inevitable that he should go through the same process of deconstruction draws the usual considered response from Springsteen.<> Yes, he says, it's tough when you've had as much impact as Dylan's had. Then the rueful smile returns. "But as far as the whole myth thing goes, then hell, it ends up being dismantled for you anyway. It doesn't matter whether you do it or not, somebody's going to do it, you know? There's usually some elements of truth in it and there's usually a lot of bullshit in it that you've contrived in some fashion.

"I don't think any of that stuff really stands for very long anyway and that's as it should be. Whatever your recent image is, there are elements that are part of who you are and part of your personality but a lot of it is just some sort of collective imagining that you may have contributed to in some fashion and in other ways you haven't. It can end up being confining and so the best thing is to have all the holes poked in it. And," he cackles, "everybody's always willing to help you out!"

* * *

'Born in the USA' transformed Bruce Springsteen from a heavy cult act into one of the half- dozen leading international brands of the boom-boom '80s. Along with Madonna and Michael Jackson, he sold records in quantities that predecessors like The Beatles could never have dreamed of, made unprecedented sums of money and enjoyed the attentions of sections of the media who had never previously been bothered with music. That kind of success carries with it the implicit assumption of year on year growth. Right now, a couple of months after the simultaneous release of 'Human Touch' and 'Lucky Town,' there's a perception in the music business that they are commercial disappointments, certainly when compared to the wide- screen populism of 'Born In The USA.' ('Tunnel Of Love' was always too modest and understated to live up to the market's idea of a proper Springsteen album.)

The man at the center of the problem doesn't see it as a problem but clearly recognizes the pressures. Reflecting on the downside of the commercial and PR bonanza that was the 'Born In The USA' tour he says, "You get in a situation where the myth of success in America is so powerful that that story overwhelms the story that you may think you're telling. Success at that level is a tricky business because a lot of distortion creeps in and not being particularly a media manipulator, it was fascinating realizing that you really do comment on a lot of different levels. There's the songs you're writing and the things you're telling and then there's what's happening to you and that's also another story. I found very often that your success story is a bigger story than whatever you're trying to say on stage.

"I used to think that the idea was I come out on my stage and I do my best to bring out the best in you, which brings out the best in me. But sometimes you do your best and you pull out people's insanity or you pull out parts of your own insanity. It's not completely predictable, and when you lock into it on a very big level, it's a big wave that you ride and you try and stay on and think, What was that about? What did I accomplish? Where do I feel I've failed? I thought about all that stuff after we came home and when I did 'Tunnel of Love,' I think the idea was to reintroduce myself as a songwriter."

The 1986 live box set was intended to set the seal on an era that had begun 1O years earlier with 'Born To Run.' Talking at the time, he described the material written in between -- 'Darkness,' 'The River,' 'Nebraska,' 'Born In The USA' -- as a reaction against that anthem's blazing romanticism. Then newly and publicly married, he presented the sequence of songs as the personal odyssey of a man intent on carrying the flame of youth into the life of a grown- up, finally riding out of his hometown to the sound of Tom Waits's Jersey Girl, his best girl by his side and his demons laid to rest.

Then came 'Tunnel Of Love,' an extraordinary dispatch from the trenches of marital breakdown, and it was clear that domestic bliss wasn't dulling his edge. Either that or it wasn't all that blissful. The Springsteen of 'Human Touch' and 'Lucky Town' suddenly sounds like one of the world's older men. Songs like 'My Beautiful Reward' and 'The Big Muddy' manifest a new toughness, suggesting that rock's great existentialist has passed through a mid-life crisis and lived to tell the tale. The references are classical -- rivers, mountains, valleys and bluebirds of happiness; the mud defiles and the rain doth cleanse. The nature imagery "came out of listening to country music -- Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie... everybody has that landscape inside them, doesn't matter if you live in the city, it's a mythical landscape that everybody carries with them."

'With Every Wish' he soberly describes as about "growing up and realizing what a life with consequences is all about. When you're a kid, you have a dream and the way you imagine it is really a life without complications. When you get older, the trickiest thing is not to give in to cynicism, and you get to an age, particularly in 1992 in this country or in England, where you don't have the time to spare. You have to understand the limitations of your own life and keep pushing through it. That's what 'With Every Wish' is about, keeping on moving forward."

