Bruce Springsteen Talks Loss And Hope In 'Letter To You' Ahead of the release of Letter To You, The Boss spoke to Morning Edition about revisiting older material, finding hope in these unusual times and attending to his audience's spiritual needs.
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What Bruce Springsteen Lost And Found

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What Bruce Springsteen Lost And Found

What Bruce Springsteen Lost And Found

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Bruce Springsteen writes songs about people who lost something - a job, a family, hope. On his latest album, the person who's lost something is Springsteen himself.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LAST MAN STANDING")

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Faded pictures in an old scrapbook, faded pictures that somebody took when you were hard and young and proud, back against the wall, running raw and loud.

SPRINGSTEEN: I had a friend who was in my very first band who passed away two summers ago. He and I were the last living members of my very first rock band.

INSKEEP: And the death of his friend George Theiss sent Springsteen the songwriter spinning back to his youth in New Jersey.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LAST MAN STANDING")

SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Rock of ages, lift me somehow, somewhere high and hard and loud, somewhere deep into the heart of the crowd. I'm the last man standing now.

INSKEEP: Springsteen talked about this while sitting in the home studio where he recorded the album, "Letter To You." The making of that album with his E Street Band is also the subject of a film. Both projects led Springsteen to recall when he was a teenager in the 1960s and the guitar player for a group called The Castiles.

SPRINGSTEEN: We played bowling alleys, pizza parlors, firemen's fairs, Elks Clubs, Knights of Columbus, CYO dances, high school dances, weddings, bar mitzvahs. We played in front of virtually every audience you can imagine.

INSKEEP: It was his school of music, and Springsteen was not the lead singer, not the frontman. His late friend George was.

Do you feel you understand why it is that you became famous and he didn't?

SPRINGSTEEN: George was married very, very young, became a father very young, so he had a lot of responsibilities. I was a one-track mind. You know, before anything else, before work, girls, I was always just music, music, music, music, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and that had a lot to do with it.

INSKEEP: His friend became a carpenter. Springsteen became a songwriter. And for this new album, the older Springsteen, now 71, records three songs written by the young Springsteen of almost 50 years ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IF I WAS THE PRIEST")

SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) That Jesus is standing in the doorway in a buckskin jacket, boots and spurs so fine. He says, we need you, son, tonight up in Dodge City 'cause there's just too many outlaws trying to work the same line.

INSKEEP: In the old songs, you hear a cascade of images that may or may not be related. The wordplay caused early critics to hear the influence of one of his heroes, Bob Dylan.

SPRINGSTEEN: I wrote for several years in that style.

INSKEEP: Were these songs narratives and they're just so complicated I don't get the narrative? Or was it just imagery?

SPRINGSTEEN: I don't get the narrative, either, so you're not alone.

(LAUGHTER)

SPRINGSTEEN: All I know...

INSKEEP: Well, that interests me, though, because within a few years, you were telling stories with specific characters that you could relate to and events you could follow. What made you change?

SPRINGSTEEN: I changed the style because of all the Dylan comparisons. Sometimes I regret not holding onto that style a little bit longer just because it was so much fun.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IF I WAS THE PRIEST")

SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) If Jesus was the sheriff and I was the priest, if my lady was an heiress and my mama was a thief...

INSKEEP: You seem to be a lot more efficient, disciplined - you tell me the right word.

SPRINGSTEEN: (Laughter) I just became more restrained, and I tried to concentrate my power in fewer lines and in simpler images just because I thought, well, that's the way people speak.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ONE MINUTE YOU'RE HERE")

SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Big black train coming down the track, blow your whistle long and long. One minute you're here. Next minute you're gone.

INSKEEP: In this film, you give a little detail about yourself that I didn't know. You say that as a boy, it was common for you, even as young as age 6 or 7, to be brought to wakes and funerals, and you'd look at the body in an...

SPRINGSTEEN: Oh, yeah...

INSKEEP: ...Open coffin.

SPRINGSTEEN: That's true. It was part of the Italian Irish culture. You know, they had wakes. It was a huge social event for the family. Probably only time that the entire family and community got together was around the body of the dead, and it's a very funny thing because I lived a lot with death when I was a child. And then you have this big break from it, sort of from your 20s to your 40s, where it's very rare for someone you know to pass away, to die. And then once you hit your 50s and 60s and 70s, of course, it becomes a big part of your life again.

INSKEEP: It's a big part of his music, too, even at his concerts, where screens have shown images of his late saxophone player, Clarence Clemons. The film shows the band pausing their recording of "Letter To You" to drink a toast to Clemons.

What goes through your mind when you have one of those toasts?

SPRINGSTEEN: It's good things, you know? It's a hail to one of our brothers, you know, and it's - there's a good spirit.

INSKEEP: You allude, in the film, to the idea of hope, but it is a set of songs about loss and death and memory. What feels hopeful about this material to you?

SPRINGSTEEN: It's just the drinking in of life, you know, the - having the experience of having been here. As I've gotten older, I appreciate that experience more and more each day. I appreciate each sunrise and sunset. And I was in the ocean yesterday in the middle of October, and there was just a moment where I thought about how wonderful that was and the fact that I've sustained these relationships in my band for 45, 50 years. These are all things that I find great hope in. And in the love that's in my life - I find tremendous hope in simply the love that I have amongst my band members and amongst my family, and death is just a part of all those things, you know? So I feel like a lucky guy.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LETTER TO YOU")

SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Things I found out through hard times and good...

INSKEEP: Well, Bruce Springsteen, it's been a pleasure. Thank you very much.

SPRINGSTEEN: Thank you. I appreciate the conversation.

INSKEEP: Bruce Springsteen's new album is "Letter To You."

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