Human Touch

Guitar World, 1995-10, by: Neil Strauss
In his only in-depth interview during 1995, Springsteen talks about the E-Street Band reunion, "alternative" rock, and his desire to turn up the volume.
You can tell a lot about a musician by how they arrive at an interview. Some come with their manager, others with a publicist. Some come with their bodyguards, others with a retinue of hangers-on. Bruce Springsteen came to this interview alone. He drove himself from his home in Rumson, New Jersey, to the Sony Studios in Manhattan in his black Explorer van, and he arrived early. Sitting alone with his backto the door in a darkened conference room, a mass of flannel and denim with a glinting silver-cross earring, he didn't need much prodding to be talked into heading to a nearby bar for drinks and atmosphere.

Springsteen entered the 1990s on shaky ground. He fired his longtime back-up group, the E- Street Band, bought a $14 million spread in Beverly Hills, divorced his first wife, model Julianne Phillips, and married Patti Scialfa, a member of his backing band. Since then, his career has been the subject of hot debate. What is his relevance in the'90s? Does his solo work hold up to his recordings with the E-Street Band? Is he losing touch with his audience?

But in the past year, Springsteen ended the controversy. He recorded his most successful solo song ever, "Streets of Philadelphia," earning himself a shelf full of Grammys and an Academy award, and re-formed the E-Street Band to record new songs for his greatest hits album, which shot to number one on the charts. On Labor Day weekend, he performed at the opening ceremony for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum in Cleveland, an institution into which he will no doubt be inducted when he is eligible in two years.

In a documentary being put together from twenty-three hours of film that were shot while the E- Street Band was recording the new songs last winter, the reunion seemed like an easy one. Three days after Springsteen called the band, they were in the studio, stretching what was supposed to be a two-day process into seven days. In one scene that doesn't seem created for the camera, the band gives their saxophonist, Clarence Clemons, a cake on his birthday and he gushes, "This is the best present a person could have for his birthday, being among you guys." During the recording of "Secret Garden," a song that Springsteen originally wrote for his upcoming solo album, the democratic process comes clear when Springsteen hands out pieces of paper so the band can anonymously vote for or against the inclusion of string arrangements in the song.

Springsteen takes his interviews as seriously as he takes his music. During the questioning, he stared intently across the table, face still except for batting eyes, body solid and immobile except for constantly fidgeting hands, and set about answering each question as meaningfully as he could. Giving the waitress a 200 percent tip for his beer and a shot of tequila, he pulled up a chair at a table next to the jukebox in a dark corner of the bar and began.

NEIL STRAUSS: In reviewing materal and putting together your Greatest Hits album earlier this year, did you learn anything new about your songs or see the evolution of the characters that tie them together in any new way?

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: I do think, if you lay out your work from end to end, automatically a story occurs. Particularly in my stuff, where I was interested in sustaining a thread of some sort, and following people through different parts of their lives. I did feel like I could see myself way back when at the beginning of the record, and then towards the end of the record I felt just very in the present. I learned a lot of things.

NEIL STRAUSS: Instead of doing a greatest hits album, did you ever consider just putting out what you thought were your most useful songs?

SPRINGSTEEN: That would be so personal. It might be more interesting and maybe fun to write about, but the scheme of songs was pretty much Jon's [Landau, Springsteen's manager] idea. We didn't try to get into a best of, because everybody's got their own ideas. Basically it was songs that came out as singles. The only exception is "Thunder Road" but it seemed central.

I like the classic idea of hits; some of them aren't hits, but you know. It was sort of like 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong. That was what we were thinking when we put it out. It was supposed to be fun, something that you could vacuum the rug to if you wanted to. I think part of the reason we put the record out was that I wanted to introduce my music to younger fans who could go in and buy it for 12 bucks and get a pretty good overview of what I've done over the years. So it was an introduction for them and for my older fans I wanted to say, "This means something to me now, you mean something to me now." It was just kind of a way of re-affirming the relationship that I've built up with my audience over the past 25 years, which outside of my family is the most important relationship in my life.

NEIL STRAUSS: You didn't include any material from your first two LPs on this album. How did you decide what to put on the greatest hits album, and which of your new songs to save for later?

