After Bruce Springsteen performed a solo version of “Thunder Road,” live, on Howard Stern’s SiriusXM satellite radio show on Oct. 31, Stern said that he had cried, during it, for the first time in his career, during one of his own shows.
The interview will undoubtedly be replayed many times in the weeks and months to come.
Backing himself on guitar and piano, Springsteen played many songs, at least in part, in addition to “Thunder Road,” including “Tougher Than the Rest,” “Rosalita,” “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City,” “Blinded by the Light,” “Born to Run,” “Last Man Standing,” “Land of Hope and Dreams,” “The Rising,” “Not Fade Away” and “Darkness on the Edge of Town.”
Springsteen was amiable and enthusiastic throughout the interview, which lasted more than two hours without a break, and said at the end of it that he had enjoyed himself. He also promised that he would be back.
Here are some portions of the interview that I found most interesting.
Springsteen on performing marathon concerts: “Part of it is just a work ethic of the way you came up: We used to do five sets a night. We used to play five hours a night. Now, if I play two (hours), people are gonna be disappointed. I gotta play at least three (laughs) … My problem would be, I’d play three hours, and then something wouldn’t go right on one of the songs toward the end of the show, and I’d kill myself for the rest of the night. Just beat the hell out of myself. I’d get in the bus, on the way to the next town, and that’s all I could think about. … And so, I kind of learned to get a handle on it, because I didn’t want to keep doing that as I got older. And of course, people said, ‘Gee, how can you play so long?’ I said, ‘No, my problem is stopping. I don’t have a problem starting and playing. I have a problem stopping.’ Because … it was a purification ritual for me.”
Stern asked what he meant by that.
“I grew up in the Catholic church, and so you grew up with a lot of sin, and original sin … and rituals all about rituals of purification, of cleaning out your soul and your mind. And a certain amount of that is good for you. If you take it to an extreme, it’s like anything else. It becomes your master. So … I wanted my work to be my work and my pleasure, I did not want it to be my master. And so, when I talked about work with the (psychotherapist) I was seeing for a long time, it was sort of, ‘OK, how do I make sure I have this balance in place?’ because (a) I’ll do better shows if I’m not sort of laboring under the idea that, you know, if I don’t play that 35th song … I had to get out from under so much Catholic orthodoxy, which is the way that I was brought up. And of course I just converted that over into my music, and into the way that I played. And so a lot of … my self-created rituals were rituals of purification, and I took it too far, sometimes.”
On retirement: “I can’t imagine it. I mean, if I got to a point where I was incapacitated or something. … But up until then … I mean, look at Johnny Cash. Pete Seeger: I played with Pete Seeger in Washington, at Obama’s inauguration. Pete was 91 or 92, and he came out and sang ‘This Land Is Your Land.’ So I look at those guys … I don’t know if I’ll be doing three-hour shows (when I’m older). But I have so many different kinds of music that I can play and do. The Broadway show, I can do the rest of my life, in one form or another, if I wanted to.”
On auditioning for Columbia Records executive John Hammond: “On the way up, in the elevator, I said, ‘OK, Mike Appel, my manager, has somehow talked his way into John Hammond’s office.’ Now, I know who John Hammond is. Signed Dylan … Billie Holiday. I mean, this guy signed everybody. So I know where I’m going and I know who I’m going to see. And I’m telling myself, ‘OK, well, the worst that could happen is I come out exactly as I am, right now. That’s not so bad. I make a livin’. I play music. I enjoy my life.
“So really,’ I said, ‘I’ve got nothing to lose. The worst I’m going to be is exactly like I am.’ And I almost convinced myself that that was true (laughs) … until I sat down and looked across … it was a tiny little room … looked across a little desk, and there was John Hammond. Gray suit, gray flattop (haircut), tie, shirt, feet up on the desk, resting back. … Mike Appel, my manager at the time, said a bunch of stuff like, ‘Oh, we’re just in here to see if you’ve got any… ‘ … I mean, he … went insane. And Hammond was ready to kill us or throw us out. And finally he said, ‘Look, just play me something.’ And I just went … (Springsteen sings and plays some of “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City”) … and he said, ‘You gotta be on Columbia Records.’ ”
Responding to the question, “Do you still write everyday?”: “No. I don’t have something to say everyday, you know. I don’t go into a room at 11 o’clock and write till 3, or something like that. I wait for the songs to come along.”
On seeing Clarence Clemons shortly before his death: “I had a feeling he could hear me because he could squeeze your hand. When I first went to see him (after his stroke), there was some response to your voice and to you being in the room, it felt like. … I knew that he was going to die, and so I just brought the guitar in and I strummed a song called ‘Land of Hope and Dreams.’ … it’s about passing over to the other side. It’s about life and death …
“His brother was there. I think Jake, his nephew, was there. And there were a few other people. But it was just a little tiny space … (sings and plays some of “Land of Hope and Dreams”) … It’s a hymn … it was a song we were playing at the end of the night (on tour) and it was one of the last songs that Clarence and I worked on a sax solo together on.”
On his neck operation: “I had to get an operation on my neck because slowly, over a period of years, I started to notice my fingers were going numb. And I had pain down my arm. … I’d get onstage, and on one of the last tours we were doing, before I had it fixed, I realized I’d get halfway or three quarters of the way through a song, and my fingers would just fatigue, suddenly. And I said, ‘Well, I can’t have that.’ And so, I had disks C4, C5 or something … it was a bit freaky, because they cut your throat, basically, open you up, tie your vocal cords off to one side … and they tell you, ‘You’re not going to be able to sing for three months.’ So I came home, I didn’t sing for three months. Then I went in my garage, and picked up a guitar … I played ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town.’ ”
On the release of his upcoming soul-covers album, Only the Strong Survive: “I’ve got a sizable audience that’s, thankfully, still interested in what’s interesting me. But your job is — as Marty Scorsese, I think it was, once said — the job of the artist is to make the audience care about your obsessions.”
This was the first time Stern interviewed Springsteen, though he has had a lot of Springsteen-related content on his show, over the years.
Here are some official videos with excerpts from the show:
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