Talking in 1992, Springsteen is inclined to focus on what has happened to him personally since 'Born In The USA' and its attendant, record-shattering world tour and how determined he is to prove that it's possible for an artist to outrun the smothering maw of commercial expectation. 'Born In The USA' was a sales peak he may never scale again and artistically there seems every reason why he shouldn't even try.

Jon Landau underlines the point in one of those management/client testimonials that have unfortunately been debased by being claimed on behalf of too many hacks (see their manager's insistence that Spinal Tap's appeal was becoming "more selective"): "Growth from record to record is not part of Bruce's game plan. We release records that we know in advance are likely to have different degrees of success. When we put out 'Tunnel Of Love' we certainly didn't think it was going to be as popular as 'Born In The USA.' We're not in the business of taking X and forcing it into being Y. I'd encourage Bruce in his natural inclination to not get involved in the topping yourself game. Bruce's approach to his work and his whole life is very value-based. He approaches it with the full sensibility of the artist."

* * *

Los Angeles. On a hot Thursday in May, the artist drives his black Corvette down from his bourgeois house in the Hollywood Hills for another day's rehearsal with his new band. Inside a massive hangar, two huge stages face each other. The first is being readied for shipping to Stockholm for the first night of the world tour. On the second is enough equipment for a medium-sized club act. On a dais at the rear of the stage, six microphones are erected for backing singers being auditioned this week.

Stage right, in bowler hat and shorts, is the inscrutable figure of bass player Tommy Simms. Stage left we find guitarist Shane Fontayne, formerly of Muswell Hill, now domiciled in Los Angeles and looking like a cross between Slash and Danny Baker. At the drums is the slight, youthful figure of Zachary Alford. Sitting at a modest keyboard is the one survivor from the E Street Band, Roy Bittan. Pacing the wide open spaces center stage, worrying at the chords of 'Tougher Than The Rest,' is their leader.

Although the beard has been dispensed with, the motif is West Coast Romany. A flimsy print shirt is open to reveal a chest less mountainous than of yore. Three chains are interwined around his neck. Three earrings cluster in the left lobe. Peeking from the cuffs of some uniquely blue jeans are the inevitable heavy, buckled motorcycle boots. With the help of a light tan acquired on a short holiday the previous week, he looks about five years younger than he has any right to. Bruce Springsteen is 42.

His voice is suffering from the exertions of rehearsal and so today's rehearsal is largely instrumental. He tries 'The Long Goodbye,' 'Brilliant Disguise' and 'Gloria's Eyes,' experimenting with different sequences and segues. At this stage the first half of the show is worked out and now he's trying to piece together the drama of the second act. Taking a break and picking his way down the stairs with the rolling gait of a sailor reacquainting himself with dry land, he confesses that he hasn't decided what the climax will be and therefore it's not easy to see how to build to it.

"There's things that physically feel good one after another," he observes. "It's less intellectual and more just how it hits you as it comes up. I don't think people go to concerts for a fundamentally intellectual experience. It's more like, hey, how does it feel?"

Shane Fontayne, who has worked previously with Lone Justice and The Merchants Of Venus, finds the rehearsal process fascinating: "He's very focused in the way he wants it to sound. He doesn't walk around saying play this or play that. He'll be more allegorical in his description of the way he wants something to sound, say like fog rolling over the ground or something. He knows about restraint and how to get more power by holding something back."

The recruiting of this new group is the strongest indication of Springsteen's determination to re-enter the live arena on his own terms and to liberate himself from the need to do the kind of Greatest Hits shows which have become standard for artists of his popularity. The new line-up is smaller, there will be no saxophone or layers of keyboards and the emphasis will definitely be on post-'Born In The USA' material.

"I was lucky in that I had the greatest band in the world," he says of the severing of his relationship with the E Street Band. "Some of those guys I've known for 20 years. The way I look at it is I get paid to write a new song and I can't keep rewriting the old stuff. I played with a single set of musicians for a long time and I thought it was time to play with other people. Everybody sings their own spirit, their own personality, it's like a fingerprint; no two musicians play the same or bring to the stage something similar. I think the fundamental values remain. I don't have a plan. I'm just seeing what it is and playing in to it. It's going to be a very fun, hard rocking band. What else it's going to be I'm just watching it develop."

