Copyright ©2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

TERRY GROSS, Host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BADLANDS"))

GROSS: Before the premiere of the documentary about the making of Bruce Springsteen's album, "Darkness at the Edge of Town," he was interviewed by actor Edward Norton at the Toronto International Film Festival. We're going to hear their conversation.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BADLANDS"))

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Lights out tonight, trouble in the heartland. Got a head-on collision smashing in my guts, man. I'm caught in a crossfire that I don't understand. But there's one thing I know for sure, girl. I don't give a damn for the same old played-out scenes, I don't give a damn for just the in-betweens. Honey, I want the heart, I want the soul, I want control right now. You better listen to me, baby. Talk about a dream, try to make it real, you wake up in the night with a fear so real. You spend your life waiting for a moment that just don't come. Well don't waste your time waiting. Badlands, you've got to live out every day, let the broken hearts stand as the price you've got to pay. Keep pushing 'til it's understood and these badlands start treating us good. Working in the fields, how you get your back burned...

GROSS: Springsteen's album "Darkness on the Edge of Town" was released in 1978. A reviewer for Rolling Stone wrote: Occasionally a record appears that changes fundamentally the way we hear rock and roll, the way it's recorded, the way it is played. I have no doubt that Springsteen's "Darkness on the Edge of Town" will someday fit within that list.

There was a three-year gap between the release of Springsteen's hit 1975 album, "Born to Run" and the release of "Darkness at the Edge of Town." That's because a lawsuit with a former manager prevented Springsteen and the E Street Band from recording for a couple of years. During that time Springsteen toured and wrote a lot of songs, working on them with the band on a farm in New Jersey. He chose from those songs for the "Darkness" album.

The making of the album is chronicled in the documentary "The Promise," which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this fall. In this scene from the film, long-time manager and producer Jon Landau along with members of the E Street Band describe the mood that Springsteen was trying to achieve in the record.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE PROMISE"))

JON LANDAU: I remember him telling me he really wanted to downsize the scale, that big sound of "Born to Run."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE PROMISED LAND"))

SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) And the dogs on this street howl...

LANDAU: Suddenly everything got very sparse. Where the "Born to Run" album had this sort of, you know, our take on the quote, unquote, "wall of sound," now you had this vast cinematic landscape.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE PROMISED LAND"))

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOMETHING IN THE NIGHT"))

SPRINGSTEEN: I love the wily, lone-wolf image that I get when I hear that record.

LANDAU: The record maintains that kind of ominous, potentially hopeful feel throughout. It doesn't break that focus.

Unidentified Man #1: You know one phrase that we would use to discuss the sound of the record as it evolved was the sound picture. What kind of picture was the sound of the record suggesting? We did want a certain feeling of loneliness, a certain unglamorized, to mix languages, you know, a sound. There was no sweetening, you know, a lot of overdubbed, especially strings and horns. We didn't want any sweetening. We wanted, you know, coffee black.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOMETHING IN THE NIGHT"))

GROSS: Songs that didn't fit this mood were cut from the album. Many of those cut songs are included in the box set "The Promise" which will be released tomorrow. The box includes a remastered version of "Darkness," two CDs of songs that were recorded but not used for the album, along with the documentary, "The Promise" and DVDs of other live performances.

So here's Edward Norton interviewing Bruce Springsteen at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. They've been friends for about ten years. Norton asked Springsteen about "Darkness," his influences and his creative process.

EDWARD NORTON: I was thinking about the record "Darkness on the Edge of Town," and those songs have become so - I don't even know if they're yours anymore. I think people own them. They've become part of the tapestry of their lives. And it occurred to me that sort of deeper than even the specific songs themselves is just the theme of darkness. Darkness as a theme, as an approach to creative work, and that a lot of artists, in all different forms, shy away often from darkness as a theme.

And by that I mean, they just don't really bother to look at the dark side of things. And if they do, sometimes they get kind of pigeonholed into that. But you have somehow managed to look at darkness, dark corners in yourself. You've looked, even, at the darker side of our country. What gave you the confidence to believe that rock music could go that deep and what made you first have the impulse that you could take your music from rock and the fun of rock into being an actual exploration of darker themes?