SPRINGSTEEN: Jon's idea was that the record start out with "Born to Run." My previous records were very sort of eclectic. He just thought the record started out nicely with that particular song, and it did. There was a discussion about whether to include "Blinded By the Light." It might have been another single. I guess if we were trying to give an accurate historical whole thing. But the bottom line is that there's a limited amount of space. We only wanted one CD so that it would be really affordable and people could go out and buy only one record without getting overly involved. And it's a sampler. The basic idea was that it be a sampler. I think songs change with the times, you recontextualize them. Part of the thing of doing a record like that is you get a chance to recontextualize them somewhat. In that sense, it'san opportunity to sort of hear something again. It's interesting because it does sound different in different contexts.

NEIL STRAUSS: The liner notes on this album sound so wistful. You talk of the lost innocence and naivete of your early work, yet as far back as "Thunder Road" you were writing, "Maybe we ain't that young anymore."

SPRINGSTEEN: With the notes I was trying to use my own voice to bring the fans closer to that particular music. The music came from so many different places. Take "Thunder Road." It's a funny song, and it does have innocence in it, but at the same time it's sort of strange to write that particular line when you are twenty-four. And I think part of the notes was anxiety over that at the time. Oh my god, you know, is it over? Is it beginning? I don't know. Looking back on it, I've enjoyed a lot of it, I enjoyed those particular things. There's just a lot of powerful young musicians out there saying "Hey, there's something wonderful about that record coming on the radio, being broadcast through the whole country."

NEIL STRAUSS: Many of those songs, most notably "Born in the USA" have been co-opted and misunderstood by politicians, probably because of the way you'll frame a dark song between anthemic choruses. How do you feel about that?

SPRINGSTEEN: It's frustrating because if you look at it, people move to art for inspiration. But at some point, politics takes over. And I think as you get older, you battle against your own cynicism and your own despair. The pace that things change at, the way they change and the course they take gets trickier to fight against. You know, when you're writing songs, you're a storyteller, you're the myth maker and basically I think people go to art and music as a way to order their lives in a world that feels so out of order. It's a way of centering yourself and grounding yourself in a set of values, a sense of things that you can go back and touch base with.

NEIL STRAUSS: That's what songwriters are supposed to do in the classic sense. But musicians don't always think of themselves that way. Without giving up your pop dreams, you've managed to avoid letting them blind you to your relationship with your audience or your function in society.

SPRINGSTEEN: It's interesting because when I started out making music I wasn't fundamentally interested in having a big hit right away. I was into writing music that was going to thread its way into people's lives. I was interested in becoming a part of people's lives, and having some useful-ness; that would be the best word. I would imagine a lot of people that end up going into the arts or film or music, at some point somebody told them they were useless. Everyone has felt that. So I know that one of the main motivations for me was to try to be useful, and then of course all those other pop dreams of the Cadillac or the girls. All the stuff that comes with it was there, but sort of on the periphery. In some way I was trying to find a fundamental purpose for my own existence. And basically trying to enter people's lives in that fashion and hopefully maintain that relationship over a lifetime, or at least as long as I felt I had something useful to say. That was why we took so long in between records. We made a lot of music. There's albums and albums sitting in the can. But I just didn't feel they were that useful. That was the way that I measured the records I put out.

NEIL STRAUSS: Would you ever release some of that unreleased material, some of the outtakes?

SPRINGSTEEN: A lot of fans have asked for out-takes and I have so many sitting around. It might be fun at some point to throw together some sort of collection of some of the stuff that might have been the most fun; like my attempts at bubble-gum music and all the different genres of out-takes that might be interesting. I used to work in all these different genres and some of it was all the way from a bubble-gum sort of thing to stuff that felt more pop-oriented to the British invasion to all different sorts of things. We'd go in the studio and say, "Tonight is Beatles night," and we'd put things together that had all these influences just either for fun or because we thought they were going to work out at the time. In the end, I would generally opt for things that had the most of my own voice. But a lot of the other stuff was fun and at some point might be a blast for some of the fans to hear.

NEIL STRAUSS: What do you think your fans expect from you at this point in your career?

SPRINGSTEEN: It varies. I think you have all different types of fans. You have very ideological fans who are concerned with your purity in some fashion and which is some sort of transference of their own stuff. And there are all different types of fans you know... and I guess your fan wants you to do your best work at any given point in time and move on down the road. You can't allow yourself to be paralyzed by the fact that you're not going to be all things to all people, that's all there is to it. That's just not going to happen. So you've got to sort of choose your own road, take your chances, and go with it.

It happens to anybody who steps into the pop arena, you know. The pop world is a world of symbolism, it is not the real world, and I think it makes life difficult. But at this point, if you've had a long history of work, you'll meet people who are very attached to different parts of you at different points in your life and feel you went wrong after your first record, after your second record, then you found it again here, then you lost it.... I mean, there's so many different attitudes and opinions about what you should be and who you should be that you had better have a strong one of your own.

