A family man, healthy, loyal… Bruce Springsteen is an atypical rock and roll star who has keep himself away fron drugs, alcohol or sexual scandals. In Bruce, Peter Ames Carlin makes an intimate portrait of a sensitive man who has never forget the hard times of his childhood.
Q. First authorized biography, How in-depth has Bruce been? Has he covered anything up?
A. Well, first of all the book isn’t authorized, which in America at least means that there is an official contractual connection between the subject and the author. That said, it WAS written with Bruce’s cooperation. I spent the first year and a half of the project working without any help from or contact with Bruce and his organization, but from the time they decided to get involved Bruce was very helpful and open with his time and thoughts. I’m not sure what you mean by ‘covered anything up.’ I’m sure he keeps some things to himself, as all humans must. But we talked about a lot of very personal, tough stuff and he seemed very open and willing and sometimes even eager to talk about it all.
Q. Great doses of rock and roll, sex (always with a steady partner) and no drugs … At best, beers and shots … What has Bruce done to avoid all the usual excesses of the 70’s? Or is it that he knew how to preserve his image/reputation better than anyone else?
A. Bruce has never been interested in drugs, and it took him a long while to even start drinking socially. Largely because the erratic aspects of his family made him yearn for control – and particularly self-control – which made him very determined to not let drugs or alcohol take him over. Later he got used to drinking, and has at times been known to get drunk on occasion. As do I, my friends and neighbors and lots of otherwise healthy, stable, responsible people. He is not, nor has ever claimed to be a saint. He’s a regular guy doing regular things.
Q. To what extent is Bruce the opposite to the figure of his father and what drives him from his childhood?
A. Bruce’s dad, Doug Springsteen, was a very good man who suffered from a very serious, and largely untreated, psychiatric illness called manic-depression or bipolarity. Given no effective treatment or much of a stab at therapy, his life was defined by wild mood swings and often unstable behavior. Bruce, who avoided a great deal (if not the entirety of his father’s genetically-borne illness), has built his life and career around self-control and situational control, largely as a result of witnessing his father’s lack of control. Painful memories of his dad’s suffering, and the way it was worsened by an unsympathetic society, lie deep in the heart of his creative inspiration.
Q. Movies, literature,…where does Bruce draw his inspiration from?
A. Life, experiences, reading, movies, memories, fantasies, newspapers, talk on the street, a crooked smile on the face of a pretty girl in a summer dress….all this and more is where Bruce finds his inspiration. He walks through the world like everyone, and as a natural-born observer and storyteller with a strong sense of right, wrong and the struggle to stay on the correct side of their dividing line, he has plenty to think and write about.
Q. You barely speak about his scandals…just a quick mention of the episode with Lynn Goldsmith at the Muse and a review of diva’s reactions such as the day he through a cordon bleu away…
A. What scandals are you talking about? Bruce has definitely had his share of unhappy, even operatically so, romances and breakups. Everything about his blow-up at the MUSE/’No Nukes’ show in 1979 is in the book, and there’s also quite a bit about his awkward and (frankly) bad split from his first wife, Julianne Phillips, in the midst of the 1988 ‘Tunnel of Love’ tour. Maybe there were a few uglier moments backstage – arguments, a thrown punch or two – that people made clear had happened, but weren’t going to talk about. None of this is scandalous, per se. And if you’re alluding to the accusations from a few years back regarding Bruce’s so-called flings with other women, that was all tabloid newspaper bullshit and none of it was even close to being borne out by factual accounts. People can say anything all the time, but it still doesn’t mean they know what they’re talking about.
And what if it were? If a celebrity like Bruce did have an extracurricular love life beyond his marriage, and it were with another consenting adult, that’s pretty much his business, his paramour’s business and their respective spouses’ business. Given that we, the media and nosy onlookers, don’t know anything about their personal relationships or understandings, and why should we? Bruce is an artist, not a professional moralist. And don’t even say that he’d be contradicting the messages in his music – virtually every song he’s written about love and marriage involves people working trying, but not always succeeding at, living up to their better selves. See also the beautiful “One Step Up” from 1988: “When I look at myself I don’t see/The man I wanted to be/Somewhere down the line I slipped off track/One step up and one step back.” Sounds like a realistic appraisal of a longterm relationship/marriage to me.
Q. Red Headed Woman, Reno … sex is very present in his songs ..Although he always defends it within marriage… Does he enjoy provoking?
Red Headed Woman is a horny little joke song about marital romance. Reno’ tells a dark tale about a morally troubled man who at one moment visits a prostitute. Two extremely different things, don’t you think? The premise of your question is still true, though, and it’s best heard in songs like Pink Cadillac, Cross My Heart and The Fuse. Bruce is definitely a male of the species whose endocrine system is entirely functional and maybe on higher alert than the average bear’s. Which is to say that he likes women and, when the moment’s right, having sex. Does he feel obligated to DEFEND this aspect of his humanity? Um, no. It is what he is. If I, or anyone, asked him to defend it in words or melody I bet he’d laugh really hard and walk away shaking his head. He’s really smart like that.
