To celebrate the Oct. 23 release of his Letter to You album and its accompanying film, The Boss appeared on Apple Music and SiriusXM satellite radio every day this week. The series, “Letter to You Radio With Bruce Springsteen,” featured him talking with various guests.
Here are some highlights from all five days:
CLIVE DAVIS, OCT. 19
Davis signed Springsteen to Columbia Records but was fired in May 1973, two months after Springsteen released his first album. So his memories of Springsteen was on small stages, and not moving around a tremendous amount, when Springsteen invited him to attend one of his destined-to-be-legendary 1975 shows at New York’s The Bottom Line, celebrating the imminent release of his third album, Born to Run.
After recounting a 1973 discussion he had had with Springsteen about the necessity of moving around more as he played bigger stages, Davis said:
“Your now-manager Jon Landau calls me up. I’m now president of Arista Records. I have my own company. We had not been in touch for a year or so. And Jon said, ‘Clive, Bruce would really love you to come to the Bottom Line. He’s got about five nights there. … ‘
“So I brought … I don’t even know if you know this … I brought Lou Reed with me … it was just Lou and me. And I had never seen you … really move. I had only seen what you had done for those first two albums. And we go down there. And … maybe the biggest creative shock was what you, on your own, had evolved into as a live performer.
“So I am saying for the record, I am saying for history, I had no inkling that this artist not only … was doing poetry that no one else was doing, but on his own, and in a short period of time, with a band, had become the best live performer … And I was shocked. The show begins, and you don’t just stand there or go up and down that relatively small stage. You’re jumping on every table. … my jaw never closed — I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The place is going crazy. You were not only the poet laureate, but you had become a magnetic live, charismatic — electrifying is the best word — electrifying live performer.
“So the show ends and I leave Lou at the table. I tell him, ‘I’ve got to go back.’ And I go back to that small dressing room at the Bottom Line. And I open the door, and you looked up, and a big grin, and you said, ‘Clive, did I move around enough for you tonight?’ ”
JON LANDAU, OCT. 19
Landau has been Springsteen’s manager since 1977 and is also a co-producer of Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town and other classics albums.
Talking with Springsteen on the new series, Landau mentioned seeing him perform for the first time at Charlie’s Place in Cambridge, Mass., on April 10, 1974. Landau’s Real Paper review of Springsteen’s set opening for Bonnie Raitt at the Harvard Square Theatre in Cambridge on May 9, 1974, contained the famous line, “I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen,” but Landau is talking here about the earlier Charlie’s Place show:
“What happened to me, as I was watching, was I said to myself, ‘If I had the talent, what you’re doing, right there, on the stage, every note of it, that’s what I would do. It’s what I’d like to do, but can’t.’ Somewhere, the idea formed that if I could be part of it, and maybe add something to it, that’s what I wanted to do. And I decided that the first night I saw you, and I think you decided on us finding a way to work together, the first time we really talked.”
EDDIE VEDDER, OCT. 20
The Pearl Jam frontman said about the “Bruce Springsteen’s Letter to You” film:
“A few songs in, watching this thing, I was thinking, what a remarkable experience I was having, seeing and hearing these songs for the first time, but on the film. It was a deeply moving experience. There’s a dynamic, as the film opens, and you kind of introduce what’s about to go down, and you’re talking a little bit about process, and I’m not going to give away this moment, but when the first real note of the first song hits, it lifted me off of my chair, and from then on, it was really an emotional ride. And this man, (director) Thom Zimny, he sure knows how to capture this magic. And of course what he’s filming is pretty special, but he’s really also able to elevate the moment with his edits and cuts and angles. Most filmmakers would be lucky enough if they just captured it, but he really has a sense of being able to elevate it, which the music deserves.”
DAVE GROHL, OCT 20
The Foo Fighters frontman and former Nirvana member said:
“When I hear the words E Street Band, I just think of, like, this family. I mean, you all have been playing with each other for so long that your bond is bigger than those stages and those records and those studios and things. And that’s kind of the same how we (Foo Fighters) work.
“We were both at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame together, actually. E Street got in the same year Nirvana got in. And I’m looking onstage at all of those people and there’s relatives, and there’s children, and there’s widows. And I’m looking, I’m like, ‘This is more than a band. This is more than music.’ And that’s what I want to do with my life.”