SPRINGSTEEN: Well a lot of people had come before with that. I mean, some of the greatest blues music is some of the darkest music you've ever heard. And also you know, you had you had maps. You had, obviously Dylan had come, you know, when I was 15 and I listened to his music first. And his music contained a lot of - I always used to say when I heard "Highway 61," I think I felt, as a teenager, that I was hearing the first true picture of how I felt and how my country felt, you know. And that was exhilarating. It was exhilarating because it's like it's, I think, 1960s small-town America was very Lynchian, you know.

And, I mean, everything was there, but underneath everything was rumbling, and particularly if you grew up in the mid and late '60s. And so, suddenly, I think what Dylan did, was he took all that dark stuff that was rumbling underneath and pushed it to the surface with a lot of - with irony and humor and - but also tremendous courage to go places where people hadn't gone previously.

So when I heard that, I knew I liked that. And I was very ambitious, also. And "Darkness on the Edge of Town" came out of a huge body of work that had tons of very happy songs. (Laughing) You know, bar band music, soul music, and it was all music that we recorded, we wrote and made a very distinct decision to not use, you know. The reason we didn't use it was for - there were a myriad of reasons.

One was, I'd sort of come off of three years being waylaid by a lawsuit I'd been in, and it was sort of a record where I felt I had to really create an identity for myself. Also, what people forget sometimes is that "Darkness" was recorded right at the moment of the punk explosion. And while I was musically set on sort of my path, thematically there were a lot of very tough and - there was a lot of very tough and hard music coming out of England.

Also, we were in what was known as the Carter Recession at the time, which was late '70s America. Also, these records were recorded four years, three years after the end of the Vietnam War. So that feeling, that the country had changed dramatically, you know, lost its innocence. And the other music that I'd written for "Darkness" still contained, it was - a lot of it was more, real building-based, genre-based. It was great, and it was exciting to go back and put it together for the project, but it didn't feel completely reflective of its times.

NORTON: Do you think - do you think, I mean, "Asbury Park" and "Born to Run" and "Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle," these - it's not that these records don't have flickers of that on them.

SPRINGSTEEN: Oh yeah, I'm sure...

NORTON: They do, but even "Born to Run," which I think is full of struggle and full of longing, its aspiration to leave and to go to a wider world and... Do you think that it took a measure of success for you to feel that you had courage enough to put out that kind of work?

SPRINGSTEEN: No, because you're usually motivated by fear, I mean - (laughing) you know, rather than bravery. So I think I was, I think "Darkness" came out of a place, I was afraid of losing myself. I'd had the first taste of success so you're, you know, you've realized it's possible for your talent to sort of be co-opted and for your identity to be moved and shifted in ways that you may not have been prepared for. I was the only person I'd ever met who'd had a record contract. I'd never met anybody else who'd ever had one, you know. None of the E Street Band, as far as I know, had been on an airplane until Columbia sent us to Los Angeles.

We'd heard about them. We'd seen them pass over, but we hadn't been on any, you know. You couldn't, you know. And so it was a smaller, smaller world, you know, and we were provincial guys with no money, you know. And so it was this whole little street life in Asbury Park and people - New York was a million miles away. You rarely met someone else who'd made a record.

I think it was a very different, different time. But the good part about it was you were very, very connected to place. And it was unique, the place where you lived and you grew up, and the people you grew up with were very singular. And so when I went to make that record I knew that I'd felt confused by - the irony of any kind of success is, you're a mutant in your neighborhood and it does make you unusual and it also leaves you with a good deal of survivor guilt.

In other words, no one knows anyone else who has any money. And so they only know you. (Laughing) And at the time, even though we're making a lot of records, you know, we weren't making very much money because we were - didn't know how to make records and we spent it, either on making the records or I'd signed a lot of bad deals and it all went away, you know.

But still, you were a guy that - you were very, very unusual and so my desire to sort of not get disconnected from my - it was a way of honoring my parents' experience and their history - a lot of the people that I cared about, I said well these things don't seem to be - they aren't really being written about that much. I'm not sure if, you know... And those were the topics I decided to take on for that particular record, not so much out of any social consciousness, but out of a way of survival of my own inner life and soul, and...

NORTON: What's interesting about that to me, though, is at the same time you're talking about, you know, that intense connection to a locale, to a place and a culture of people in your area; but in that - when you toured with the "Darkness" record, even and in that period, you referenced things like Terrence Malick's film, "Badlands" or...

SPRINGSTEEN: Oh sure.