NEIL STRAUSS: Do you ever hear from long-term fans who think you sold out after your earlier albums?

SPRINGSTEEN: Yeah, in my hometown, because their was no electric guitar on it. I went back to my hometown, and all I heard was you know, "What happened to the electric guitar?" So it started right then. I think that you've got to have a strong opinion of your own, you've got to be centered or else those things are gonna keep you from going your own way. You can't get into a game of ultimately attempting to satisfy different segments of your audience, or your entire audience. It's alosing game, it's a loser's game. You've just got to play it as it lays and move on. That's the only chance I think you have of remaining vital and alive and grounded.

NEIL STRAUSS: Before you ever started recording, you were known more as a guitarist than as a songwriter. Do you ever think about stepping out as a guitarist again?

SPRINGSTEEN: I did it to myself. I was always the guitar player in the band. But I reached a point in the early '70s where I said, "There are so many good guitarists, but there are not a lot of people who have their own voice in songwriting." And I really focused on songwriting. And then when I put a band together; because I was really signed as a folk artist by John Hammond, who didn't know that I everhad a band ever; they wanted a folk album. So basically everything came to be about ensemble playing. Clarence came along and he plays saxophone. He's sort of a force of nature, so if it was a solo I wanted to hear, I let him do it. I put a lot of my guitar playing in the rear, but I'd like at this point to bring it back. As a matter of fact, I played with the Blasters the other night. It was fun. I was back to being just a blues guitarist, which I used to play all the time.

There's an L.A. roots-rock scene that's fabulous. There's a lot of tremendous musicians; country-and rockabilly-oriented groups; that are fabulous, like Big Sandy and the Flyright Trio. At some point, I'd like to toy around with making a record that's centered around loud guitars. I'll do it whenever I get a chance to play a little more. At some point I sort of opted out of the jam thing and opted into more just basically the songs being the message, where the solo was there in service of the music. At some point, I'd like to do something where I've got to really play, you know. Now I feel like I'm at a place where I can do anything that I'd like. I want to do the music that feels like my solo music, I want to work with the band. I like a lot of different types of music and musical styles. I want to have at some point a chance to use all those things. The best point about being at this place in your work is you can be more relaxed about it. I think it's more like your job now, and you're just going out and trying new things that are hopefully interesting for your fans and for you.

NEIL STRAUSS: You mentioned earlier about how "Thunder Road" seemed central to your work. Why do you think so?

SPRINGSTEEN: I'm not sure what that song has. We played that song one night near here at the Sony studio when we were taping a European show, and it just felt all-inclusive. It may be something about trying to seize a particular moment in your life and realizing you have to make very fundamental and basic decisions that you feel will alter your life and how you live it. It's a funny song because it contains both dreaming and disillusionment simultaneously.

NEIL STRAUSS: That's kind of what Melissa Etheridge was saying when she introduced "Thunder Road" on Unplugged. It was just before you came onstage, and she said, "If anyone can make you dream, it's Bruce Springsteen."

SPRINGSTEEN: You know, you write your music and you never know where the seeds that you sow are going to fall. Melissa Etheridge comes out of the Midwest, and she comes out of the gay bars, and I like that that's where some of my influences fall. I think that was a big part of what my songs were about: being who you are, and trying to make the world that you want to live in in some fashion. I think you just want to do your bit and carry on the flame, and do what was done for you by a generation of musicians.

I was basically a traditionalist and I saw I liked the whole idea of a lineage of rock and roll in some fashion. My whole idea was I always saw myself as the kid who stepped up out of the front row and onto the stage and had the guitar for a while and carried that particular flame. And you take it as far as you can and write your own map for other people to follow a little bit. You try to not make the mistakes that people who came before you made and in some fashion reset some of the rules of the game if you can. So that was my idea about what I was here to do. I wasn't interested in immediate success or how much each particular record was selling. I was interested in becoming part of peoples' lives and part of fans' lives and hopefully growing up with them, you know, growing up together.

I grew up on popular music. I came from a small town. The subversiveness of the top 40 radio can't be over-estimated. I grew up on music that was popular, that was in the top 20 or the top 40, or whatever it was at that time. I sat in my bedroom and I wrote the top 20 down religiously every Wednesday night, cheering for my heroes and hissing the villains of the day. So I wanted to play in that arena. I believed that it was a place where you will find both the strengths and the limitations of your work, who you are and who you are not. And I thought it was a worthwhile thing to risk. There was an element of risk in it because you're very exposed, you're very under the magnifying glass, and it can be relentless and brutal. For me the town I grew up in was very divided; racially and classwise; and yet there were songs that united everyone at some point, like the great Motown music.

