Overtime with Bruce Springsteen

Washington Post, 2009-12-04, by: Joe Heim
The Post's Joe Heim interviewed Bruce Springsteen backstage on November 20 before his concert in Baltimore for this story about the Kennedy Center Honors. Here are some additional thoughts from Springsteen that do not appear in the piece:
Q: You used to talk about these famous battles that you would have with your dad. I wonder what your dad would think about you winning the highest honor that America gives to its artists.

A: First he would not have known what it was. (Laughs.) After my mother got done explaining it to him, it would have been like, "Well, that's nice." I had that experience when I won the Oscar back in mid-90s and I put it on the kitchen table. And it's there and he says, "Oh, I'll never tell anybody what to do ever again." (Laughs.) He took a lot of satisfaction and enjoyment out of the work that I did and the success that we had towards the whole last 10-15 years of his life. So, I wish he was around to be here. It would have meant a tremendous amount to the two of us. My mother will be here, but I would like to have had him here.

Q: You said your 50s were this incredibly fruitful period. Do you have that same expectation for your 60s or no?

A: Yeah, I do. I have a lot of ideas in the bag right now. I have a lot of things I'm working . . . I feel like writing is at its most natural now and it comes to me. You've studied your craft enough to know to make it a simple process. You know when something's not so great. You know when an idea is not going to work out.

When I was young I was going on my instincts. Now, once you hit 60, you have your instincts and you have your creative intelligence. Your instincts, genius can come out of that. All the original rock and rollers had incredibly creative instincts. But if you don't develop your creative intelligence, you're gonna hit the wall somewhere. Now, or later. So developing that creative intelligence is what allows you to expand your work and broaden what you're able to do. So I am able to call on my study over the past 40 years so I can put less time in, get better work and hone in on the subjects I'd like to write about with more precision.

Also, the stress of attempting to forge an identity, the fear of loss of that identity has subsided to a great degree. Because we've had 40 years of establishing who you are, what you do. It also allows you to do more varied types of projects and write songs that might be a little off base or out to the left or out to the right.

Q: More freedom?

A: Yeah more creative freedom. Every record isn't your last anymore, now it's your next one.

Q: Where did the poetry in your songs first come from? You've said you didn't do well in school and never really liked school.

A: It came off rock and roll records. I read no poetry and was exposed to none. When I first heard "Greetings from Asbury Park" compared to "Howl" the Allen Ginsburg poem, I had to go out and get it and see what it was. I got it through my connection with Dylan and Donovan and the bottom line was in the early '70s there was an enormous explosion of "poetic" singer songwriters.

And then you wrote it as a kid. Every teenager scrubbed out some sort of poetry on a sheet of paper. But really it came from rock and roll records. I didn't become a reader until I was 26 years old. I read very little of most things until rather late in life.

Q: When you listen to your early songs, do you remember the meaning you had when you wrote them and does that meaning change for you over the years?

A: Well, yeah, I remember, like "Lost in the Flood," if you look at it closely it's an anti-war song. We were involved in protests in New Jersey at a small local level in the late '60s and early '70s because of the Vietnam war. We did some benefit shows. We did one for McGovern and did one to send some protesters to Washington. This was when we were teenagers because it was part of the life of the day. Social consciousness was to the fore. Now people don't remember a time like that, particularly with that much tension in the air.

There were two kinds of kids at the time. There were kinds of kids who threw themselves into the '60s, and there were guys who continued to lead a life of the '50s. My brother in law is a 1950s guy. In our family it got all mixed up. I went one way. My little sister is kind of post '60s. My other sister and brother-in-law were kind of products of the '50s and lived a very working class, blue collar, New Jersey life. But amongst my group of musicians and local bohemians and outcasts, political consciousness was part of what you wore at the time. It was in fashion! I look back and that's one of my favorite early songs. I set a lot of the scenes locally. At the dragstrip. It was sort of about the tremendous feeling of bloody confusion that was going on in the land at the time. I was trying to sort my way through it.

A lot of those things in those early lyrics were sort of twisted autobiography. "Blinded by the Light" was just Asbury Park. "Growin Up" was just what the title says.

Q: Let's talk a little bit about politics. You signed on for Kerry. Not successful. Obama wins and you talked about that night being this magic sort of night for America. Where are you now on Obama and the administration's progress so far?

A: A year in office and I think he's done very well. I think that they are methodical. And the incredible mess that he inherited in its epic size, isn't something you sort out in a year. Afghanistan, we've got to be a little careful sending more boots in there. Because it does feel like deja vu all over again. I think there are other ways of making sure America is safe and combating our enemies . . . than expending more American lives. I think that's dangerous. That's just my opinion.

Health care, I'd like to see the public option. I think that keeps the insurance companies more honest and it'd be better for the American public. I mean, I have my own opinions about all these things, there's nobody asking me for them. (Laughs.) It isn't any different than before. There's nobody saying, 'Call the guitar player from New Jerrrrsey and see what he has to say about this.'

