Backstage With Bruce: Springsteen On His Early Work In this archival interview, Terry Gross speaks with singer-songwriter Bruce Springsteen about his inspirations, writing style and thoughts about his earlier work.
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Backstage With Bruce: Springsteen On His Early Work

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Backstage With Bruce: Springsteen On His Early Work


This is Fresh Air. I'm Dave Davies, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily News, filling in for Terry Gross. There are plenty of reasons Entertainment Weekly named Bruce Springsteen their January entertainer of the month. On Sunday, Springsteen will make his next live appearance at the national TV event, playing the halftime show at the Super Bowl. Two weeks ago, he appeared at the Lincoln Memorial as part of the pre-inaugural concert broadcast. His song for the film "The Wrestler," starring Mickey Rourke, won a Golden Globe, and his new CD, "Working on a Dream," has just come out. So, we thought this would be a good time to listen back to Terry's interview with him. First, here's a song from his new CD.

(Soundbite of song "The Last Carnival")

Mr. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Sundown, sundown, they're taking all the tents down. Where have you gone, my handsome Billy? Sundown, sundown, the carnival train's leaving town. Where are you now, my darling Billy?

We won't be dancing together on the high wire, Facing the lines with you at my side anymore. We won't be breathing the smoke in the fire on a midway. Hanging from the trapeze, my wrists waiting for your wrists, Two daredevils high upon the water's edge, You throwing the knife that lands inches from my head. Sundown.

DAVIES: That's "The Last Carnival" from the new Springsteen CD, "Working on a Dream." Now, let's hear Terry's conversation with Springsteen. It was recorded in 2005 backstage at the Wachovia Spectrum in Philadelphia just before a solo performance.

(Soundbite of WHYY's Fresh Air, November 15, 2005)

TERRY GROSS: Your lyrics, even, like, very early on, you seem so intoxicated by language. At what point did you know that you didn't want to just write songs about finding love and losing love? You wanted to write story songs. You wanted to write, you know, songs that talk about characters and...

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN (Singer/Songwriter): I don't know if you choose those things. I don't remember - I remember feeling that my love songs at the time felt like mundane and not original and very just pedestrian. And so, I think that I didn't have a handle on how to write those songs personally when I tended to write them, and I did write them a lot when in sort of a band context. They just - they tended to feel rather, just, you know, mundane and they weren't particularly exciting. And so, I think I went in search of something that was going to feel singular or that had my own imprint on. And I did write love songs. Looking back on it, I always joke that I don't, but in truth, if you go back to, like, "Mary Queen of Arkansas" or "For You" from the first record, I mean, obviously, "Sandy," the way I would approach it was like "Sandy" or "Rosalita" or "Incident on 57th Street," Those were kind of - they were a mixture of things, but part of what was in them was my version of a love song at that time, you know?

GROSS: But they were stories with names of characters in it.


GROSS: You know, "Rosalita," "Terry," my favorite.

(Soundbite of laughter)


GROSS: Well, even, like, figuring names for your characters, how do those come to you?

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: Oh, they come easy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: You know, it's just - it had to sing and swing, you know? That was the main criteria. And then it had to have some color and feeling to it. You know, generally - though, I do go back occasionally - I heard a version of "Thunder Road" the other day and I'd never heard it before. There was some alternate to it that somebody was playing, and I had a different name in there, you know? It didn't quite fall as well as (unintelligible)...

GROSS: Like Nostrand Avenue.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: You know, so - but generally, it was just a feeling and what sung well, you know, so - and the characters, you know, once again, I've got to go back to Dylan's work because he had, you know, all the unusual characters, and it was wild names of - and it must have, you know, been my version of that.

GROSS: Now, this is the question where I'm afraid you'll throw me out of the room because it's going to sound so stupid. When I hear your early work, I hear the influence of Dylan, Phil Spector, you know, Van Morrison, Roy Orbison, but I think I also hear - and this is the throw-me-out-of-the-room part - TV Western themes.


GROSS: And the reason why is there's, like - there's great, like, male harmonies...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: And you know, it somewhat like "Badlands." It's almost a march.