* * *

Roy Bittan got the call in 1990 informing him that Springsteen was planning a future without the E Streeters. "For three months I was watching the same 'Boss Fires Band' story on TV, which I don't think was ever really the case. Then he called me and I played him a track I'd done which was 'Roll Of The Dice' and he said, Come on, let's start working on this stuff."

These were the early stages of recording the album that became 'Human Touch.' A band of hardened studio pros were assembled and many songs were recorded with a view to their being edited down to a coherent single album. No less than four producers, including Springsteen, are credited on the finished record.

"On some records we have what you might call a small board," Springsteen grins when asked what they all do. "Charlie Plotkin is a go-between from the technology to the emotion, Roy Bittan works mainly tonally and texturally. Jon Landau is interesting in that despite being the most intellectual of the bunch he listens on the most gut level and simultaneously will look at the record and see what it's saying."

After 18 months, 'Human Touch' was completed. But because Springsteen "didn't feel that I'd gotten to everything I wanted to get to", they put it away for three months in order to take a longer view. Landau returned to the East where "Bruce Federal Expressed me two songs he'd worked up himself. They were 'Living Proof' and 'The Big Muddy' in substantially the form you hear them on that album. When I heard them, I just called and said, Whatever you're doing, just keep doing it. By the time I came out to visit a few weeks later, he had virtually all the 'Lucky Town' songs really in that sequence. I was astonished because it hit me as it hit Bruce that this was really a very distinct group of songs with a different voice and different sound."

Explaining the three-week brainstorm that produced 'Lucky Town,' Springsteen says: "Things come when they come. I don't have any one way of doing it. I started 'Human Touch' because I felt like I just had to get back to work. So we just started working on a record. Sometimes you work just to get through the work you're gonna do. All that work on 'Human Touch' was me trying to get to the place where I could make 'Lucky Town' in three weeks, through dredging through a lot of stuff and then bang, a lot comes flying out. I don't know the outcome when I start. One might be real work and a lot of time put in and then the other you really do click in to some other place and stay there for two or three weeks. It's really spontaneous."

The commitment to narrative coherence has been a feature of Springsteen's work since 'Born To Run.' For record companies used to dealing with acts who are ready to release as soon as they've worked up three singles and wadding, it's frustrating. Settling into a odd living room arrangement set up by a trailer in the corner of the soundstage and slurping noisily from a paper cup of tea, he responds to the suggestion that where 'Human Touch' is about a man falling from grace, 'Lucky Town' deals with redemption.

"That's how a good part of it felt to me. What people pay me money for is to be out on my point. I try to present what I stumbled around and groped my way into and I try to get some of that into my music in some fashion and that's when I feel good about releasing the stuff and committed to going on the road and getting involved in that life. I feel this is something that's not going to waste people's time. They may like it or not like it; it may be what you think rock 'n' roll is or not; but it's very centered and real. So if you want lo slice them up like that, there's a lot of groping around on 'Human Touch' and more on 'Lucky Town' about finding your place and re- finding yourself, getting back in touch with your own humanity and the good things that you feel about yourself.

"There's less fear on that record. If you go back to 'Cautious Man' on 'Tunnel Of Love' about the guy who has love and fear tattooed on his hands -- that's about the story for most people. There's a world of love there and there's a world of fear too and it's standing right in front of you and very often that fear feels a lot realer and certainly more urgent than the feeling of love. The night my son was born, I got close to a feeling of a real, pure, unconditional love with all the walls down. All of a sudden, what was happening was so immense that it just stomped all the fear away for a little while and I remember feeling overwhelmed. But I also understood why you're so frightened. When that world of love comes rushing in, a world of fear comes in with it. To open yourself up to one thing, you've got to embrace the other thing as well. And then you embrace those things that you're just around the corner from... oh, death, the whole nine yards. My music over the last five years has dealt with those almost primitive issues; it's about somebody walking through that world of fear so that he can live in the world of love."

* * *

Springsteen has little small talk. His answers to questions are all long, often mazy and frequently beyond the reach of punctuation, but they are always answers and do betray the signs of having had some considerable thought expended on them. It's difficult to spot the daylight between his public image and his personality as manifested in a private meeting. There is something faintly monkish about the seriousness with which he takes his responsibilities. The Springsteen image was tarnished in some eyes by one much-publicized court case brought in the late '80s by former Springsteen crew members Mike Batlan and Doug Sutphin in the course of which they alleged that their boss was a chiseling martinet who had fined them for damaging a canoe. These claims were even made the substance of a particularly gleeful cover story in one British music paper. In September of last year, the case was settled out of court but only after a burst of unpleasant publicity. His only comment now is: "I've been working a long time and I've only had a couple of law suits. It was tough because it was with people we've worked with over the years and without getting into a blow by blow account of the highs, the lows, the foibles and fumbles, I felt like I did the right thing in that particular case."