NEIL STRAUSS: It's funny because alternative rock now is almost a reaction against your experience of music growing up. They don't want to carry the flame but to stamp it out. Yet you've told me before how much you like alternative music, and I saw you play with Soul Asylum in New York.

SPRINGSTEEN: Look at a band like Nirvana. That's a band that reset the rules of the game. They changed everything, they opened a vein of freedom that didn't exist previously. The singer did something very similar to what Dylan did in the '60s, which was to sound different and get on the radio. Your guitarist could sound different and get heard. So there are a lot of very fundamental rules that they reset, and that type of band is very few and far between. The same with a lot of early rap stuff, which was a return of the rawness of the '50s' records, direct from the street. And it changed the conventional ideas of how drums should sound, how guitars should sound, how a singer should sound; even if you have to sing at all. So those are things that keep the music moving forward.

With alternative music, I think sometimes about the overall corporateness of everything and how that effects your thought processes. How do you find a place of your own when you're constantly being bombarded with just so much frigging information that you really and truthfully don't need? What you see on TV is not a mirror image of most people's daily existence. Your chances of having a violent altercation are relatively small, unless you watch television, in which case you'll be brutalized every day. And I think that what people are feeling is other people's fingerprints on their mind. And that seems to be a real strong and vital subject at the moment that runs through a lot of alternative music. And I feel it myself, you know. And hey, there needs to be a voice against that sort of co-option of your own thinking space. What are your memories? What are your ideas? Everything is pre-packaged, whether it's baby-boomer memories or whatever, and sold to you as desirable or seductive in some fashion. So how do you find out who you are, create your own world, find your own self? That's the business of rock music in the 90s.

NEIL STRAUSS: How did you meet Soul Asylum?

SPRINGSTEEN: Basically I just came to see them perform. They opened up for Keith Richards, and I went backstage and we just briefly spoke. I think he said he had seen us years ago in Minneapolis, and we just kind of said hello and met the guys in the band. I was familiar with the band mostly just from the Grave Dancers. I hadn't heard their earlier stuff. They did a great version of "Rhinestone Cowboy" when they opened for Richards. And they said, just come up and play, and I just came up and sat in a little bit. They're just a good band, a real good band, [Pirner's] a good songwriter.

NEIL STRAUSS: When people refer to you, they say, praisingly, that you're "real." What do you think that means?

SPRINGSTEEN: I'm not sure what it means. I'm not sure if it's the right word. Maybe grounded might be better to put it. When I separated from the E-Street Band, there was tremendous feedback from the fans. Somefans were hurt because I think one of the values of my music was about loyalty, friendship, and remembering the past. So at some point, the question becomes how do you stay true to those values but yet grow up and become your own man. And I think I've tried to thread my way through those things as best as possible. And I think I've done pretty good. I certainly haven't done perfectly and, of course, it ain't over yet. But I think that basically you know there's a certain amount of things that every fan creates for you in their head that may not be completely you in any fashion. I think the pressure to be grounded and for fans to feel like you're speaking to them in some fashion is good. That's what I want to do. But you also want to make the music you want to make, live the life that wherever the road you're travelling on leads you, and live with the contradictions that are a part of finding the large audience and having the success in the world that you live in.

NEIL STRAUSS: Pirner has said that his friends don't trust him to be real anymore. Have you experienced that, too?

SPRINGSTEEN: You always deal with that. There are certain friends that believe your success changes them. I'm lucky. I have a handful of relationships I've had since I was very young, and that I maintain, and that mean a great, great deal to me, both within the band and a few outside of the band. It's tricky. There are people who assume since this happened and that happened, you've changed. You do change in some ways, but not necessarily in some fundamental ways. It depends on who you are and what you want. I wanted these friendships to last. Thereare these three brothers particularly that I spend time with back when I'm home, and take these trips into the desert on motorcycles once a year. We have a great time. I'm not sure how everybody experiences those types of friendships as they grow older. But I'm lucky in that I did something where people that I met when I was very young, people that I liked, and that liked me, we did something together. We did something.

NEIL STRAUSS: Have you ever gone anywhere where people had never heard of New Jersey?