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, OCT. 20
Grohl had been talking about the experience of playing for 20,000 adoring fans, night after night, and Springsteen said: “How good is that! … That’s what I tell folks. I say, ‘It’s hard to explain to you. All I can tell you is, if you could have the experience that I have playing in front of our audience, once in your life … you would never forget it, and it would change your life, and the way you see people, and see your relationships in the world. To have it on a consistent basis is to be blessed in a way that very few are fortunate enough.’ …
“What happens in that room doesn’t happen until you’re there with your band onstage, the audience is there, and then a world is created that you’ve imagined together, and that you’ve willed together, that has its own ideals, its own set of values and virtues and issues and problems. … You work on this world your entire life. It’s a privilege to be in there with your audience, building that house together.”
SPRINGSTEEN AND BRANDON FLOWERS, OCT. 21
An excerpt from the conversation between The Boss and The Killers frontman and solo artist Flowers:
FLOWERS: When you write a song like “Born in the USA,” do you remember being aware beforehand, that people might miss the point? You know, it was in the news that Trump supporters were blasting this thing outside the hospital, where he was getting treated.
SPRINGSTEEN: You know, I had no thought whatsoever that it would be mistaken in any way … that was the way that I wanted to make the record and that was the song, and it was clear to me. But that’s just me, you know. It was a bit of a lesson in the way that pop music works, and how people draw from pop music the part that they want. And they draw from it what they hear.
There’s a couple of ways of looking at it. One was to look at it like, “Oh, gee, what happened here?” … And then the other way was like, “Well, gee, I work hard to write well, it’s kind of up to the audience to listen well, also, or else you’re going to miss the broader implications and the complexities of what this particular piece of music is about.” But that’s not necessarily the way that pop music works all the time, you know. And so it’s become a bit of a football, over the years, and I’ve reinterpreted it many times, myself, just for clarity’s sake. But at the same time, when we play it onstage, it still feels like one of my best songs. We’ll play it at the end of the night. And as the show gets bigger, as the night goes forward, we reach a point towards the end of the night where the simplicity and size of it is something that the night moves towards. We played it pretty often on our last tour, but for quite a while I didn’t play it, and then I went back to playing it.
I wouldn’t change the record of it. It would be a different song, and I believe it would be a lesser of a record if I altered it in some way …
I would say if I took a lesson away from it all as a writer, and as a record maker, it would be that content lies in many different places. It lies in the music, it lies in your arrangement, it lies in your production values at a given moment, and it lies in your lyrics. It lies in your chorus separately from your verses. That was just something that was good to pick up and carry with me, as I went forward with my writing, down the road. But looking back, I can’t imagine it in any other form, really.
FLOWERS: It’s interesting you say that about the content, because I was just texting with my tour manager, and he brought up a song of ours called “Battle Born,” and how we haven’t played it in a long time. And I said, “You know, some of the lyrics, I’m not so proud of, and they make me cringe. And I don’t know if I want to sing that song anymore.” And he said, “When you play that song live, there is nothing cringe-worthy about it.” So there’s another element that happens when you present something live.
SPRINGSTEEN: Absolutely. Your work is constantly transforming itself. I’ve had that exact same feeling. I’ve written things that I felt, “Gee. I’m a little embarrassed about this piece, or that piece of it,” but all I knew was that when I played it with my band, I was filled with conviction, and that’s what mattered. So you can over-intellectualize your responses to your own work, and I’ve gotten a little better with that as I’ve gotten older, in that I give myself more room … I’m a little less anal about every line and every single thing in each song that I’ve written, and I’m trying to feel for a more overall effect: what happens when I get up and play it with the band, or record it in the studio. But I’ve been there many times, my friend, so I know exactly what you’re talking about.
SPRINGSTEEN AND JON STEWART, OCT. 22
STEWART: Even Letter to You, you know, listening to that, it’s an incredibly relevant — and not necessarily political, but socially relevant, and culturally relevant, and not explicitly political. But your process seems to be introspective, but also you’re processing the world around you. And it seems like you never stop asking those questions … and part of those questions will inevitably be political.