Q. He is a mix of Dylan and Elvis…Why is he so ‘touching’?/ Why is he so captivating?
A. Bruce a great songwriter who also happens to be a great lyricist who can sing, play guitar, lead a band and perform his music at a level few of his peers can reach. Certainly, some of his his albums are terrific while others don’t quite reach that level, and others don’t even come close. But he’s usually always pushing himself; always straining to do something new and different. People also respond to his commitment to his work, and his dedication to his audience. Which may strike less sympathetic viewers as cheerlead-y and just a different kind of showbiz bullshit, but it’s not. He’s doing serious business when he writes songs and performs them to crowds. He’s out to touch people and make them feel something. Most often he won’t settle for less.
Q. What is the real relationship among the members of the band? According to what it is written , Clarence and Steve were his only true friends…
A. I don’t know where that was written (not MY book, if you read it carefully), but that’s total bulllshit. All the guys in the E Street Band are like a big family of brothers. Certainly Bruce calls the shots, and this can be awkward for everyone, and lead to resentments, tensions and so forth. But that’s a tiny ripple compared to the huge current of love and connection they have with one another. Most of those guys grew up together; started playing together as teenagers, spent years on the road together and slowly worked their way to the top. Bruce is probably closer to Steve than the others, given the lengh and depth of their connection. Clarence was obviously his soul brother, too. But if Garry Tallent called Bruce at 4 am needing him to pull his car out of a ditch Bruce would be there as fast as possible with his truck and a winch. And vice versa, and it goes for all of them, too. They may bicker and bitch at each other on the ride home, but with love in their hearts. That’s what brothers are like, aren’t they?
Q. You show Bruce as a lover of loneliness, observer, a bit lonely maybe… Who likes to shut himself away in his own thoughts…How does that fit with his public image of outgoing and overwhelming/seductive/attractive/appealing/fascinating attitude?
A. He’s paradoxical. A complicated soul who is capable of being a loner and he wild center of a party at the same time. Therein lies the complexity of the man, and possibly the most important thing about his public character/image. His sadness inspires his need for good times and community, while the lights on the dance floor still throw shadow figures that capture his vision. Art itself is paradox, and artists usually are, too. They find the light in the darkness, the raw need rumbling beneath the dance floor, etc.
Q. Reaching his 40s, he went through one of the most complicated moments in his personal life. Since then, he’s on tour every year. Is he looking for relief while performing in front of the crowd?
A. Bruce definitely confronted a waning sense of artistic vision/purpose as he reached his 40s, but his stumbling lasted two or three years at the most, after which he was as busy, and more experimental, than before. The pair of solo albums in ’92, the year-plus tour he did with the other musicians, moving right into the ‘Ghost of Tom Joad’ album, a solo world tour, and etc. etc. He definitely finds his highest expression in live performance, I think. But writing and recording are central to his craft too, and he has worked consistently, with often great results throughout his career.
Q. Progressive, defender of the oppressed classes … Bruce embodies the perfect American worker, the perfect father… He openly showed his opposition to Reagan’s and Bush’s politics.. a picture / a fact that bothers the most conservative citizens (who attack him as a representative of the gauche divine and remark the falseness of his model husband role rummaging extramarital stories. To what extent you consider that its policy statements detract his followers in the USA? / To what extent does he think that his political beliefs may affect his fan base in the USA?
A. Did you just say gauche divine? I’ve never heard that phrase before but I think I know what you mean – nouvelle riche, to borrow the French. A newly-wealthy person who either doesn’t know or refuses to follow the established rules/politesse other rich people live by. Whatever, gauche divine is a beautiful, beautiful phrase and I will now appropriate it and do my best to put it into general usage in the good old US of A. Thanks for that!
I think you’re correct that certain wealthy conservatives in the US can and will complain that the now-wealthy Bruce is a traitor to his economic class, or a hypocrite or whatever. They can go to hell though, because that line of reasoning doesn’t even address the morals/ethics of such gleeful selfishness, other than to claim some special privilege for people who already have more than they need, and are so obsessed with gaining even more, especially on the backs of the working class. Ugh.
Bruce was born and raised in a lower-working class neighborhood, in a family too troubled by illness, bad fortune and even worse opportunity to have even a decent shot at working their way up the social ladder. Bruce grew up feeling like an social outcast, and that feeling still dominates his perspective on life. He still lives among and stays in steady contact with the working class friends and families he’s known his entire life and so his empathy for the have-nots (or have-far-lesses) in the world is very real and vivid in his mind.
Q. It is true that you have not seen the real Bruce until you have seen him perform in Europe?
A. Um, I don’t know? I know he’s done a lot of good shows over there and I wish I could have gone to about a hundred of them over the years. But I’ve seen him play all over America over the last 35 years and I never felt like I was missing some other, bigger experience. I’ve seen him play in clubs and small theaters in New Jersey; at Madison Square Garden in New York City, the Meadowlands in New Jersey, and etc. etc. etc. Most of them were really cool, a few were transcendent. I’ve talked to a lot of Europeans who came to see Bruce play in the USA and they didn’t feel like the US shows lost something in the un-translation. So who knows?