NORTON: ...or Flannery O'Connor. You were starting to talk about the way that other things were affecting you. And I think I even saw, in an old interview, that you talked about how literally going out to some of those Western landscapes opened up your sense of the country.

SPRINGSTEEN: Oh, yeah. Well, you're choosing a geography. And I think one of the things music does is it, you know, we all carry a landscape within us, you know. And also Mr. Landau was a film critic when I met him, if I'm correct, you know. And I was just getting at a place in my life where, I mean, I hadn't read. I hadn't watched anything. It was all top 40 records, it was all - we were all creatures of the radio, and blues and soul and... So it was an interesting moment, because once again, if you think about the late '70s when that record came out, top films of the day were like, "Taxi Driver." You know, "Mean Streets" had come out. You know, we were in L.A. for - on the "Born to Run" tour, I met Marty Scorsese and Bobby De Niro and he set up a screening of "Mean Streets" for us in Los Angeles, you know, and so... You know, these things were kind of happening a little simultaneously. And you know, popular pictures were very, you know, were dark, bloody pictures that dealt with the inner, with the flip side of the American experience.

And in a funny way, you know, "Darkness," which was 1978, slipped out of that cultural moment, you know, and really, in a way, connects up to some of those film influences. Also, there was - we traveled into the Southwest, me and Steve van Zandt. We flew to Reno and we bought a $2,000 - I think it was a Ford - and we drove it for 1,000 or so miles through the Southwest and we took some photos. And I passed a place called the Rattlesnake Speedway in like, it was in Utah, you know. So I go - that's just such a great name. And those - all those things started to seep into - I was interested, now, in writing music that felt not just New Jersey or boardwalk-based, which is kind of like where we'd come from, but I wanted to sort of bring in the full landscape of the whole country.

GROSS: We're listening to Bruce Springsteen talking with actor Edward Norton, recorded earlier this fall as part of the Toronto International Film Festival's Mavericks Program. We'll hear more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE PROMISE"))

GROSS: Let's get back to the interview Bruce Springsteen recorded with his friend, actor Edward Norton, in September at the Toronto International Film Festival before the premiere of the documentary, "The Promise" which is about the making of Springsteen's 1978 album, "Darkness on the Edge of Town." The new "Darkness" boxed set "The Promise," which includes the documentary, will be released tomorrow.

NORTON: There's a certain romance that we all project onto artists that we love and who speak to us. We want to believe, somehow, that their work just burst out of them fully formed. That it came in an...

SPRINGSTEEN: ...oh if it could be so, tight? I'm sure you know that. (Laughs)

NORTON: Yeah, yeah exactly. And the older I've gotten and the more of an opportunity that I've had to work on my own but also to learn more about how some of the work that really hit me hard actually got made, like this film about "Darkness," the more I've started to think that that's really not the case, and that a lot of artists use their right brain, too, a lot. They put their nose in the wind. They look at the landscape of what's going on around them, and they - and they use their references and they construct and craft things very carefully.

I just, I've come to feel that a lot of them just hide how literate they are, because it looks more arty and rock-starry. But - and we were talking about Dylan just now, and I think Dylan always gave the impression of being the ultimate savant, you know. But the truth is, I think, as we've learned through Scorsese's documentary, I think - you know, that guy was a craftsman. He was very, very conscious of what was going on around him. He was conscious of Woody Guthrie's idiom and he just wouldn't talk about it.

But that gets me, you know, around to you, because I look at these tapes in this film, on "Darkness on the Edge of Town" and you know on stage and in your work, you cut this figure of kind of this hairy-headed hipster who was this poet and everything. But I think, you know, that you knew what you were up to.

SPRINGSTEEN: Oh, please. (Laughing)

NORTON: You had, you had... And so, I know that you feel - I know you feel it, but I'm wondering what you think about that, the mix of the intuitive, but then the right brain and the way that - the ambition to say something big.

SPRINGSTEEN: It works a lot of different ways. Bob said he always liked the singers who, you couldn't tell what they were thinking, you know. I don't know if I know anyone, with perhaps the exception of the inventors of - early inventors of rock music who - and even that - the kind of study that had to go on, say, if the kind, let's say, the gospel background in Jerry Lee Lewis' piano playing. And it's completely informed with church and honky-tonk and, you know, you have to study that stuff. And even... And I don't mean study, necessarily, in the sense of literal schooling, but you're drawn to things that make you seek out what they're about. You know, that's studying, you know. And whether it's you're drawn to gospel music, or to church music, or to honky-tonk music, or to - and it informs your character and it informs your talent.