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: Yeah, it is - that's what it is. It is - it's a march beat, you know.

GROSS: Yeah, yeah.

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: It's a marshal.

GROSS: And that anthem-like quality that so many, like, Western themes had.

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: Yeah. I mean, I think that, you know, those were the - that's what you've heard on television with the themes of the day, and it crossed over into popular music and vice versa from the, say, the Duane Eddy guitar style...

GROSS: Right.

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: Which, of course, became the "Bonanza" theme.

GROSS: Right, right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: And so, I liked all that sort of kitschy, you know, pop sound. I enjoyed - and those sort of sweeping...

GROSS: Like "Rawhide" or something

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: Yeah, "Rawhide," hyah!

(Soundbite of whip)

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: Yeah, you know, it was like, you know, "Johnny Yuma," (unintelligible). I can sing all the Western themes. You know, "Johnny Yuma," "Lawman."

(Singing) Lawman came with his son...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: So, there was some element of those myths that sort - that I kind of backdoor-ed into some of the music. I'd say "Badlands" and things like that, they had that - there was, like, that march, a soldierly quality to some of them that had something to do with the idea of struggle and dedication and fidelity to a certain kind of code or things. You know, I think I was swept up in those things, and they just - it just became kind of a natural part of the music.

GROSS: You know how people say that in the Jack Kerouac book "On the Road," that, like, the heroic character, Dean Moriarty, wasn't really based on Kerouac; it was based on his friend, Neal Cassady, and you know, that Kerouac wasn't that kind of heroic...


GROSS: A figure. But, like, in your songs, were you, like, living the lives of some of your characters, or were you kind of in your room, you know, practicing and writing songs most of the time, watching other people live in a more kind of mythic, heroic vein?

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: I - the songs really came from a combination of the pop influences, I think the local Asbury musicians' community and street life at that time, which was populated with all kinds of characters with all kinds of strange names. You know, everybody was nicknamed and...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Were you?

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: Yes, I was at that time. You know, my - previous to the unfortunate popularization of The Boss...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: I believe there was The Doctor, Doctor, you know? So, it - that was - there was a lot of just that around. You know, it came from anything. I think Steve went to Florida, and he might have been the only person we'd known who'd been to Miami, so he became Miami Steve. And there was, of course, Big Bobby; there'd be Little Bobby; there would be White Tiny; there would be Black Tiny. There would be - and so, it was all - that was just all your friends at that time, were - you know, it was just the way the things run. And so, it - a lot of it came from that, and - but I was also the observer. I was probably more the Kerouac character in the sense that I was both in it and a step back and observing and watching and much more comfortable within the perimeters of my own skull than probably out in the real world, you know? And you know, that's pretty - your pretty basic artist profile probably.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Do you think of yourself as romantic by nature? I mean, because some of your songs are, like, so romantic and - I mean, lines like, "I want to die with you, Wendy, on the streets tonight in an everlasting kiss."


GROSS: I mean, is that something that you could imagine saying to somebody in real life, or is that a kind of romantic...


GROSS: Nature that's just...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Reserved for your art as opposed to life.

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: No, I wouldn't say I would act like that in real life, perhaps.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: But I don't think I would say that, and it's a lot easier to say with the music raging underneath.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: That's the key to that line. I wouldn't advise, you know...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: They're not really to be spoken. They're really - you know, you need the music raging underneath for them to make sense, you know? And you know - which is true because the lines are going to be so top-heavy, which is how I wrote at a time. I wrote very flamboyantly and floridly, you know? And if you go back - and let me tell you - and that was after leaning it all down.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: You know, that was after really cutting it down to, like, its toughest little construction for me. The stuff previous to that, if you go back into my notebooks, some of it is so floridly so far out that it's all embarrassing, you know? So, I would trim it down to something that felt - that still contained - the intensity was what I was in search of, you know? So, a line like that was a line that's just extreme - just the longing and the intensity and the desire for a certain sort of a kind of living that art tends to - or music or films or whatever - sometime, you know, tends to heighten and throw back on you as a way of sending you out to search for a certain kind of intensity in your own life, you know? So, that was - am I romantic? No. I don't know. I couldn't say so. You know, my wife might say that, no, I'm not romantic enough.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: But obviously, I was a pretty romantic young man, so...