The most devastating thing at the moment, of course, is the unemployment level and they've got to find a way to put all these Americans back to work. There's got to be some sort of public funding, some sort of jobs program, whether it's for infrastructure or whatever it is to help get Americans back to work. That is crushing. I have friends losing homes that were solidly middle class previously. I've been working with food banks across the nation and every single one of them told me that shelves are going empty and that demand is going up tremendously. And we also have to deal with the fact that until there's balance, people are going to be angry about Wall Street doing so well and the people who bailed them out getting the [expletive] dumped on them. You've got to harness some of that anger. Anger and rage have their place.

I think that [Obama]'s in a very difficult position in that people are looking towards him to be a Rooseveltian, Kennedy-like type of presence which is simply something that when you see him and you see him speak and when he was on the campaign trail, you simply felt that's what this man has in him. I believe he does.

I thought there was a very interesting article in the New York Times a couple of weeks ago by Tom Friedman who was discussing the essential need for poetry in capturing the American public's imagination about these incredibly difficult tasks. [Obama's] very good about getting people excited and motivated. I think that keeping people centered, excited and motivated about fixing the country in the midst of all the dark and very hateful noise out there is a great, great challenge.

A year in, after what came down, is not very long. So I'm still very hopeful and faithful and I'm looking forward to the rest of his term.

Q: Are you writing an autobiography?

A: I do a lot of things, many which never happen. (Laughs.) I've written a lot of records that don't see the light of day. So, I don't want to say, 'Yeah, wait til you hear this one! Have I got a tale to tell!' So I'm not going to say a lot about this one because very often I put work in on some things. . . . Don't be saving a spot on your bookshelf for it!

Q: A number of people who were close to you passed away over the past couple of years. I wonder if you had any reactions to their passing that surprised you.

A: By the time you've hit 60 you've seen a certain amount of dying going on. Well, I saw it in my teens too because I had two pals who were killed in Vietnam. But the most difficult thing is when it's younger people and I've seen people in their 30s. We had a lovely neighbor who passed away and left two sons. So it's very difficult when people are young and they seem to have so much unfinished business. Those are the people I find I'm always waiting to see come in the door again or pass by the front window of the house. Those are the people you can't quite put that in perspective.

My close assistant, that was Terry, we were together for 23 years. He passed away on the last tour. He had a big life filled with a lot of experiences; a Navy Seal and a big legend on the Jersey shore. And I wish I had him around, you know, but he lived a pretty big full life. Danny, you know, had the terrible illness that he struggled with very, very bravely and it went along for a period of years. He was the first E Street band member that was lost. I was very proud of the fact that all of my men and women were alive after all these years. Not many other groups could make that claim. We didn't lose anybody in the usual, often very tragic ways that occur in rock and roll band. And if we had to lose somebody, it was sort of, hey, you get older, things happen, some times you get ill. That's what happens at a certain age. It's very difficult because the band is such an organic, cohesive unit. There's only one, there's not two of anybody that's going to be on the stage tonight.

Q: Does the tour, you might not want to say forever, but does it feel like the end of the E Street Band?

A: Oh no, man. Are you kidding me? There's still fannies in the seats out there! People want to see this [expletive]. They want to go away and say, 'Wow, I don't believe what I just saw.' And that's something we still do. So no, no. We're in the middle of something. We're in the middle of some new thing. There's an audience that will be there tonight that will way outlive us. The last decade it was like great, we got that started again. Now let's go! As long as people can stay healthy. Hell, we'll do it when we're half healthy. We're not choosy. No, there's a long life in the band left. I'm very excited about where the band is right now. I think if you come out tonight you're going to see the best E Street Band that ever played. The body of music is so large now and the audience is going from six years old to people actually, I believe, possibly older than myself. (Laughs.)

And so that's deeply satisfying. We're musicians to the bone. It ain't easy to get us to go home. we're traveling musicians. Everybody in that van has got the same thing in their blood and in their bones. And there's many miles to go before we sleep.

Q: On the E Street Band

A: I've found that the last decade for me has been as exciting as any other 10 years we've ever had. I think we were one of the few bands of our generation that I think wrote songs and made records that stand up to what people consider our classics. And take a place in essential listening in our body of work . . . That was a great goal when I got the E Street Band back together. And it was the only thing that gave me pause before I got the band back together. I wasn't interested in a repetition of what we'd done. I was interested in a renewal of our spirit and action and our power in our fans life and in the life of the country. That was what we wanted to accomplish when we got the band back together. We wanted to write those kinds of songs, make those kinds of records and perform those kinds of shows.

Q: On his recording process

A: I have a process where I demo everything, which I really began with "Nebraska" but I really do it now, where I demo everything before I record so that I have the basis of album sitting in front of me. Brendan O'Brien, my producer, works quickly. We make our records in three to five weeks. Every record I've made over the past decade has been made in that short a period of time. It allows you to make more records, get more music out to your fans, move on to other ideas. It's just continually stimulating.