The difference is, I think, that initially rock music was - you were only going to be a rock musician for three years or so, and then you were going to be done. And even in the late '70s or mid-'70s, you know, you forget the Beatles made all their records in about eight years. I think it was '63 to '72 - so very, very... And also, the oldest rock musicians, say when "Darkness" came out, were 32 or 34. Those were the old guys. You know, the Stones... Like people were looking for a new Bob Dylan when Bob himself was only about 30 years old, you know. I mean the old one was still a kid, you know? And so it was a different moment. It was a very different moment.

GROSS: We'll hear more of Bruce Springsteen in conversation with actor Edward Norton in the second half of the show. Their interview was recorded in September as part of the Toronto International Film Festival's Mavericks Program. The boxed set "The Promise," which will be released tomorrow, includes the documentary, a remastered recording of "Darkness," and previously unreleased songs that were cut from the album. I'm Terry Gross and this FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "THE PROMISED LAND"))

SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) On a rattlesnake speedway in the Utah desert, I pick up my money and head back into town. Drivin' cross the Waynesboro county line, I got the radio on and I'm just killing time. Working all day in my daddy's garage, driving all night chasing some mirage, pretty soon little girl, I'm gonna take charge.

The dogs on Main Street howl 'cause they understand, if I could take one moment into my hands. Mister I ain't a boy, no I'm a man, and I believe in a promised land.

I've done my best to live the right way, I get up every morning and go to work each day. But your eyes go blind and your blood runs cold...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOMETHING IN THE NIGHT"))

GROSS: Bruce Springsteen says he wanted the girls and the Cadillacs, but more than anything, when he was making "Darkness on the Edge of Town," he wanted, as he put it, a purposeful work life.

Coming up, we continue the interview that Edward Norton recorded with Bruce Springsteen, on stage, at the Toronto International Film Festival.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOMETHING IN THE NIGHT"))

SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) So I don't have to think at all. And I take her to the floor, looking for a moment when the world seems right. And I tear into the guts, mmmm, of something in the night.

Well, when you're born with nothing, and better off that way, soon as you've got something they send someone to try and take it away.

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. We're listening to a conversation Bruce Springsteen recorded with his friend, actor Edward Norton, last September at the Toronto International Film Festival as part of the Mavericks program. The interview was recorded before the festival premiered the documentary "The Promise" about the making of Springsteen's 1978 album, "Darkness on the Edge of Town." The box set "The Promise" will be released tomorrow. It features the documentary, a re-mastered version of "Darkness," and two CDs of previously unreleased songs that were cut from the album.

Here's another clip from the documentary. Jimmy Iovine, who recorded the album, speaks first, followed by members of the E Street Band.

JIMMY IOVINE: We recorded a lot of music, you know, reels and reels and reels of tapes and songs and it went on for days and days and days, and just recording songs. Anyway, he was very prolific; it was like he exploded. "Born to Run," there were only like nine songs. Eight made the album. On "Darkness," there were like 70 songs. That was a big difference. If you think about that, somebody sculpting eight songs, and then all of a sudden, the next album they're writing 70 songs.

Unidentified Man #2: You're basically, the first good 10 songs you write, you put them out. That's your record. Well, that's a, this, that process would end.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER))

Man #2: Forever. And never came back.

CLARENCE CLEMONS: I used to say, Bruce would write five songs to get one song.

SPRINGSTEEN: There was a lot of multi-versions of all kinds of things.

We were always pulling things apart. I had like a big junkyard of stuff as the year went by.

If something wasn't complete, I just pulled out the parts I liked. It's like pulling the parts you need from one car, put them in the other car so that car runs.

GROSS: Let's get back to the conversation between Bruce Springsteen and Edward Norton.

NORTON: Was there a moment or a period or a certain age in your life where you remember it transitioning from, I'd like to write a good song, to I want to - I am going to paint on a big canvas, about all of, you know...

SPRINGSTEEN: Yeah.

NORTON: ...where I'm going go epic?

