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"The Boss" on Kennedy Center Honor

In "The Early Show" series, "Profiles of 2009 Kennedy Center Honorees," Bruce Springsteen opened up to co-anchor Julie Chen about his long history in the public eye.

"The Boss," an Oscar, Golden Globe and 19-time Grammy Award winner, is one of this year's five honorees rewarded for a lifetime of artistic excellence.

Photos: Kennedy Center Honors

Springsteen said the honor was "a little bit of surprise."

"It was one of our ambitions, really, just to sort of seep into the cultural thread of the country," he said. "So, it's a little bit of an acknowledgement that people knew you were around a little bit and working, so that's nice."

Chen pointed out Springsteen has not only been the voice of a generation -- but also the nation -- he's set the tone of the rock 'n' roll landscape for four decades.

And it all started when the Jersey boy was signed to Columbia Records in 1972.

"I was signed as an acoustic singer songwriter like Dylan," Springsteen said. "And at the time, those were the records that were at the top of the charts. And so I was sort of signed with an eye on that. But what I had in my pocket was I had 10 years of bar band experience, rock 'n' roll experience, where I played every type of music."

His background in New Jersey has been a wealth of material for his songwriting.

"It gave me a background that I draw on to this day," he said. "It's been something that's served me really well my whole life. And I do look at it as -- something -- as growing up in that little piece of Jersey real estate that was very beneficial."

Springsteen's first two albums were modest sellers, but his third album "Born to Run" earned him critical acclaim as the future of rock 'n' roll.

He said, "We were pushing mainly to not get dropped from the record label, which I had a three-record contract, and that was my third record. So, our main concern was if we have another flop, we're probably going to be dropped from our record label, which wasn't hot on us at the time (and) sent back to New Jersey."

Springsteen said, "We went in to make the greatest record that we'd ever heard, and combine all our influences -- all the things I was kind of absorbing in one record -- and try to make the greatest noise ever heard."

"Born to Run" put Springsteen at the center of the rock 'n' roll universe. In the same week, he landed the covers of both Time magazine and Newsweek.

He told Chen, "People were like, 'Huh. Who's that? Who's this kid?' All I remember is I called my dad and said, 'I'm going to be on the cover of Time and Newsweek.' All he said was, 'Well, better you than another picture of the President.'"

Springsteen's hits kept coming, and in 1984, the album "Born in the USA" put the star at the center of both the musical and political universe.

"You're a little bit at the mercy of forces that are going to be beyond your control," he told Chen. "It was a political campaign. And (the) Reagan administration came in and sort of co-opted -- tried to co-opt the song, and misinterpreted it. And so, I was learning very quickly that you had to be aggressive and assert control of your work as best as you could."

"Born in the USA" became the top selling album of his career with two full years of intense touring and promotion.

Springsteen said he got a little bit "Bruce'd out" on tour.

"Everybody can feel a little burnt out from their job from time to time," he said, "and I think because the job is so fundamentally egocentric, you do reach point where you go, well, you know, you just sort of want to slip back into daily life a little bit."

But what is life like on the stage for Springsteen?

He said it's like coming "close to a heart attack."

"I think the physical act of coming out on stage, and running through your whole life's history, which is basically what I do every night," Springsteen said. "I play songs I wrote when I was a 22-year-old young man, and a 60-year-old man. So, it's an unusual job in that it collects -- it takes your physical efforts, mental effort, emotional effort, combines them all, and you do it all every night."

He added the audience reaction is another part of the experience.

"There's just the simple visceral thrill of screaming, and watching people scream back at you," he said. "You know, that's fun, it's good for the soul. It's still the fundamental thing I live for creatively, it's still the thing you go out every night. It's new -- it's never old."

You can see The Kennedy Center Honors next Tuesday, December 29th at 9/8 Central on CBS.

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