SPRINGSTEEN: I played a show in San Francisco. I used to open up for Charlie Musslewhite and Boz Scaggs, and I remember being in the men's room. This guy goes, "Where are you from?" I said, "New Jersey." He said, "What's that?" I said, "It's a state! Don't you know?!" I always remember that. For some reason that always stayed with me, that guy standing there saying "What's that?"

Another hilarious thing that happened was I was in Holland and this guy takes us out in a boat and we go to this pizza place and for some reason we got started talking about Holland. And he starts saying, "They don't know what they're doing. You know how you go to the United States and there's the New Jershians." He kept pronouncing it "New Jershians." Now he doesn't know where we're from. "The New Jershians, they don't know their asses from a hole in the head. The New Jershians." So he's speaking to an entire table full of New Jershians. And we go, "Wait a minute buddy, we're from New Jersey."

NEIL STRAUSS: When you write a song, how do you know whether it's an E-Street Band song or a solo song?

SPRINGSTEEN: The band is a connection to a sort of broader subject matter. I think if I go to write for them, I'll write differently than I will when I go to write for myself. It's very internal, psychologi-cal, my solo writing. So one of my interests in reconnecting was writing slightly broader subject matter with them once again. For some reason, and I don't know why, their presence moves me in that direction.

When I was working on my last bunch of material, I realized there is something I tend not to do without the band's presence. And I was wondering what that was. I think that the band was a symbolic bridge between me and my audience. When you lead a musician's transient life, the community that you imagined and wrote about, you don't really become a part of. The band was sort of the physical manifestation of those things, your neighbors, and your friends, and the people you've got to live with. When I go to write for myself, it's very internal and psychological. So one of my interests in reconnecting with the band was writing slightly broader subject matter with them once again.

NEIL STRAUSS: Was "Blood Brothers" [on the Greatest Hits album] a sort of re-examination of what the E-Street Band meant to you, and why you fired them though you know they will always be with you in some form or fashion?

SPRINGSTEEN: "Blood Brothers" was sort of trying to understand the meaning of friendship as you grow older. I guess I wrote it the night before I went in the studio with the band, and I was trying to sort out what I was doing and what those relationships meant to me now and what they mean to you as you move through your life. Basically, I guess I always felt that the friendships, the loyalties and the relationships, those are the bonds that keep you from slipping into the abyss of self-destruc-tiveness. And without those things, that abyss feels a lot closer, on your heels. I think your own nihilism feels a lot closer without someone to grab you by the arm and pull you out of it and say, "Hey, come on, you're having a bad day." So with the song I was trying to sort out the place that those deep friendships played in my life, friendships that I had when I was young. We all grew up together, and people got married and divorced and had babies and went through their addictions and out the other side, and we drove each other crazy.

NEIL STRAUSS: Did it feel right to be back with the band again, like a return to something?

SPRINGSTEEN: We hadn't worked together in eight years and really hadn't recorded together in 10 years. I did a lot of solo stuff, which I found satisfying. But at the same time, I don't think I'd want to have to choose between the band and the solo stuff. I think I'd like to have both things. One of the things I realized when I saw the guys was that when we sit, they're like your arms and your legs and you.

NEIL STRAUSS: When you sing in "Blood Brothers," "I don't know why I made this call/Or if any of this matters anymore after all," is that about when you called up and fired each band member?

SPRINGSTEEN: No, because we got along pretty well, all the guys in the band. I mean we had our moments and everybody drove everybody else nuts sometimes. But people pretty much liked one another, maybe because it wasn't a band that was set up as a democracy, like maybe the Rolling Stones are, but it wasn't either purely people I'd hired as a backing band. It was somewhere in the grey area in the middle. I wanted something that felt like mine, I wanted people that I felt close to, I wanted the best of both worlds: creative control and people whom I could collaborate emotionally with, who felt connected to the music and the things I was writing about.

Over the years that we were not working together, we had various conversations, some conten-tious. Some people were hurt, some people were angry. But I love all the guys in the band. So it wasn't hard. We decided on like a Thursday to record some new songs. I think I called the guys, and we were all together on the following Monday or Tuesday and just happy to see one other.

You have to understand, there were guys that I met in that band when we were 19 years old, in Asbury Park. We were all together for 20 years. So it's very unusual that the people you met when you were 19 you're still sitting in the same room with when you're 39. And it bred a certain sort of dedication. It came with a certain sense of purpose. And there's an intimacy that occurs after hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of nights on stage that is very unique. I'm not sure what I would compare it to. Imagine that; imagine finding a group of people when you were just out of high school that you did something together with that lasted for 25 or 35 years. It's an amazing thing. And it's a gift that life doesn't often afford. Without sounding too hokey about it, it was pretty easy to call everybody up.