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Bruce Springsteen speaking with Terry Gross in 2005. More after a break. This is Fresh Air.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: Let's get back to Terry's 2005 interview with Bruce Springsteen recorded backstage at the Wachovia Spectrum in Philadelphia.

(Soundbite of WHYY's Fresh Air, November 15, 2005)

GROSS: The song "Born to Run" is about wanting, like, getting out of here. "Sandy" is about it. I mean, several of your songs are about, like, wanting to get out. Was there a certain kind of life you were afraid you'd be forced to live?

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: Well, I think so, as I look back, but doesn't everybody feel like that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Yeah, yeah.

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: That's why it works.

GROSS: But we each have a version of that life that we're afraid of.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: That's right. I'd say that's why it worked.

GROSS: Yeah, yeah.

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: Everybody feels like that no matter who you are or where you are.

GROSS: That's true, yeah.

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: There is some kind of life you have in your mind that you are afraid you're going to be forced to live, you know? When you think back on it, that's what - your parents' life. Everyone - though, at the time, you have a very limited understanding of what that actually consists of; you don't really have the grounds to make those kinds of judgments, but yeah, I had - I think I - I felt there was a kind of life that I was ill-suited for and that would be called normal life.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: Or everyday life or regular, you know, so - and I was correct in that assumption that I was completely unprepared for slipping into the mainstream of society. And so, I found my place out on the fringes, where I'd really lived internally most of my life. You know, it started when I was really young, and you know, I think you gravitate to where you are comfortable, and I was never quite comfortable, and I just didn't really behave normally. I didn't quite think normally, and I was just - so, consequently, I think that that was where all the - that was the fire and the furnace of a lot of those songs, was that I was - I knew I wasn't going to fit particularly well. And I was just - where do I fit, you know? I don't know, you know? I don't know.

GROSS: When you got your guitar and started playing and writing songs, did you realize, OK, that's where I fit? Did that - was it transformative?

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: Yeah. It's immediately - it contextualizes your strangest behavior...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: And gives them some sorts of validation. So, it's a good place for misfits, you know? The music business is an excellent place for misfits because there are no rules for a very, very long time. Then, the rules can be bent quite easily, and then, you can set the rules as you - if things go well, you know? So, it's a good place for misfits. The problem that most misfits fall into is they run into themselves along the course of this journey, and that's a real big problem, you know? So, it's sort of along the way, unless you create for yourself a perimeter, in a sense of limitations, it's a place where, if you strictly follow that instinct, that can be very creative and that excites other people, you know? That's because people are excited by people that are breaking rules or bending the rules or seem to have escaped the rules, you know, in any walk of life. That interests and excites people. And that's part of your job. You become one of those people, you know, and - but if you follow your instincts, if you drive all of that all the way into your personal life, that's always...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: There's a car wreck in your near future...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: Coming real quick, you know? So, sorting all those things out was the toughest part, which I have not yet successfully done, but I've kept my head above water.

GROSS: Once success hit and you became famous for a certain kind of young frustration in the songs, a certain kind of, like, frustration and kind of anger, that comes with youth, how did you get past that into, like, finding, like, what the next stage of your songwriting would be? How did you figure out how to keep writing songs that kept up with how you were changing as a person and how your view of the world was changing?

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: Well, frustration, that's - any pop song or rock song worth its salt has got to have - that's got to be in there. You know, "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: You know, boom, that's it. That's - you know, or "God Save the Queen," "Anarchy in the UK," and you know...

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: It is music made by frustrated people, you know? And I don't know if it's the same today, but certainly at the time when I came up, it was mostly working-class people, and there was always an implicit class consciousness in a lot of rock music, the Animals...

GROSS: "We Gotta Get Outta This Place."

