Two guys talking: Obama and Springsteen collaborate on ‘Renegades: Born in the USA’ book

SPRINGSTEEN OBAma renegades book review


Bruce Springsteen and Barack Obama.

The summer of 2020 was a unique time in all our lives, with the pandemic wreaking havoc, and protests in the streets, and a hugely important Election Day looming. And it was during that summer that Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen began getting together, at Springsteen’s Colts Neck recording studio, for a series of conversations that were released in podcast form, in February and March 2021, under the title, “Renegades: Born in the USA.”

A companion coffee table book, “Renegades: Born in the USA” (Crown Publishing, 320 page, $50), is being released Oct. 26. Both men argue, in their introductions, that whatever was on our minds, then, should still be on our minds, now.

“[F]or all the change we’ve experienced as a nation and in our lives since Bruce and I first sat down together for our recording sessions,” writes Obama, “the underlying conditions that animated our conversation haven’t gone away. America remains more polarized than at any time we can remember — not just around issues like policing, climate change, taxes, and immigration, but over the very definitions of faith and family, on what constitutes justice, and whose voices deserve to be heard.”

The cover of the book, “Renegades: Born in the USA.”

“This is a time of vigilance when who we are is being seriously tested,” writes Springsteen. “Hard conversations about who we are and who we want to become can perhaps serve as a small guiding map for some of our fellow citizens. … these are treacherous times with much at stake — with everything at stake.”

Pretty serious stuff for a coffee table book, I know. But rest assured, “Renegades” has some lighter content, too. As anyone who listened to the “Renegades” podcast knows, these were wide-ranging conversations, touching on topics such as music, fatherhood, racism, love. You name it, it’s probably in there somewhere.

The conversational format also helps keep things from getting too dry. Sitting face-to-face (this wouldn’t have worked on Zoom), Obama and Springsteen tell stories about their lives, share memories and ideas, crack jokes, and seem to enjoy each other’s presence. They seem, as much as is possible under the circumstances, like two regular guys, talking.

So what’s in the book?

Well, mainly, it’s made up of transcripts of the podcasts, in expanded form. (In other words, with some of the stuff that was edited out, edited back in.)

This circa-1993 photo from the Springsteen Family Archives is included in the “Renegades: Born in the USA” book.

There are also the new introductions (two pages for Obama, one for Springsteen) … new photos from the podcast recording sessions … speeches made by Obama in draft form, with Obama’s hand-written notes … lyrics to Springsteen songs that are relevant to the conversations, typed or in hand-written form … and political and cultural artifacts, including the amazing setlists for the 2009-15 “In Performance at the White House” series.

There are also four pages of Springsteen’s hand-written notes for the “Renegades” recording sessions. On one, he writes: “From the cacaphony [sic] of democracy I wanted to make one blinding noise that would pierce you to the bone + make you feel that idea.”

What may be of most interest for many people — appropriately enough, for a coffee table book — is the photos.

According to the publisher, the book contains more than 350 full-color photographs and illustrations. And both Obama and Springsteen opened up their family photo archives to the editors. So we see them, not just as we’re used to seeing them (i.e., doing their respective jobs), but with their wives and children, at home or on vacation. And that helps accentuate the idea — which was there already, of course – that “Renegades” is a very personal, very intimate project.

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