SPRINGSTEEN: I felt like that before I made my first record, because I'd had a pretty successful local band. I mean we sometimes played to a couple of thousand people, which, with no record or anything. It was, you know, and you'd charge a dollar and had $2,000 and you split amongst five guys, you know, how long you going to live on that at 20 years old? You live forever on $300 in your drawer, you know.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER))

SPRINGSTEEN: You just lived forever, you know. And, so that - we were sort of successful in that sense. And when it came time to record, I knew that that wasn't going to be enough, you know. And I said man, there's other guys that play guitar well. There's other guys that really front well. There's other - there's rocking bands out there. But the writing and the imagining of a world, that's a particular thing, you know, that's a single fingerprint. All the filmmakers we love, all the writers we love, all the songwriters we love, they have - they put their fingerprint on your imagination and on - in your heart and on your soul. That was something that I'd felt, you know, felt touched by. And I said well, I want to do that. And...

NORTON: Were you affected by the Beats? Were, did Kerouac and, you know, Allen Ginsberg? Did that penetrate to you?

SPRINGSTEEN: No. No. I was - if I was ever a bohemian, it was by circumstance, you know, it... it was, I mean I, it was sort of, you know, I don't, you know, I really, none of the guys, us guys locally, came out of an actual bohemian lifestyle. It wasn't - that was not what was in Asbury Park. Asbury Park was your working-class musicians who came from those kinds of homes, who fell into a bohemian lifestyle because it was all they could afford at a moment. And you were sort of on the outs, but you didn't have a self-awareness about it, you know. And I didn't really read - I read Allen Ginsberg after I saw people comparing my first record to some of this poetry, you know. And so I was a late comer to the whole Beat thing and, you know, we were influenced by records, you know, records.

NORTON: Were you paying attention, at that time, to the political reality in the country? Like you started singing "This Land is Your Land" around the time of those "Darkness" tours and or maybe it was on "The River," and having commentary, sort of, about, you know, dispossessed people and stuff like that. When do you think you actually started drawing connections between the landscapes and the struggles of people that you were describing in songs and writing about and the actual effect of political leadership on those conditions? Like what did you - when did that start crystallizing for you?

SPRINGSTEEN: I guess it was around that time, maybe a little later, "The River." I know "The River" album, for sure. But it was - the only sense is if you grew up, if you're a teenager in the '60s, you fell down on one side or the other. Like my brother-in-law was - never had a '60s experience. He was a 1950s man, you know. And his life was very patterned, patterned... Him and my sister's life were patterned after my parents, and it was very hard and it was a lot of struggle, and they were married young and had children very young; and there was that and then there were the people who, you know, who drunk the Kool-Aid, I guess, you know.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER))

SPRINGSTEEN: And, but I have a poster of us playing for George McGovern. You know, I was 22. We did a benefit for - and so politics was just there during the Vietnam War and - it was just there. As far as the connection later, I did, I guess I did begin to say, okay well, you know, my own history was interested in my parents' lives. I was interested in a sense of place. I was - I felt that my own identity was rooted in that sense of place and that there was a narrative there. And I was interested in having a narrative. In other words, I had a story and I wanted to tell it. And I knew it was caught up in my childhood and my parents' lives and my own young life, and - but I had no real clue as to the broader picture, you know. And slowly, and I believe - in "Darkness," and I remember Mr. Landau and I, we had a lot of conversations at that time, where I was trying to sort out what I felt was true, you know, like what, you know, what was sort of the - what were the larger forces that was at work on my parents' lives.

And that's when I went back into the Woody Guthrie and some of the earlier political writers, and even really my experiences. So it was, and I was interested in the, in sort of working-class pop music, which at the time would be The Animals or something. The Animals had so many great hit records, but they were very rooted in sort of blue-collar experience. And I was just interested in it as trying to figure out who I was, because when you have some success, you know, it's - you have a variety of choices, and I think I looked at some of the maps some of the people who'd come before had drawn and I saw where they went off to where, you know, here there be dragons, you know.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER))

SPRINGSTEEN: Where like there was a flat, you know, the world was flat to them and they fell off the edge. And I said well, you know, that's something I'd rather not do. You know, I'd rather not have that happen. And I decided that the key to that was maintaining a sense of myself, understanding that a part of my life had been mutated by some of my success and experiences, but also holding onto a sense of myself that came out of the, where I grew up and the people I grew up with and my parents' history and my own history. There was a thrust of self-preservation more than anything else, more than a political conscience, more than a social consciousness. It was an act of self-preservation and then also anger and some revenge from, you know, seeing some wasted life and, you know, my home life and it just led me down - I just followed that. But, yeah, you start telling people who they should vote for president.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER))