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: Yeah, the Beatles, I mean, it's in everything, everything, you know? So, that was just one of the fundamental elements of - that was one of the tools and stones that you worked with, came out of your personal life, came also out of the form. As you grow older, you know, you - insight, hopefully, is the key to extending your creative reach, you know? There's an initial explosion of just, boom, this is what I am; this is what I've learned, bang; here are my first 20 songs or two or three albums. After that, you've got to have - if you want to sort of - I think if you want to continue to be creative and to constantly reinvent yourself, you know, you need the insight and greater knowledge of your craft.

But also, I think, the personal - I was - immediately after "Born to Run," I felt I'd sort of - OK, that was my - the song of my youth. These three records, they were the - you know, but maybe particularly "Born to Run," and you know, that was just - always felt like that's the song of my youth. Well, I wrote that song; now, I've got to write something else. And I became attracted to country music and older blues and folk because they seem to take - bring the same intensity to adult issues and adult problems. And I immediately thought, this is a lifetime job for me, you know? I want to write songs I can sing when I'm at that great, advanced age of 40 years old, right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: And I remember thinking about that when I was in my late 20s, that I wanted them to have really just weight, just some content and some weight that would sustain me as I grew older, you know? I look back now, and that was in the songs of my youth, you know, and I continue to sing them today, you know? So, it was really - but I think I became more conscious about it after "Born to Run," and going into "Darkness on the Edge of Town" and "The River." That's when the initial country influences started to come up in the music, and thematically, there's people that are married; there's people that are struggling; there's people that are noticeably living young-adult lives and adult lives. And I felt that was essential in extending what I wanted to do in my work and where I wanted to bring my small, little patch of rock 'n' roll music, you know?

DAVIES: Terry Gross speaking with Bruce Springsteen in 2005. He'll be back in the second half of the show. He recently appeared at the pre-inaugural concert at the Lincoln Memorial. One of the songs he performed with Pete Seeger was a rousing rendition of "This Land is Your Land." In 2006, Springsteen recorded a tribute album to Pete Seeger. Here's track from it. I'm Dave Davies, and this is Fresh Air.

(Soundbite of song "Old Dan Tucker")

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: One, two, three, four.

(Singing) Now, old Dan Tucker was a fine old man, Washed his face in a frying pan, Combed his hair with a wagon wheel, And died with a toothache in his heel.

Get out the way, old Dan Tucker, You're too late to get your supper. Get out the way, old Dan Tucker, You're too late to get your supper.

Now, old Dan Tucker come to town, Riding a Billy goat, leading a hound. The hound dog barked, the Billy goat jumped And landed old Tucker on a stump.

Get out the way, old Dan Tucker, You're too late to get your supper. Get out the way, old Dan Tucker, You're too late to get your supper.

Now, old Dan Tucker got drunk and fell In the fire and kicked up holy hell. A red-hot coal fell in his shoe, And oh, my Lord, the ashes flew.

Get out the way, old Dan Tucker, You're too late to get your supper. Get out the way, old Dan Tucker, You're too late to get your supper.

Now, old Dan Tucker has come to town, Swinging them ladies all around...

(Soundbite of song "Rosalita (Come out Tonight)")

DAVIES: Coming up, we continue our conversation with Bruce Springsteen. This Sunday, he and the E Street Band perform at the Super Bowl. And John Powers reviews the new documentary "Harvard Beats Yale 29-29," which he says is the best gridiron movie he's ever seen.

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Spread out now, Rosie. Doctor come cut loose her mama's reins. You know playing blind man's bluff is a little baby's game. You pick up Little Dynamite, I'll pick up Little Gun, And together we're gonna go out tonight and make that highway run.

You don't have to call me lieutenant, Rosie, and I don't want to be your son. The only lover I'm ever gonna need's your soft, sweet, little girl's tongue. Ah. Rosie, you're the one.

Dynamite's in the belfry, baby, playing with the bats. Little Gun's downtown in front of Woolworth's, trying out his attitude on all the cats. Papa's on the corner, waiting for the bus. Mama, she's home in the window, waiting up for us...