Unlike most rock stars, Springsteen has exceptionally good taste in the music of others and can always be relied upon for tips: current recommendations include David Baerwald's 'Bedtime Stories,' LA hard rock band Social Distortion and Dylan's 'Blind Willie McTell,' "a masterpiece". "I try to think like a fan," he says. "If I came to my music right now, what would I be looking for? I think people come to my music looking for certain specific things and in my head I make some of my music for that fan, initially. These records had to go to a certain place. I had a lot of changes in my life and everything you do ends up in the papers and so I was concerned with making music that was a connection."

At the end of the 'Born In The USA' tour, Springsteen married Julianne Phillips. When the marriage fell apart two years later and he took up a relationship with singer Patti Scialfa, the media embarked on a feeding frenzy. Wild speculation about multi-million dollar settlements, disagreements over whether or not to have children and drinking binges introduced Springsteen to a level of scrutiny he had never had to encounter when a mere rock star.

"People are interested in marriage everywhere, whether it's me or Princess Di or whoever," he allows. "I don't focus on it that much. I love my job and I love the things that it's brought me. If I had a choice, I'd do without that stuff but it comes with the territory. It's not really your life. What's important is what's happening, not what's written about what's happening. Who cares? It's just not real. The reality of your own life overwhelms whatever bullshit somebody's written about you in a newspaper for a couple of days."

The reality was an individual who found it difficult to function away from his professional life, as workaholic and driven as any advertising man: "In my business you're afforded the luxury of extended adolescence. I found I'd gotten very good at my job and because I was good at my job, for some reason I thought I was capable of a lot of other things, like relationships. If you're not good at those things and you're in your twenties, you don't notice it because you're too busy scuffling. But when you get a little older, you start to realize that there are all these other things that you're really bad at, that you've been failing miserably at for a long time. You begin to investigate what those things were, which is basically your real life, your life away from your guitar, your music, your work, your life outside your work. In that area over the past eight years, I've been investigating that and feeling I came up short in a lot of ways and I've been trying to sort my way through feeling good, whether I've got the guitar on or it's in its case, trying to get a little closer to walking it like you talk it. Which sometimes I've done OK and sometimes I haven't done all that well. A lot of the music is about pursuing what defines my manhood to me: what are my commitments and how to try and stick by them in a world where we can't ever really know anybody else or ever really know yourself."

Isn't that one of the themes of 'Tunnel Of Love': how people deceive themselves and how difficult it is to arrive at true love?

"I reached a point where I thought I knew myself very well and I had a variety of things happen where I realized I actually didn't. It was a very good eye-opener because it throws everything wide open; it's not that you don't know parts of yourself but very few people can confront themselves very accurately. We all live with our illusions and our self-image and there's a good percentage of that that's a pipe dream. If you can cut that stuff away, which I've tried to do in my music, and realize that I do this well but I'm taking baby steps in this other part of my life, it gets you closer to feeling a certain fullness in your life that I always felt like I was missing. I always enjoyed my work but when it came to functioning outside of that, I always had a hard time. So basically the music has been based around somebody in pursuit of whatever that thing is. 'Tunnel Of Love' was like that and with 'Human Touch' and 'Lucky Town,' I feel like I've finally got my feet on the floor as far as some of these things go."

One of the strongest threads running through his work since the early days has been the relationship between parents and children. With these albums and the births of Evan and Jessica, he's getting used to the view from the other side of the generation gap. Is it possible to imagine a future Springsteen album carrying a song that addresses a theme like 'Independence Day' or 'Used Cars' from the point of view of a middle-aged father? Can rock do those things? Should it?

"Absolutely. I think at different times rock music has encompassed a lot of outside topics. People have said it's not good at expressing political ideas, for instance. I think it's expressed political ideas very well. It hasn't had the power to make political changes but there are some great political rock songs. Certainly The Clash wrote some; Elvis Costello wrote 'Tramp The Dirt Down,' -- that was a great song. It's as good as the singer. I never placed any limits on it. I always wanted my shows to be fun where you could come and dance. I wanted my records to be the kind you could vacuum the floor to if you want to or you could sit down and they could center you or help you make some kind of sense of the world you live in. There's nothing particularly that I couldn't see myself writing about, I suppose. I don't know if I'm looking forward to it, but I guess I'll see what happens."

