Bruce On Howard

He was so NORMAL!

I wasn’t expecting much. It’s not like the Boss has been holding his cards close to his chest. I mean how much more is there to know?


But not what I expected it to be.

It was like sitting at the kitchen table with Springsteen. Two buddies connecting, revealing their inner truth with no holding back. And this is anathema to musicians. Forget that mystery is oftentimes key to their image, they’ve been interviewed so many times, been in the public eye for so long, that they’re media-savvy, aware of the pitfalls, always on guard.

And Stern’s style is to make you feel so relaxed, have the conversation be so intimate that he can ask the taboo questions, about your sex life, about your inner feelings, and when you walk out of the studio your adrenaline is pumping but soon there’s that little voice, did I really want to say that? The phone starts ringing, you start spinning, but it’s too late, there’s no editing, it’s already gone over the air, and even though Howard does his show multiple times per week, you’re lucky if you’ll be asked back within two or three YEARS!

So I both expected Bruce to be guarded and for Howard to be pushing, but neither was the case. Bruce was game from the get-go. And he wasn’t that different from me and you, except he’s BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN!

One of the peaks was when Bruce marveled at being on stage at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction with Mick Jagger at his right and George Harrison at his left…JUST LIKE YOU OR ME! He was aware of how hard he’d worked, how long the odds were, but he’d MADE IT! Not that he thought he didn’t deserve it, it’s just that he remembered being back in New Jersey infatuated with these blokes and broke, and to come all this way?

It required a ton of perseverance. Which is more important than the idea. The talent, that’s just a start. But are you willing to endure the hardships?

I mean Bruce is talking about sleeping in a surf shop. He actually mentioned surfing himself! Yes, can you see him on a board off the Jersey shore, not in black, but with the long-legged colored trunks of the era?

And then there was that aside about Bruce being down at the beach, only this time as an adult, on 9/11. At his house on the shore, right? No, at the beach club. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN IS A MEMBER OF A BEACH CLUB? 

The celebrities don’t stop telling us they’re better than we are, that they don’t even live in the same world, they fly private and vacation on Richard Branson’s private island. But Springsteen is inviting the entire town to his house for Halloween?

And I’m not saying Bruce didn’t give some amazing performances on the show, but as good as those were, those were not the highlight.

As to whether his kids knew who he was and came to the show… He said that he and Patty have a pact, not to bring it in the house, and when he starts talking about his work she shuts him down. And we thought he was the boss…

Not that he knew how to have a relationship. He had to learn how, through therapy. When most boomers believe therapy is a sign of weakness, that you must work out your problems by yourself to be a man.

As for his initial marriage… Bruce complimented the woman, but said she was just the wrong person, no amount of therapy could make it work.

And then there was his back surgery story. Yes, his hands started to go numb, so he needed an incision in his throat to attack the discs in his neck to relieve the pressure. Come on, you have these conversations with your buddies on a regular basis, if you’re a boomer, but the stars are supposed to be inviolate, and if there’s anything truly wrong with them it’s a national crisis, the entire nation pays fealty and weeps.

So Bruce is caught by the bug. And unlike too many of today’s young wankers, he knows it’s a long way to the top of if you want to rock and roll. He talks about all the gigs he played. Ones involving the fire department that I’d never even heard of, we didn’t have those where I grew up in Connecticut. Bruce was like a session musician of the sixties or seventies, he’d show up wherever there was a gig, he wanted to PLAY!

As a lead guitarist. That used to be Bruce’s ace in the hole. His wailing, his shredding.

As for making it…

His parents moved to Californ-i-a and left him behind, alone and broke, with only his guitar and his wits. And most people don’t make it, Bruce said how hard it was.

And he talked about his reverence for Dylan, that “Blinded by the Light” was written on the beach using a rhyming dictionary. And how Bob had contacted him to play at the Kennedy Center Honors. Yes, it’s a club, and we’re not in it, but Bruce is our representative.

I don’t want you to wince. Bruce knows who he is, that he’s rich, but somehow you can’t shake the Jersey out of him.

Most people want to ascend the ladder and become beautiful. Bruce is laughing, you get the style of his speech, you can see the real person, which is SO different from the edited interviews we’ve been exposed to over the decades. The reverence for the Boss undercuts him being honest. And most people who do these takes are uninformed. It’s all grist for the mill.

Not that the locals don’t say he’s changed. And Bruce said you’ve got to change, you can’t keep doing the same thing. Howard echoed this. You’ve got to progress, or you’re dead.

And how his entire career is a conversation with his fans. That’s what the new albums are about, not topping the chart. Turns out Bruce has a better perspective than those in charge of the machine.

As far as why Jon Landau became his manager… It was because of TRUST! You can’t buy trust. And trust is very rare in the music business. Everybody is trying to survive, and if they have to sacrifice you in the process, so be it.

Not that Bruce was a puppy dog, lapping at Howard’s feet. When Howard started talking about Patti, and how he wished she was there, Bruce said she had no intention of showing up because Howard had trashed her. She might get over it, but it’s going to take a ton of work by Howard. And Bruce ended up looking the bigger man. He didn’t even want Howard to hype his new album, that’s not what the interview was about.