DAVIES: This is Fresh Air. I'm Dave Davies filling in for Terry Gross. Today, we're listening to Terry's 2005 interview with Bruce Springsteen, recorded backstage at the Wachovia Spectrum in Philadelphia just before a solo performance. The Boss is pretty busy these days. He performs at the Super Bowl on Sunday. His song for the film "The Wrestler," starring Mickey Rourke, won a Golden Globe. He has a new CD called "Working on a Dream," and earlier this month, he performed at the pre-inaugural concert at the Lincoln Memorial.

(Soundbite of WHYY's Fresh Air, November 15, 2005)

GROSS: Can I ask you a couple of questions about politics and how your music has been used or how have you used it? After "Born in the USA," Ronald Reagan said, America's future rests - this is when he was in New Jersey making a speech - he said, America's future rests in 1,000 dreams inside your hearts. It rests in the message of hope and songs of a man so many young Americans admire, New Jersey's Bruce Springsteen, and helping you make those dreams come true is what this job is all about. Did you think of your songs as having a message of hope?

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: Well, yeah, I believe that they do, you know? And - I mean, that's just, you know, you've got some savvy, young speech writer, and you know, it's past - he had some - ever since Karl Rove(ph) speaking or somebody, you know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: So, you know, past the line, hey, you're going to Jersey? Here, fill this one out, you know? And it was also the issue of - this was the - not the beginning, but it was the - when the Republicans first mastered the art of co-opting anything and everything that seemed fundamentally American. And if you're on the other side of that thing, you were somehow unpatriotic, and that's what that was. You know, it was the - co-op my music was - and I intentionally, when I was quite young, said, wow, I make American music, that's what I do, you know? And I write about the place I live and who I am in my lifetime, you know, and those things belong to me; you know, those are the things that I'm going to struggle for and fight for, my idea and my version of the country and - but you know, they were very good and have remained very good all through our misadventure in Iraq and co-opting things that - making it seem like if you're on the other side, somehow you're anti-American, you're unpatriotic, you know?

So, my music has - it's often been a football. It's not just then, but a few other times also, you know, where I've occasionally had everybody from some folks from the far left to the right, you know, wanting to use it and as this represents us in some - and our ideas, you know? And that's just something I've, you know, I live with, and I always had the chance to go out on stage at night and say my piece and play my songs and - but yeah, of course my songs, I feel that - I think that thing that - I think that "Born in the USA," which was a sort of a classic situation song that got misinterpreted by some, was people felt the pride was in the chorus; the spirit - in my songs, the spiritual part, the hope part, is in the choruses, the blues, right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: And your daily realities and your - and - are in the details of the verses, you know?

GROSS: That's really interesting.

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: If you look at all my songs - "Badlands," "Promised Land" - it's the way I sing "Badlands;" it's the verse of "Promised Land;" it's the chorus of "Born in the USA." The spiritual comes out in the choruses, which I got from gospel music in the church, and then the blues and what the song is - the details of what the song is moving to transcend are almost always contained in the verses, you know? There may be some exceptions, but people use pop music a lot of different, you know, in a lot of different ways. I always make the analogy that - I remember I played "Born in the USA" for Bobby Muller, who headed of the Vietnam Veterans of America when it first started. We became friends, and I always remember him coming into the studio and hearing that first time through, and his face, you know? And then, you know, then I have little kids coming to my house on Halloween with the bandanna and a little guitar and go...

(Singing) I was born in the U...

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: You know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: So, it's an ongoing struggle, what can I say?

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of song "Born in the USA")

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Born down in a dead man's town, The first kick I took was when I hit the ground. You end up like a dog that's been beat too much 'Til you spend half your life just covering up.

Born in the USA. I was born in the USA. I was born in the USA. Born in the USA.

I got in a little hometown jam, So they put a rifle in my hands, Sent me off to a foreign land To go and kill the yellow man.

Born in the USA. I was born in the USA. Born in the USA. I was born in the USA.

Come back home to the refinery. Hiring man says, son, if it that was up to me. Went down to see the VA man. He said, son, don't you understand...