SPRINGSTEEN: That happens as you go along.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER))

GROSS: We're listening to the interview Bruce Springsteen recorded with his friend actor Edward Norton in September at the Toronto International Film Festival before the premiere of the documentary "The Promise," about the making of Springsteen's 1978 album "Darkness on the Edge of Town." The new "Darkness" box set "The Promise," which includes the documentary and previously unreleased tracks from the time, will be released tomorrow.

Here's one of the tracks that was recorded while Springsteen was making "Darkness" but wasn't included on it, Springsteen's version of his song "Because the Night." The song was a hit for Patti Smith.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "BECAUSE THE NIGHT"))

SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Take me now, baby, here as I am. Pull me close, try and understand. Desire is hunger is the fire I breathe, love is a banquet on which we feed.

Come on now, try and understand the way I feel when I'm in your hands. Take my hand, come undercover. They can't hurt you now. They can't hurt you now. They can't hurt you now.

Because the night belongs to lovers. Because the night belongs to lust. Because the night belongs to lovers. Because the night belongs to us.

How I doubt when I'm alone. And love is a ring, the telephone. Love is an angel...

GROSS: Let's get back to Bruce Springsteen in conversation with actor Edward Norton.

NORTON: I kind of think that every, maybe every generation thinks that when they become parents, they're going to be the first cool parents, you know, that they're...

SPRINGSTEEN: No, that doesn't work out.

NORTON: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER))

NORTON: You know, you know, my parents...

SPRINGSTEEN: That's not your place, you know.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER))

SPRINGSTEEN: If you are, you're doing it wrong. Nobody, I always say, your kids coming to see the show? I say well why would any kids want to come and see thousands cheer their parents?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER))

SPRINGSTEEN: I mean who - they want then, we can see thousands boo their parents.

NORTON: Yeah.

SPRINGSTEEN: That would be fun. But who wants to see thousands cheer your mom and dad? There's no fun in that.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER))

NORTON: But you told me you try to keep up with, you know, what your kids are listening to and stay in touch with what matters to them, with the, you know, the new zeitgeist that's happening.

SPRINGSTEEN: Well, they, yeah, they share their musical tastes, and I've heard a lot of great music through my kids. But...

NORTON: You have?

SPRINGSTEEN: But, yeah. But it's funny. And I have to say Mr. Thom Zimny - I got to bring, Thom directed the documentary and one of the things is, as we were talking backstage, we were lucky to come in on a lot of footage that was taken from when we were 27. I had a buddy who had a - Barry Rebo. I don't know if he's here tonight, but he came into the studio and he had a little camera that he sort of rigged up so it didn't need any lights and shot us recording "Darkness" at the time. And so there's a lot of footage of us at almost my son's age, or a little bit older, and I've been informed by my kids that we simply look ridiculous, you know.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER))

SPRINGSTEEN: So...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER))

SPRINGSTEEN: So there's no, you can't win. You're not going to win.

NORTON: And yet your boys look an awfully lot like you at that age.

SPRINGSTEEN: Yeah. Yeah. So it's like, you know....

NORTON: They're getting a little shaggy.

SPRINGSTEEN: It's one of those things. Oh, yeah, they, yeah.

NORTON: Yeah. But are they - I mean I remember thinking it was really, it made me love Neil Young even more, a son of Ontario, but...

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE AND CHEERING))

NORTON: I remember feeling that, thinking how great it was that I saw some interview with Neil Young where he said when he heard Nirvana for the first time, he went out in his garage and played all night because it kicked his ass so bad.

SPRINGSTEEN: Yeah.

NORTON: And I was curious, you've been doing it a long time. You, you know, do you still bump into...

SPRINGSTEEN: Oh, if you're good.

NORTON: ...work that kicks your ass and...