Of course this appearance engendered awareness. But the listener did not feel manipulated.

As I’ve always said, I don’t hate Bruce Springsteen, I hate his fans. It’s a pecking order, how many shows have you seen, how much do you know. That uber-fan litmus test turns people off. I mean how in hell do you prove someone is a bigger fan. And if you show up and enjoy it, how big a fan do you even have to be?

Howard did ask about the sale to Sony for $500 million, but he did not ask about the Ticketmaster debacle. This wasn’t a gotcha interview.

And it wasn’t a lecture or a show either. It was more real than the recording of the Broadway show on Netflix, because you could feel the INTIMACY!

The Broadway show… So you went for $750-$1000. Good for you. But it wasn’t the second coming, nothing is. Get old enough and you realize it’s all about the individual, i.e. YOU! Nobody’s better than anybody else. It’s your life, you make of it what you want to.

And instead of enjoying the fruits of his success, living the fabulous life, Bruce is working every day in his studio. Even though the rock paradigm is dead, he is who he is.

And I’m not gonna get into showing up on David Geffen’s yacht… The lines start to blur. You want to maintain your credibility, your integrity, but that does not mean you always have to say no. And sometimes you make mistakes, EVERYBODY DOES, but we play a game of gotcha with our heroes.

So, writing all of “Born to Run” on the Aeolian piano given to him by his grandmother… Bruce was tickling the ivories in the studio, and you could get it, but I never thought of the album that way.

And how the muse comes and goes and he can’t control it, how years can go by before he writes another song. It’s so different from the Nashville model, you get together with others and pound out a song every day, whereas everybody truly in the game knows that the best work comes from raw inspiration. And you know when it hits, it’s a lightning bolt only you can feel, and you have to capture the moment immediately, or else you lose it. And if you’re beholden to the muse, that means something else has to be sacrificed. In Bruce’s case almost everything before he ultimately settled down and had a family. Turned out stardom was not enough.

Honestly, about ninety minutes in the effect started to wear off. Bruce was just another guy telling his story. You know the law of performance, leave them wanting more. But that’s if you’re more concerned about your audience than yourself, if you believe in manipulation. The key is to channel others through yourself. And if you remove yourself, if there’s too much smoke and too many mirrors, you can’t do that.

I’m not saying the interview was too long, it’s just that over time Bruce became normalized, he stopped being a star and became just another guy telling his story. And that’s how you do it in the twenty first century, you obliterate the line between you and the audience, it’s the only thing that truly works.

So Bruce has gone on record that he takes antidepressants. Or did.

And he owned up instantly to wearing hearing aids.

He’s getting old, and at some point you have to own it. And how bad is that anyway?

Will Bruce Springsteen be remembered? Unlike Paul McCartney and others, most of his material is unique to him, no one else can cover it, and this oftentimes shortens longevity, when the fans start to go there’s nobody, or not many people who are willing to put in the time to get it, and let’s be clear, you’ve got to put in the time to truly get Bruce Springsteen. That’s how it used to be with all of the acts, you had to play those albums over and over to get them. And you only wanted to get closer.

And Springsteen brought us closer than we ever were before.

Am I going to say I like the new material as much as the old?

No. Bruce is in a different place and so am I.

But at least he’s trying.

But I’m sick and tired of the media machine building up the story with each new release, like it’s manna from heaven when it’s just music, which at most will soothe your soul, get you through, and anybody truly in the game knows you can’t reach the pinnacle every time out, you want to, but 11’s are hard to come by, and the longer you’ve been around, the more you know, and it’s even harder.

So there’s a ton of stuff about Bruce’s dad. How Springsteen is living the life of his father in public, through his songs.

But at the end…

His parents are living in San Francisco. His dad is sitting at the kitchen table drinking a beer. Because some things never change, some people are locked into their ways, many, in fact. And Bruce reaches inside his coat and puts his newly-won Oscar on the table and says nothing.

He’s reached the mountaintop. Everybody seems to know it and acknowledge it but his father. He can’t get the love from his dad. But now he holds the ultimate trump card.

His father says he’ll never tell anybody what to do ever again…

And that feels good, but it’s still not enough, it’s not an acknowledgement, not love, but it’s as much as Bruce can get.

And since he could never get more he became an artist. To explore this pain, look for love, go on a journey of the other, since he was always considered the other anyway.

I didn’t listen as a fan, I listened as a person. I got some insight. It made me think. I don’t need to compare notes with the posse. I realized Bruce and I never would have been friends in high school. And even though we grew up on the same planet in the same era, his parents instilled completely different hopes and dreams in him than mine did in me. He and Howard talked about their relationship with their parents and…it wasn’t mine. Because each of us is different. The key is to be you.

If you love going to see Springsteen, great. Doesn’t make you better than the rest.

And the funny thing is the guy on stage, the perpetrator, he knows all this, he’s more developed than most of the people listening. He’s just doing what he’s doing. He’s glad you like it. But in truth, you’re completely different.

But ultimately the same.

There’s the conundrum, there’s the magic.

That’s rock and roll.

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