Words/photography: Bob Gordon
An audience with Bruce Springsteen in (what he referred to last tour as) “the remotest city in the world,” is a rarefied experience indeed.
That’s what I was certainly thinking at Cottesloe Beach last Sunday, having not made the cut on the accreditation list for The Boss’ only Australian media conference, marking the start of his current national tour. I was green with envy as I knew a select few of my colleagues would soon be making that walk to the front of stage.
Thing is, I had made the cut. As a phonecall from Sony Music Perth rep, Kylie Froud, suddenly confirmed somewhat out of the blue, followed by the all-important question: ‘Where are you, and can you get to Perth Arena immediately?’
The answer was yes, albeit it in a t-shirt, board shorts and thongs. After a mad dash across the city I was ushered into the Arena, as Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band soundchecked two songs to be aired that night, ‘New York City Serenade’ and ‘Land Of Hope And Freedom’.
With a media gathering listening on, the dialogue onstage was refreshingly open, as Springsteen and band stopped and discussed the nuances of song, what was going right… and wrong. It was proof positive that it’s not all polish, this is a hard-working band.
It was time, however, to talk to the media. "Come forth with your enquiries," said Springsteen good-naturedly, as a clearly enamoured throng approached.
With the Trump inauguration having taken place in preceding days, as well as the women’s marches all around the globe, Springsteen was asked how it felt to be on the other side of the world as these events took place. It was a pertinent opening question and he duly recognised it as such.
"It feels a long ways away,” he began, “but our hearts and our spirits are with all the millions of people that marched yesterday, and the E Street Band — we are part of the new resistance (laughs)."
They were words that would be (now famously) expanded upon at the concert that very evening.
“An artist's responsibility is to witness and to testify,” he continued. “That is the basic job of the E Street Band. We observe and we report; we witness and we testify. And hopefully in doing so we lift up and help people transcend and we try to inspire people during tough times. It’s been our job for 40 years and it will continue to be so for the coming years.”
Media conferences are not about flow. They are for various media platforms to get the kind of quote that fits their format. As such, the subject immediately changed to lighter fare. Would there be any surprise song treats in the vein of last tour’s renditions of The Saints’ ‘Just Like Fire Would’ and AC/DC’s ‘Highway To Hell’?
“Well… we did that once,” Springsteen reflected. “I’m not sure we’ll do it again. I never know exactly what’s going to happen until we start rolling, but that was a lot of fun.”
The thread continued (even if this had already been answered): Have you learnt more Australian songs?
“We have not so far. But we didn’t learn any until we got down last time.”
The recent publication of Springsteen’s memoirs provided some food for thought a this gathering. Does he feel different performing for fans given they have a new insight into his life?
“This will be the first time that I’m doing so,” said Springsteen. “Hopefully the idea of the book is it deepens your relationship with your audience. That's been my pursuit since I started, and continues to be so today. I'm trying to deepen our conversation about life in general, things that hopefully matter to me and hopefully matter to them.
"Martin Scorsese once said ‘the job of the artist is to get the audience to care about your obsessions, and to meet you in the middle and see what you have in common’. So I think the book will deepen the concerts and peoples' relationship with our band. That's my hope anyway."
The new President’s inauguration raised its head once again, with a journalist noting that a lot of Springsteen’s traditional supporters - the working-class fans - voted for Donald Trump.
“Of course,” he responded. “Plenty of good people voted for Donald Trump on the basis that I’ve written about for 30 years, which was the de-industrialisation of the United States and globalisation, and the technological revolution hit many people very, very, very, very hard. Some of the recovery that occurred in the United States didn’t really get down to a lot of those folks. And so it makes for easy-pickings for a demagogue, which I believe Donald Trump is, to make some very powerful statements about.
“And look, I hope he succeeds; if he can bring those jobs back… I hope he does. If he can get a big infrastructure program going that will get people hired, I hope that that happens. I hope he keeps some of his promises.”
Did you watch the inauguration?
“I was up late at night and I did happen to catch quite a bit of it.”
Being Springsteen’s third Australian tour in four years, he was asked what’s made him want to return in quick succession.
“Well about three tours ago we seemed to hit something down here,” he noted. “We always had a good time down here, but about three, four or five years ago, we hit something that felt like a deeper relationship; a deeper connection to our audience down here. Suddenly it just got very, very exciting and very, very fulfilling and it’s gonna be a regular stop on our tours from here on in, that’s for sure. We’ve developed a beautiful audience, a dedicated audience down here and that always feels great. It feels good.”
After playing along that he was “looking for a BBQ to go to,” on Australia Day, it was noted that in touring with the release of ‘The Ties That Bind’ boxed set in the US last year, the E Street Band was playing out-takes from 1980’s ‘The River’ album. How does it feel to let those songs live and breathe in front of an audience years after they were effectively rejected?
“Well you know we pull them out every once in a while,” Springsteen responded. “Last time we played them was September in Jersey. We kind of pick up where we left off and the set will develop as we play down here. It’s fun to pop those out and surprise you all every once in a while.”
In Better Days (1992) you sang about being ‘a rich man in a poor man’s shirt’. Is it easier being Bruce Springsteen now?
“Ah… it’s pretty easy,” he laughed. “I have to say, you know? I mean ah, you’re always questioning yourself and that’s what the artist is always supposed to do. You’re always filled with some doubt, but that’s good. A degree of self-criticalness and understanding where you came from and the contradictions in your own work make you a better artist. So that’s what I aspire to.”
The 'Born To Run' memoir re-entered the conversation, with reference to the chapter titled ‘Red Headed Revolution’ which details when Springsteen first met his wife, the E Street Band’s Patti Scialfa.
‘Is that the key?’ asked the reporter. ‘Everyone should get off dating sites and find someone they’ve known for 18 years and love will come?’
“Well I can say that I’m lucky enough to be pre-dating site,” said Springsteen. “So I have no information at all about what people should be doing on or off dating sites. I met my lovely wife in a bar in Asbury Park the old-fashioned way,” he laughed. “But I wish everybody good luck.”
Your TWOS correspondent finally spoke up: Is there a different catharsis from book-writing to writing a song where you’ve poured your heart into it?
“The book-writing was equally as satisfying, you know? I didn’t start out with any big intentions, just putting down some of the things that happened to me that I thought my kids might be interested in many years down the road if they ever become interested in my job. It ended up being a very, very satisfying project. It was something that I enjoyed tremendously and I hope communicated well to my fans.”
A fellow music writer pondered if the memoir might’ve changed the way his (recorded but as-yet-unreleased) new album might sound, given that retrospective experience?
“No,” Springsteen replied. “I’m always looking to make an album that I haven’t made before. It may affect some of the projects I get into in the near future.”
And with that the audience was over. With a wave and a few handshakes Springsteen made his way to the back of the stage and the media throng – only one in thongs - walked off to get on with the business of filing their stories.
With beaming smiles all ‘round, it must be noted.
And on that very stage, magic would soon follow.