DAVIES: Bruce Springsteen. We'll hear more of his 2005 conversation with Terry after a break. This is Fresh Air.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: Let's get back to Terry's 2005 interview with Bruce Springsteen, recorded backstage at the Wachovia Spectrum in Philadelphia. She asked him about having a family.

(Soundbite of WHYY's Fresh Air, November 15, 2005)

GROSS: What's the difference between being a, kind of, single, more rootless guy performing in your life before marriage and your life now? You know, you still go on the road a lot, you still perform a lot, but you have a rooted existence somewhere, too, with a family.

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: Right. Well, I make the point that all - the subtext of all rock songs are - is, will you pull your pants down?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: And that works - and also works as the last line of any - if you like, well, it's a town full of losers, and we're pulling out of here to win, and will you pull your pants down?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: See how that works? So, that's when you're single. And then when you're married it goes, will you pull your pants down just so I can look?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: So - but your entire life changes, you know? It's different now, you know? And you know, first of all, you know, the kids are - they became your first priority, and everything else is second, and that's, you know, that's the place that your family takes. and you know, the main thing I didn't want to do is the whole absentee father thing, and I experienced that, and I didn't like it. And so - and obviously comes out in your music and affects the way you - the songs you write and all of those things. When you're single, the fun things are that you don't have a home, so you're out, you're traveling and you're leading a great, young life. That's a great life when you're young.

You hit a wall with it at some point, and it wouldn't be a great life for me now, you know? I think it would be a puzzling and confusing one. You know, it's natural to have a sense - to want a sense of place and to feel yourself rooted at a certain point in time. It's a part of just taking your place, which is what my music was always about. My music was - "Born to Run," they're running from something, but they're running to something, you know? And that "to" was always, well, where do I live? Who am I? You know, what's my place? And my characters weren't really rebellious. I always felt they were outsiders trying to figure out how to get in. And then once they - and in the process try to shape the place that they lived and worked and brought their kids up, and all my music is - that's - besides will you pull your pants down, that's its other intent.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: It's other intent is, hey, how do you, you know, how do you bring your will and your abilities into the community, both real and imagined, and how do you shape and focus that community? And that's just adult life, you know? That's the difference, I think, between - that's a big part of adult life. So, that became a part of my music, and it also - which it took me - it became part of my music long before I was able to live it out, you know? It was an idea long before I was able to make it real, which is the way that most things go, and it was a lot easier to write about than to live.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: You mentioned your father was absentee a lot, and you didn't want to be that kind of father. Where was he when he was not around?

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: Oh, he was there.

(Soundbite of laugher)

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: He was there, you know? He just, you know, he just wasn't there, you know?

GROSS: Just tuned out?

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: Yeah, so...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Did you fight a - what did you fight about when you'd fight?

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: That was probably the prom. We - you know, just innocuous things, you know. There wasn't any - it wasn't about that, you know? It wasn't about even - it wasn't some big, explosive relationship. It was what it was not that was the problem.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: You know, a big, explosive relationship almost brings with it a certain amount of somebody cares about something.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: So, the problem is what it's not, you know, and I have a problem with that myself, you know, in that you - you know, it's - once you make that little world in your head, it's pretty cozy in there, except there's nobody else living in there but you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: But coming out is not easy for people who've built a little kingdom in there. You build your little kingdom in there, and it's pretty comfortable. And so, it's getting out of it, and you know, it all - if - the development of my music really follows those ideas and those efforts, you know, pretty clearly. But it was so - but if I had any - something going in my favor was I did yearn to be adult, you know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: You did?

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: Yeah, you know. And I think that - you know, it's like, you know, there's - you're in a car, the adults are in the car, and the party that's still - you know, the boy king is in the car and...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: You know, he can ride along, but if he drives too long, there's going to be an accident.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: You've got to get the grownup's hand on the wheel.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: But from when I was young, I did yearn for those - yearn for a place, yearn to be adult, if I could, and yearn for those things to be reflected in my music as a way of extending my creative reach and continuing to deliver something that was on the edge of who I was becoming at a given moment. And I felt that that was a way that I kept faith and a certain kind of honesty with my fans. I never resorted - reverted back to trying to recreate something that I'd done. I was always trying to put something out that was on the edge of what I knew and who I was becoming and where I was trying to go in hope that it would be of service and of enjoyment and pleasure to my audience.

