TBO.com: Tampa Bay Online, The Tampa Tribune and The Tampa Times - breaking news and weather.
Sunday, Sep 14, 2014
Arts & Music

Springsteen speaks for himself in new book


Published:   |   Updated: May 19, 2013 at 04:10 PM

Bruce Springsteen’s musical achievements speak for themselves.

He began his career on the Jersey shore singing at small clubs and evolved into a rock ’n’ roll icon. With anthem-like songs (“Born to Run,” “Born In the U.S.A.”) and dark, introspective pieces like “Streets of Philadelphia,” Springsteen has displayed an innate ability to connect with his audiences at different levels.

“Life’s just a mystery and I think you’re a detective,” Springsteen tells NBC’s Brian Williams in a 2010 interview. “And the music was me searching for clues.”

That discussion is one of more than 40 excerpts included in “Springsteen On Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches and Encounters” (Chicago Review Press; hardback, $27.95, 428 pages). It’s a chronological compilation of interviews Springsteen has given over the past four decades to some of the best music critics in the business. There also are radio and television interviews, along with his speeches at the Rock andRoll Hall of Fame — he inducted Bob Dylan and U2, and also spoke when he was inducted in 1999. There is also a moving eulogy to longtime saxophonist Clarence Clemons, “a towering fairytale figure, out of some very exotic storybook.”

Jeff Burger, who edited this collection, also includes an interview he conducted with Springsteen in January 1974. He wrote at the time that lyrically, Springsteen “accomplishes more in one tune than many artists do in an entire album.”

What Burger achieves is equally impressive. He presents an eclectic cross-section of interviews, but does more than just choose random pieces. There is a natural flow, and he also provides extensive editor’s notes to correct fact errors that popped up in the original interviews. His introductions to each chapter are crisp and give the proper context so the reader can understand the mindset of both Springsteen and the interviewer.

Through these interviews, one can observe Springsteen’s growth and maturation through the years. For example, in March 1973, Springsteen confesses that “I’m not really a literary type of cat.” Yet in 1998 he tells Will Percy — nephew of novelist Walker Percy, who wrote “The Moviegoer” in 1961 — that reading “has affected my work since the late seventies.”

In 1974, Springsteen said he wasn’t going to play big arenas again after his band opened for Chicago. And yet today, his three-hour shows fill stadiums and large arenas, and he is comfortable with his status as a headliner.

“To go out and have an audience and see people who’ve taken your music to heart — that’s something you never get over,” he says.

Springsteen even holds his own against aggressive interviewers. On “Nightline” in August 2004, Ted Koppel gets right to the point: “Are you entitled to your opinion? Of course, you are. But who the hell is Bruce Springsteen to tell anybody how to vote?”

“This is my favorite question,” Springsteen responds, then tells the ABC newsman that it was important to have an independent voice and build up credibility.

“There comes a time when you feel, all right, I’ve built this up and it’s time to spend some of this,” he says.

Springsteen’s candor is what is so refreshing among rock musicians. Certainly, there are times when he has an agenda or is promoting a CD or an upcoming tour, but it’s clear that Springsteen enjoys the tussle in an interview and responds with intelligent, insightful thoughts. There are no standard, cliché-like responses.

If the book has a flaw, it can be repetitive in places. Several interviews dredge up the story of a young Springsteen scaling the fence at Graceland to visit Elvis Presley, only to be shooed away by a security guard who was not impressed that this scruffy guy trespassing had recently graced the covers of Time and Newsweek.

Or, that Springsteen does not like his nickname — “The Boss.”

Some of the writing from the 1970s, seen in 2013 context, appears comical, as writers of that era strove to be as descriptive as possible about their subjects, detailing the singer’s wardrobe and even what he was eating.

Those imperfections are minute. What comes out in this collection is an artist who cares deeply about his music: “I wrote with purpose in mind, so I edited very intensely the music I was writing,” he says.

Springsteen says he doesn’t need records that are No. 1 or will sell millions.

“Music doesn’t tell you where to go. It says, ‘Go and find your own place.’ That’s what it told me,” he says.

Springsteen’s place in music history is secure. As Dave DiMartino observed in his introduction to a 1981 interview, “ ‘Bruce Springsteen’ is a myth; Bruce Springsteen isn’t.”

This collection tells plenty about Bruce Springsteen — the man, not the myth.


Bob D’Angelo is a Tampa Tribune sports copy editor.

Subscribe to The Tampa Tribune

Comments