* * *

Later, in a hot, featureless green room across the way from the soundstage, as a caretaker empties the bins, he blows on the surface of his cup of tea, stares into the middle distance and describes the desolation at the heart of 'I Wish I Were Blind.'

"It's about that sinking feeling," he says, with the same hoarse, amazed whisper he uses to introduce songs on stage. "There's a world of love, a world of beauty, a world of fear and a world of loss and they are the same world and that person is wending his way through that maze and at that moment he's very in touch with both of those things. That song gets that picture. Most of the stuff does. That's where its universality lies. There's a limited interest in your accoutrements, whatever they may be. Success makes life easier. It doesn't make living easier. I've enjoyed it and I've had great fun with it, but there have been very tough times and it's the lucky seat, you know?

"You've got to be engaged with the stuff that life is made out of. What I've tried to do in this new music is that I've previously written a lot about certain things which were caught up in my past. I came out of a working-class environment, played in working-class bars, and my history just drew me towards those topics naturally. I didn't have any particular political world view or any rhetoric which I was trying to get across in any way. It was just those were the things that felt urgent. I wrote a lot about that and I'm proud of that music. But I felt at the end of 'Born In The USA' that I'd said all I wanted to say about those things. My battles were elsewhere.

"There was a point where I felt that for me to confront the things that I was frightened of lay elsewhere on different battlefields. I pursued those things in my music and tried to sort them out in my life at the same time, in order to make some real connection beyond the connection that I make through my work. On stage, I talk a lot about community but it's very difficult for me to connect up with anything. From my youth, I had a tendency to be isolated psychologically. All my music is a journey towards some sort of connection with both people at large and then a person, whether it's in your family or your girlfriend or your wife. That's how you remain vital and don't get lost in the furniture that comes with making a few bucks. That's what I've pursued. For me, this music is about trying to get closer, trying to take down the walls that I had left up. Everybody does that. Everybody struggles towards feeling good enough about themselves to connect up with someone who can shine something good about themselves back on to them. And then to invest in it and not be afraid of that investment and not be afraid of its commitment or its responsibilities.

"That's what the guys on these records are struggling towards -- making some peace with those things. Everybody does it. It's happening on every block in some fashion or other. I felt there were a lot of things I'd not written about and I was feeling the results of not having dealt with those things in my own experience. And it was roll up your sleeves time and get into this: women, friendship, real connection. The way that I grew up, men come unprepared, so you've got to prepare yourself if you're going to make it."

Have you ever had therapy?

"Oh sure. I did anything I could which would help me find my way through the thing. Like anything else, it's just a tool that helps you center yourself. It's tricky if you grew up the way I grew up. Everybody says, you some kind of nut? That old thing. I guess it's commonplace these days but I don't want to get into some celebrity bawl-fest." And he giggles. " Oh, my trials, my tribulations!"

There is the view that artists put so much into their work they don't have enough left to live a rounded personal life...

"I think that's bullshit," he immediately returns. "That's the excuse that everybody uses. You do this. You don't have to do anything else. You're the guy that plays the guitar, you don't have to sort out your relationship with people. I don't believe that's true, not if you want to live a realized life."

* * *

On June 8 last year, to the strains of various E Street alumni strumming a Scottish folk tune, Bruce Springsteen married Patti Scialfa in the garden of their Beverly Hills home. They now have two children and lead the congenial life of rich Californians, visiting his old home in New Jersey for just a couple of months a year. LA offers sun, early nights ("no later than 11 right now"), relative anonymity and the chance "to live in the here and now."

"I lived in New Jersey for a very long time and I'd written about a lot of things which were very tied in to my past, a lot of ghosts you're chasing. I felt like whatever they were, that was done for me. I'd taken that as far as I could and I was interested in making a break with whatever people's perceptions of me were up to that point. In my own life, I was just interested in putting some distance between me and not New Jersey the state but whatever some part of that meant for me inside.