SPRINGSTEEN: If you're good, you're always looking over your shoulder, you know.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER))

SPRINGSTEEN: I mean it's a part of, that's the life. It's the gunslinging life.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER))

SPRINGSTEEN: You know, it's like, yes, you are very fast, my friend.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER))

SPRINGSTEEN: But, there's some kid in his garage tonight, right?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER))

SPRINGSTEEN: And just about 10 minutes from now...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER))

SPRINGSTEEN: So, there's always a lot of inspiration out there to keep running, you know. But to go back to the earlier question, I think at that time, you know, you can't make any mistake about it, like the record and those - documentary shows, that was carved meticulously, thoughtfully, very consciously out of a big chunk of stone over a long time with very, with a huge amount of ego and ambition and hunger, you know, to - hopefully for the right things. Maybe for some of the wrong things too. That's all right.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER))

NORTON: Well, talk, focus in on that. I mean...

SPRINGSTEEN: But...

NORTON: ...you hit mile markers like that, when that record came out 30 years ago, so that's a convenient, you know, way to sort of prod revisiting it.

But talk about your impulse to go back and look at the stuff that you, when you were trying to shape that sculpture out of a big stone. You know, you cast off certain things but now, you know, because there's songs I know from you, like "The Promise," that were not left off because they weren't deep. They were almost too deep for you. And so, how does it feel to you to shake the dust off those and let them be seen now?

SPRINGSTEEN: That I left out because it felt too self-referential and I was uncomfortable with it, you know. Maybe it was too close to the story I was actually living in some way at the moment, and I just didn't feel, I didn't feel comfortable with it. I didn't have enough distance from it and so... that probably was one that could have went on but - gotten on. But also, I was interested - "Darkness" was, it was meant, it was an angry record and I took the 10 toughest songs I had. I didn't want to cut that feeling. I didn't want something that had a more broader, somewhat compassionate overview. You know, I, that didn't feel like the moment for that for me, you know. So that was very, very, very particular, you know. Like I said, so there was a lot of other good music but - and maybe a few things that might have fit, you know, but...

NORTON: When you go back and look at it now does any of it, does it surprise you? Does it, you find yourself surprised by how good something is, or yeah, I don't really like that one? You know, I mean, do you - I mean...

SPRINGSTEEN: Yeah. For a long time...

NORTON: It's a lot of material, but...

SPRINGSTEEN: Yeah, I mean now you're sort of, you've had such a long, you know, there is a large body of work, so every piece of it you're less self-conscious about. At that time I had, I only had three records out, you know, so you are going to be defined by - so that's, you were going to put out was 25 percent of all your work was about to come out, you know.

And that really changed the way you thought about things, you know. Now it's very different. Now I can go back and, you know, we made a lot of - put a lot of music on this project we've been working on. And it's just, oh, it's just music you made at the time. You know, and you want people to enjoy it and I still function a little bit like that with the current records I make, you know. But you're a lot less uptight and you're a lot less self-conscious, which is good. There's, I think there's an age to be that way, to be very, very controlling and extremely intense and focused and a good deal insane, also. There's - I think that if you look at the people who - who we care about are people who cared about something enough to get crazy with it, you know.

I think when you look at the actors we love, you know, it's like Martin Scorsese said the artist's job is you're trying to get the audience to care about your obsessions. And there is a time and there is a place to get and be that way. And there's a, that's why there's a place for that intensity. But it, I was in search of a purposeful work life. So, in other words, I want to entertain, you know, hey, you know, I wanted the pink Cadillac and I wanted the girls and... But more than those things, I felt I wanted what I needed and I felt that was a purposeful work life.

GROSS: We're listening to Bruce Springsteen talking with actor Edward Norton, recorded last September as part of the Toronto International Film Festival's Mavericks program.

We'll hear more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC))

GROSS: Let's get back to the interview Bruce Springsteen recorded with his friend actor Edward Norton in September at the Toronto International Film Festival, before the premiere of the documentary "The Promise," about the making of Springsteen's 1978 album "Darkness on the Edge of Town." The new "Darkness" boxed set "The Promise," which includes the documentary, will be released tomorrow.

NORTON: If you could see a film like this one, about the making of the record of someone who was a giant for you, if you had to say, if someone said, oh, you can get cameras on the inside of a record that meant a lot to you what - you know, who would you like to see?

SPRINGSTEEN: Mmmm.