(Soundbite of song "Devils & Dust")

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) I got my finger on the trigger, But I don't know who to trust. When I look into your eyes, There's just devils and dust.

We're a long, long way from home, Bobbie. Home's a long, long way from us. I feel a dirty wind blowing Devils and dust.

I got God on my side, And I'm just trying to survive. What if what you do to survive Kills the things you love?

Fear's a powerful thing, baby. It can turn your heart black, you can trust. It'll take your God-filled soul And fill it with devils and dust.

GROSS: Do you think your songwriting processes changed a lot since you started? Like, when you sit down and write a song now...

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: It varies.

GROSS: Are you doing it in a different way?

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: Some days it's hard, and some days it's easy. I had about - probably after "Tunnel of Love," I had some years which seemed - felt like it was coming kind of hard. Now, I feel the other way. Instead of feeling like it's hard to write songs, I think I feel these days like it's easier - it's relatively easy to write. So, this thing that was - what was - I have a lot of music - it's just - I just had a good stretch for the past 10 years or so, really. A lot of it didn't get released, but it will eventually. And - but I don't sit down at a certain time in the morning and try to come up with something. I tend to write in my spare time, you know, when I can steal an hour.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: Or two hours or - I don't have any procedure at all about how I write. I write when I sit down at my chair and I pick up the guitar, and I've got an hour or 30 minutes or two hours or the day, depending on what's going on in the rest of my life, you know? And I've found out, you can get the job done like that just as easy as you could the other way, you know, sometimes better.

GROSS: One last question, you live in Jersey now.


GROSS: My guess would be that you live in a neighborhood that not only doesn't have backstreets, but doesn't even hardly have streets...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: Yeah, it doesn't have sidewalks...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: It doesn't have sidewalks, exactly, yeah. Do you miss sidewalks?

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: Ah, yeah, yeah, you do. My recollection of my childhood was I lived in a very unusual situation, where I had an enormous family. Within a half a block of - we had six or seven houses all just one up right next to the other, and the church and the rectory and the nuns' convent in the middle, and the school, all in the middle of all our houses. And the street was filled with a lot of life. But the funny thing is, when I go back there to the neighborhood now, it's - that's not there. It's not - it's almost not a question of people, you know, of the locale. I'll go back; where's all the kids on the street? I hardly ever see them. Where's the people out on their porches? I don't see any, you know? American society has changed dramatically since I lived on my little - my little street isn't quite there anymore the way it was, the way it's known.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: And so it goes...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Bruce Springsteen, thank you so much for this interview.

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: My pleasure.

GROSS: Most of all, thank you so much for your music.

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: My pleasure. Thanks a lot.

GROSS: Thank you so much for your music.

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: Thanks a lot. My pleasure.

DAVIES: Bruce Springsteen speaking with Terry Gross in 2005. Springsteen performs at the Super Bowl Sunday, and he has a new CD called "Working on a Dream." Here's one of the songs he performed at the pre-inaugural concert at the Lincoln Memorial.

(Soundbite of song "The Rising")

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Can't see nothing in front of me. Can't see nothing coming up behind. I make my way through this darkness. I can't feel nothing but this chain that binds me.

Lost track of how far I've gone, How far I've gone, how high I've climbed. On my back's a 60-pound stone, On my shoulder a half mile of line.

Come on up for the rising. Come on up. Lay your hands in mine. Come on up for the rising. Come on up for the rising tonight.

Left the house this morning, Bells ringing filled the air. I was wearing the cross of my calling. On wheels of fire I come rolling down here.

Come on up for the rising. Come on up. Lay your hands in mine. Come on up for the rising. Come on up for the rising tonight. Li, li, li, li, li, li, li, li, li...

DAVIES: Coming up, John Powers on the football documentary that will win you over even if you have no interest in the game. This is Fresh Air.

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