"I came out. I had a really beautiful house and Patti and I got together and had the babies and it was just a good place. I had four or five years where I just basically went about my life. It was also a way of saying you just move on down the road. People always came West to re- find themselves or to re-create themselves in some fashion. This is the town of re- creation, mostly in some distorted way, but the raw material is here, it's just what you make it. I like the geography, I like the desert and a half- hour from my house you're in the San Gabriel Mountains where there's a hundred miles and one store. It was just a good place to make a new start, and for Patti and I to find each other and find ourselves and have our babies."

The band were ensconced in this rehearsal hall the afternoon of April 30 when the LA riots began. "You can go five blocks that way and you'll see burned out buildings. That was the day when all the invisible walls that get put up -- LA is actually a very segregated city -- all the walls started falling. You can feel them starting to melt away. The inner cities are reaching a critical mass at this point. People have been abandoned, thrown away, tossed out. The way that people have dealt with it over the past 10 years has just been denial. That's not happening here, that's happening over there. The answer has been, let's get more police, let's build bigger prisons.

"I don't even know whether people can look towards government to do the job at this point. In the States, people have lost their faith that government can tackle those problems. It's hard to see whether people themselves have the will to sustain the type of effort that might give people a fighting chance in just the small respects of leading a decent life. I have a nice house, I live in a great part of town, I made a lot of money and I think you feel frustrated. In the days after the riots you had military helicopters buzzing 30 feet over your back yard every 15 minutes. There was a big outpouring of, What can we do? You try to figure out what can you do individually and then what can you press on your elected representatives to do and then is that really going to be enough? I have no idea."

* * *

The European leg of the world tour offers a rare opportunity for Springsteen fans to see him play indoors, the first such opportunity since 1981. ("I was talking to Edwin Starr about British fans last time I was there and he felt the same as I did, that those people are with you for the long haul.") The likelihood is that the tour will move outdoors during the American stage in the late summer.

"I tend to like to play inside. Even in a big place. I just feel it's appropriate. I don't know why. There should be some smoke and some sweat. I've had some beautiful nights outside with the moon coming up and people having a great time but it's a different kind of experience. A stadium is an event in itself. Sixty thousand people in one place is an event in itself. In an arena you can still capture quite a bit of the concert feel. We just played the Bottom Line and it allowed for a certain casualness. You could be a lot less planned. That I probably miss. The bigger the place gets, the more you concentrate on focusing people, getting their attention in the first place and carrying it where the show is going. That takes concentration and preparation. In a club you have everybody's attention and so you can change a string, tell a story and they'll watch."

This time around he's unlikely to do any cover versions ("I've got my own oldies now") and the smart money is on a leaner kind of show with fewer crowd pleasers, a show which will find more favor with hard core fans. Is he anticipating any negative reaction?

"I'm pretty confident of what we're gonna be doing. There's always, I wished you'd played this or that or I liked you better when you had a beard or when you were young. I've got 20 years behind me at this point and everybody's got their favorite part, everybody's got a different thing. I don't think about it. All I think about is how to keep it alive for me, because if I can't do that it's not going to be any good to anybody else. How do I keep it real and keep it alive and keep it vital for me and my audience? I'm not interested in being a nostalgia act. We'll probably play some of the old things, the stuff that feels like it's relevant to what I'm doing now. I had all that in 1978 when I put out 'Darkness On The Edge Of Town,' people saying, Hey, you lost it after 'Born To Run'!

"I always wanted my shows to be a little bit like a circus, a touch of political rally, a little touch of a lot of different things. Really, in the end I want people to go away feeling more connected to each other and connected in their own lives and to the whole world around them, and to accomplish that you got to be connected. Any good show does that. If you went to see Jackie Wilson in the late '60s, he did that, and he did it with three songs."

We wind up and head back across the yard as the shadows lengthen. Touring, he says, is not just about promoting your record, it's to do with going to meet your audience. "These are people you have a relationship with like you have a relationship with your wife, your family and friends," he argues.

"I look at myself and I feel like I'm a lifetime musician. I've had some unusual success which surprised me, and I enjoyed it when it happened, dealt with it pretty well, played well on the 'Born In The USA' tour and if you came and saw the show, you got a pretty good picture of what it was like in this country in the '80s. I felt I did good with it but then you know there's always the Louie Louie thing..."

Ah yes, the Louie Louie thing.

"Yes," he says and leans towards me. "Nobody's quite sure, What IS that guy singing?" He laughs.