NORTON: Grunting it out.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER))

SPRINGSTEEN: Well, there's a lot of stuff. I'd probably - some "Pet Sounds" or "Highway 61" or, you know, some of the great - you know, I think would have been interesting. Well, you'd had "Let It Be" so you got a sense of how the Beatles worked in the studio. It's interesting to see how other people approach their jobs, because everybody does it a little bit different and also because the way we did it was so hard, we often felt like we were doing it wrong, you know. It was like, it went on forever, you know, it went on for a year. We made records that lasted years. I'd have musicians who come in and on their next record and hey man, I'm still hacking out what I'm doing.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER))

SPRINGSTEEN: And I said well, we've got to be doing this wrong because, you know, there's something there's just - but I look back and we realize well, no, we weren't doing it wrong, we were just doing it the only way we knew how, you know.

NORTON: If you could step in, you know, now you, and to that 27-year-old guy who's pulling his hair out in the videos people are going to see later, what would you tell him?

SPRINGSTEEN: I don't know, you know, look back, what I might tell him from this perspective would - I don't necessarily - would be right for the moment he was living in at that time. I mean here's a, it's like, you know, I remember I was turning 40, I was in a, going up in an elevator and I'd gotten to know the doorman really well and he was like 60. And I said hey, I'm done turned 40. Do you have any advice? And he said, just don't worry. I worry too much. Don't worry about all those things. And that was pretty good advice for living. I'm not sure it was such good advice for working, you know.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER))

SPRINGSTEEN: And so I think, you know, the normal thing you'd say, no, man, worry your ass off about that (bleep).

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER))

SPRINGSTEEN: Because it matters if you, you know, if it makes...

NORTON: Bust everybody's (bleep) until they hate you.

SPRINGSTEEN: It's like hey, it matter, you know. It's like, so I look back now and I wish it been easier, but if it was easier, you know, maybe it wouldn't have been as hard, you know? And there was something in that hardness of it, that young naked desire to, like I said, we wanted to, we wanted to be important, you know. That was, we were, came out of a little town and we wanted people to hear our voices about, you know, and we set our sights big. You know, we were not, there was no modesty involved, you know. At 27, you know, the life we were living, it was around the clock. And so yeah, you got to torturing, not just yourself, but everyone else along with you.

NORTON: So maybe you would just tell him, keep doing what you're doing and apologize later.

SPRINGSTEEN: Just, yeah, just you gotta put your head down and go, you know, and hope that, you know, you hope that your inner guidance is good. We were instinctive; it was just - we'd play, I'd work the band for three days on a piece of music and I would throw it out. I'd work the band for three days on another piece of music and I would throw it out. And then we did the same thing with the cover, you know, we shot the cover three, four, five and throw them all and, I mean it was, you know, we were, I decided, you know, I was just going to, we were going to sort of roll for all of it or miss, you know, and it was a good experience.

You know, I don't make records the same way now, because I don't have to, but I do try to make them with the same level of intensity and sense of a conversation that I want to continue. And I think "Darkness" was important because it was the beginning, in a funny way of, the first three records were a little bit of prequels. It was the beginning of a long narrative that went through "Nebraska" and into "The Rising" and into, even, "Magic." Just a long conversation that I've had with my fans that has been one of the most valuable experiences of my life, you know. So that was, it was a record that really started, in some ways, started that conversation and it's been a - so all you folks that have been along, it's been something I've enjoyed tremendously. And I appreciate your buying...

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE AND CHEERING))

NORTON: Good note to end on.

SPRINGSTEEN: You know?

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE AND CHEERING))

SPRINGSTEEN: So...

GROSS: Bruce Springsteen and Edward Norton, recorded last September at the Toronto International Film Festival. Our thanks to Springsteen, Edward Norton and the Toronto International Film Festival for their permission to broadcast the interview.

The Springsteen box set "The Promise" will be released tomorrow. It includes the documentary about the making of "Darkness on the Edge of Town," a remastered version of "Darkness," and previously unreleased tracks. You can hear 15 of those unreleased tracks, but only through tomorrow, on NPRMusic.org.

(CREDITS)

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE PROMISE"))

SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Johnny works in a factory and Billy works downtown. Terry works in a rock 'n' roll band, looking for that million-dollar sound. And I got a little job down in Darlington, but some nights I don't go. Some nights I go to the drive-in, or some nights I stay home. I followed that dream just like those guys do up on the screen. And I drive my Challenger down Route 9 through the dead ends and all the bad scenes.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.