SPRINGSTEEN: The key to retaining your vitality is retaining your curiosity. And if you can’t be curious about the times we’re living in right now, you are not curious, my friend. (both laugh). …
I think that as I’ve gotten older, I’ve evolved into more of what I would call a spiritual songwriter than anything else, much more so than a topical songwriter or a popular songwriter … that’s how I would describe myself at this point. And so I think that there’s something in Letter to You that speaks to the spiritual condition of the times. And that’s where its sort of relevance lies.
I’m not really entranced so much by topical music. I’ve found a lot of it ends up feeling too stilted, or too ideological, and when I have written topically, I’ve taken care to write very carefully, as in, say, with “American Skin,” which I wrote 20 years ago about the (Amadou) Diallo shooting. I was very careful to flesh the characters out and to make sure I had real living, breathing people in there, and not just soapbox characterizations of a political point of view. But right now, you know, I think Letter to You, it’s a record of its times without being topical. It’s sort of a record of our spiritual times at the moment.
STEWART: It’s got that last man standing vibe … when you get that feeling, you look to what’s important. … It’s such a record of peeling away all the sort of superficialities, and getting into a more existential feel of, like, what matters to you.
SPRINGSTEEN: Yeah. I think once you reach my age, that’s what you’re writing about, and that’s your subject. You have a limited amount of time. You’re not messing around with anything unless it’s something that you’re deeply concerned about, and you feel it can have a deep impact on your listeners’ experience, you know. And that’s what I’m here to deliver to my fans and listeners and friends.
And once again, it’s what interests me, you know. It’s what satiates my curiously. It’s sort of the parts of life that I’m interested in, at this point, and other things then tend to take care of themselves, you know. Where you end up sitting politically, or socially, or in your community, and in your country. You know, those things, at this point, they’ve already been established in what I do, for better or for worse. And so I don’t feel like it’s something I need to address directly every time I come out with anything.
SPRINGSTEEN AND STEVEN VAN ZANDT, OCT. 23
VAN ZANDT: I remember me and you talking to Paul McCartney at dinner, one time, and we’re asking him, you know, how’d they (The Beatles) record. And that’s how they did it. We did it pretty much the same way (on Letter to You) as they did. A couple of hours per song. That’s all the time they had. They had to figure out the intro, the outro, you know. Should it have a solo?
SPRINGSTEEN: And if you have your song, that’s all you need. … if you need more than three hours, you’re doing something wrong.
VAN ZANDT: Yeah … plus, this time, you had such a focused theme theme …
VAN ZANDT: … maybe the most focused theme (on your albums) that I can think of. I mean, you’d know better than me, but …
SPRINGSTEEN: I think you’re right.
VAN ZANDT: … I think on maybe The Rising … The Rising‘s kind of about one thing.
SPRINGSTEEN: That would be the closest. And actually, I’m not sure that’s as focused as this record is.
VAN ZANDT: Most of the time, your themes are a little bit more broad, and a little bit bigger, and include lots of different aspects of life. This one was, I think, so quickly written and quickly recorded because you were so focused.
SPRINGSTEEN: Yeah, that really made a huge difference. … I think when you write a group of song in seven to 10 days, and basically you’re working off a single theme, which is what happened to me this time … It was George’s passing, and just time passing, and dealing with mortality, and what it’s like to have been in rock bands for so long. And writing music, really, about the musical life, and about music, and the lives of musicians. So it all really just fell together within that seven to 10 days, and I don’t remember when I’ve written an entire record in that short a period of time. … for example, the Nebraska record, where those themes were very, very, very all close together, the same thing, three weeks. Tunnel of Love, that’d be another one. Tunnel of Love, where that record is very, very interconnected. But for a band record, this is the one, as far as that goes.
VAN ZANDT: I think it also is connected in my mind — I’m not sure how you think about it — but in my mind, it’s connected to the previous three projects, very much so. This is the fourth of your last four projects: the book, the Broadway show, and the “Western Stars” movie and record, and now this, Letter to You. And I think those four things are connected, in a way of completing a picture, kind of a summation of your life, in a way, looking back a little bit and saying, “Okay, let’s take a look at what actually happened here, and try to understand it.”
SPRINGSTEEN: I think the idea was a summation of, sort of, I suppose, your life, and your work — to this stage, in the sense of clearing everything away for whatever comes next.
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