NEIL STRAUSS: The word reunion implies nostalgia, a return to the past. How can you keep that from happening?

SPRINGSTEEN: I'd like to think that my main interest with working with the band would be about the new music that I'm going to write. That would be my interest in the connection because, like I said, I've worked for ten years and I've found that I sort of drift in a particular direction, and I think that for some reason their presence moves me to write in a broader; for lack of a better term; subject matter.

I think what circumvents nostalgia, hopefully, is depth. And with work that's had a big impact for me, something like "Like a Rolling Stone," it can stir up nostalgic feelings. But when you're playing it, and you're continually listening to it, and it's just really great; then, now, whenever. It's just really good. So I think that you've got to carry the baggage that you've travelled with over the years, but I wouldn't be interested in working with a band as an exercise in nostalgia. It wouldn't be particularly interesting.

NEIL STRAUSS: For many musicians, having children changes the way they write songs and experience the world. Is that true with you?

SPRINGSTEEN: When you have your children basically the best thing, the nicest thing you can do for them is to slip into their time, into the way that they experience the world and the way that they experience the day. And that can be hard to do if you're a restless, anxious, nervous person, and if you're also someone who at some point has always asked people to step into your world. Once you have the kids, you realize that's hard to do. By the time I had kids, I'd burned out on the idea of, you know, whatever that idea is about living internally and for your own excitement. I just had to give that up, that type of control. I think at some point you don't need that as much as you thought you did. You feel more centered and safer with kids and marriage, so then you have a lot more emotional flexibility, and that allows you to go along with other peoples' lives. For me it can still be a struggle sometimes. I think I've been a good dad, but it calls for a whole other type of responses than the ones that I've used for the past 30 years.

NEIL STRAUSS: Before you ever married, you wrote a number of songs about characters that had wives and kids.

SPRINGSTEEN: Yeah, I was probably testing it out.

NEIL STRAUSS: Do you feel that you portrayed those relationships accurately before you had even experi-enced them?

SPRINGSTEEN: Well, there were a lot of different types of portrayal. I guess the songs that come to mind when you talk about it would probably be "The River," "I Want to Marry You," which is just a guy standing on the corner fantasizing, and "Stolen Cars." I stayed away from that subject for a long time. I didn't write about relationships, probably because I didn't know much about 'em and I wasn't very good at 'em, and also it was a subject in pop music that had been written about so much and I wasn't interested in writing just your classic sort of pop love songs. Later on when I did write about them, I tended to write about them with all the complications, the real complications, that they involve. I tried to write a more realistic sort of love song, like "Brilliant Disguise" or any of the stuff from Tunnel of Love, or any of the stuff from my Lucky Town record. I just wanted something that felt grounded in the kind of tension and compromise that these things really involve.

NEIL STRAUSS: What kind of advice would you give the young Bruce Springsteen now?

SPRINGSTEEN: Two things. One, I would tell him to approach his job like on one hand, it's the most serious thing in the world and on the other hand, as if it's only rock and roll. You have to keep both of those things in your head at the same time, simultaneously. I still believe you have the possibility of influencing peoples' lives in some fashion, and at the same time it's only entertainment and you want to get people up and dancing. I think I took it very seriously. I don't regret doing so, but I think that I would have been a bit easier on myself as I went along and I would have been less self-punishing at different times if I'd remembered that it was only rock and roll. Being a little bit worried about it can be dangerous. It's a minefield, it's dangerous for your inner self and also for whatever your ideas and values are that you want to sing about. It should be fun too.

You drift down your different self-destructive roads at different times and hopefully you have those bonds that pull you back out of that abyss and say, 'Hey, wait a minute." I was in London and I was twenty-five and there were posters of me everywhere in this theater that were making me want to throw up and puke. I was disgusted at what I'd become, and then someone in the band would say, "Hey, do you believe we're in London, England, and we're going to play tonight and somebody's going to pay us for it?" So I was lucky. I had good friends and a good support network that assisted me along the way. In retrospect, I look back on those times now and they were just funny, you know. My concern was because I'd read the maps of the people that came before me and I was interested in being something different, and accomplishing something slightly different. So that was why I was worried, and there was good cause for worry.

NEIL STRAUSS: And what advice would the young Bruce Springsteen give you?

SPRINGSTEEN: Louder guitars.


Interview conducted September 1995