Bruce Springsteen has been singing about his own life and times for more than 40 years. Now’s he’s written about them as well. Here is our own music man, Anthony Mason:
In the final dates of his international tour that ended this past week, Bruce Springsteen played one four-hour gig after another.
How can he keep doing that? “I’m conditioned to do it from many, many years of experience. Don’t try it at home, kids!” he warned.
It’s the one arena where the singer, who turns 67 next week, can control the clock: “You’re looking for a particular moment, and then when you catch that, it feels so good sometimes.
“Then time disappears, you know?”
“Where do you think your drive come from?”
“I believe every artist had someone who told them that they weren’t worth dirt and someone who told them that they were the second coming of the baby Jesus, and they believed ‘em both,” Springsteen replied.
“And that’s the fuel that starts the fire.”
For Springsteen, the fire started in Freehold, New Jersey, on the block around the St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church.
“Home was right up here,” the singer pointed out to Mason. “My house was here, church was there, nun’s convent, priest’s rectory. My aunt’s house was there. My other aunt’s house was right next to her.”
“The grinding power of this ruined place would never leave me,” he writes in “Born to Run,” his new autobiography, published by Simon & Schuster (a division of CBS).
Doug and Adele Springsteen’s son found both comfort and fear there. His mother, a legal secretary, rented him his first guitar. His father, who worked at Ford, was an angry man.
“He loved me,” Springsteen writes, “but he couldn’t stand me.”
Mason joined Springsteen on a surprise visit to the school at St. Rose of Lima. He is beloved here now. It was different when he was in class.
“I’m gettin’ the willies,” he said, walking into a classroom.
“Did I read they called you ‘Springy’?” Mason asked.
“Yes. That is correct, my friend. Amongst many other things.”
“How did you do when you were here?”
“Not particularly well, you know. I didn’t fit in the box so well.”
Long after he moved away, Springsteen would drive back at times to Freehold: “I may still cruise through every once in a while.”
“What are you looking for when you do?”
“Well, they say you’re looking to make things all right again, you know? And of course, there’s no going back, you know?”
The long-haired guitar slinger who earned his stripes in the bars of Asbury Park, was signed to Columbia Records at just 22.
His first two albums did not sell well, so he poured his soul into a new song called “Born to Run”:
“You were reaching for something epic,” Mason said.
“Well, I was trying to make the greatest record you’d ever heard. The record that after you heard it, you didn’t have to hear another record, you know?”
“Born to Run” launched Bruce Springsteen. The album’s now-iconic cover also featured sax player Clarence Clemons, Bruce’s mythic sidekick. The big man’s imposing presence came to symbolize the brotherhood of the E Street Band.
Mason asked, “How would you describe your relationship with Clarence?”
“It was very primal,” he replied. “It was just, ‘Oh, you’re, you’re some missing part of me. You’re some dream I’m having. He was this huge force, you know? While at the same time being very fragile and very dependent himself, which is maybe what the two of us had in common. We were both kind of insecure down inside. And we both felt kind of fragile and unsure of ourselves. But when we were together we felt really powerful.
“We were very different people, you know? Clarence lived fast and loose and wild and wide-open, you know? And I tended to be a little more conservative.”
“You said offstage, you couldn’t be friends.”
“I couldn’t because it would ruin my life!” Springsteen laughed. “But Clarence could be Clarence excellently. He was very good at it.”
Until Clemons’ health went into a long decline. In 2011 he suffered a stroke and died days later. “Losing Clarence,” Springsteen writes, “was like losing the rain.”
“And it happened very quick and suddenly. And it was quite devastating,” he said.
“When something like that, that as you say kind of came magically to begin with, goes away, you’ve got to be sitting there going, ‘How do I replace this?’” Mason asked.
“There’s no replacing Clarence. You gotta do something else.”
Clarence had mentioned he had a sax-playing nephew, Jake Clemons. Springsteen turned to him to resolve the band’s identity crisis.
Mason asked, “When you finally saw it working, was it a relief?”
“Oh, yeah. Are you kidding? It was like the weight of the world off my shoulders, you know?”
But Springsteen faced an even greater challenge as he entered his sixties: A crippling attack of depression that he’d battle with the help of his wife and E Street Band member, Patti Scialfa.
“It lasted for a long time -- it would last for a year and then it would slip away. Then it would come back for a year-and-a-half,” he said.
“Do you see it coming? Do you feel it coming?”
“Not really, you know? It sneaks up on you. It’s like this thing that engulfs you. I got to where I didn’t want to get out of bed, you know? And you’re not behaving well at home and you’re tough on everybody. Hopefully not the kids. I always try to hide it from the kids. But you know, Patti really had to work with me through it. And her strength and the love she had was very important as far as guiding me through it. She said, ‘Well, you’re gonna be okay. Maybe not today or tomorrow!” he laughed. “But it’s gonna be all right.”
“You still function with it?”
“For some reason, it never affected my work or any of my playing,” he replied. “It was something, if I was dead down, when I came in the studio, I could work.”
Baby, I’ve been down, but never this down.
I’ve been lost, but never this lost.
This is my confession.
I need your heart
In this depression
I need your heart.
“This Depression,” from the 2012 album, “Wrecking Ball”
Springsteen, who wrote about it in the song “This Depression,” finally got through it with therapy and medication:
Springsteen’s late father also suffered from mental illness, and much of Springsteen’s book is his attempt to write a new ending to their relationship:
“Yeah, my Dad was very important in it, ‘cause I felt I hadn’t been completely fair to him in my music,” Springsteen said.
“How did you feel you were unfair?”
“I think I left an image of him as sort of this very domineering character, which he could be at different times. And he could be frightening. But he was also much, much more. He had a much more complicated life.”
Springsteen describes an unannounced visit his father made to see him just days before the first of his three children was born.
Mason asked, “What did he say to you?”
“You’re gonna get me now, man!” Springsteen laughed. “He showed up at my door. It was early in the morning and I think he said, ‘Hey, you know, you’ve been really good to us.” I said, ‘Yeah.’ He says, ‘I wasn’t so good to you.’ And I said, ‘Well, you did the best you could, you know?’ And that was it. That was the only recognition I needed of our history.”
“It was a little thing, but it was everything?”
“It was a small thing, but it was everything. It changed our relationship immediately. It was just a lovely gift. It was a lovely epilogue to our relationship, you know? It really was.”
The relationship Bruce Springsteen has with his fans is deep and enduring.
“I’m still in love with playing,” he said. “And my attitude at this point in my life is, this is what I love to do. I wanna do as much of it as I can.”
Again and again on this tour, he played. -- around four hours every night.
“You could play for just two-and-a-half hours, you know?” Mason said.
“I suppose I could!” he laughed, then reconsidered. “Nah.”
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