What brought you back to New Jersey?
I grew up around a very big extended family. I think Patti and I have maybe seventy family members, just in this area, and there's a lot of Italians and also an Irish side. At some point, when the children got to school age, we decided we wanted that for the kids. We were always here half the year anyway, even then. So when we came back, my kids grew up around my uncle that hunts, the one that owns the dry-cleaning business – people who do all different kinds of work and bring all kinds of things to them. It took away the weirdness of my job, and it allowed them to look other places for all different kinds of role models. That was important.
Then we came back, and I re-found the freedom in some of my early narrative, and that includes here in this building and this town and in my band. I feel the freest I've ever felt in my life creatively. I feel like I've picked up a thread that I never let go of but just let sit for a while.
And I feel like we're very on it right now. This is going to be the best E Street Band somebody's ever seen. You may have a favorite part of my work, you may have a favorite show, but if you're a young kid and your brother or your dad saw us, and you come and see us now, you can say, "I saw them when they were at their best." I like that. I like the fact that all my guys are out there and that they're all alive. I like that a lot. It could have gone many other ways. There were struggles, the same type of troubles that many other bands have, but people took care of one another, and everybody's there. I can't tell you the joy of standing next to those same people.
Some of whom have been with you for more than three decades.
I met Steve [Van Zandt] when I was sixteen. Now I'm fifty-eight. So that's more than forty years. It's an amazing thing to be up there with your best friends and your wife. Your whole world's up there. I think for a lot of our fans, part of the thing is when the world's falling apart, we're not. That's why people come to us. There was always a sense of stability and continuity and connection.
It sounds like something you've been able to provide for both your families – your family onstage and your kids.
You've got to have the whole picture at this point. You need the fullness of life. Without that, it's an exercise. You don't want the things that you're writing and singing about to remain an abstraction to yourself. I always liked the scene at the end of The Searchers: John Wayne brings the girl back home, but he can't enter the house himself. Very tragic. That was always really resonant for me. I grew up with a lot of that, people not being able to get in, and that was always my natural state.
I think that because I had a bit of a chaotic heart myself, I always was in search of that stability. It's in "Leah," on Devils & Dust: "I walk this road with a hammer and a fiery lantern/With this hand I've built, and with this I've burned." I think everybody feels those two things. It's just how you balance them. There's a lot of fire in the burning, but it don't do you any good if you ain't got the hammer for the building.
This story is from the November 1st, 2007 issue of Rolling Stone.
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