There's a sign on the road leading to Bruce Springsteen's place that reads DISCHARGE OF FIREARMS PROHIBITED. Springsteen lives on a 400-acre farm in Monmouth County, New Jersey, about an hour outside Manhattan, with his wife, Patti Scialfa, who sings backup in the E Street Band, and their three children, Evan, 13, Jessica, 11, and Sam, 8. The farm's previous owner, a painter, cherished the lush landscape and kept developers at bay. Then, for a time, there was talk of turning the property into a golf course, before Springsteen purchased it, eight years ago. "We got lucky," he says, standing in a field and surveying his land. "I can't think of anywhere I'd rather be."
Springsteen walks with a slight limp — years of jumping around arena stages having taken their toll — but he wears it well, or at least his persona does, the cowboyish swagger bringing to mind a character out of one of the John Ford westerns he loves. Otherwise, at fifty-two, he looks remarkably fit. His arms, especially, bring a formidable heft. Today, he's sporting clothes that nudge slightly closer to the trendy — or at least trendy for someone normally photographed in denim and flannel. There are gray pants and a jacket, both by G-Star, scuffed black boots and an orange mesh tank top. He wears a silver wedding band and thin hoop earrings in both ears — three on the left — and a generous amount of stubble, slightly more mustache than beard. His face is tanned and ruddy; his hair is thinning, but only his sideburns hint at gray. A large cross hangs from a silver chain around his neck, three tiny silver hearts dangling from the cross's arms and base. Springsteen isn't sure about the tank top, only because he's going to be photographed later in the afternoon. "I've never been photographed in orange before," he says. "I'm so boring. I don't want to blow the sartorial boringness I've cultivated over the years."
It's a beautiful day and Springsteen is in high spirits. Would we like to hear a joke? Of course. ("Why do most men name their private parts? Because they don't want a stranger making ninety percent of their decisions.") His favorite new rapper is Ludacris. He enjoys watching E Street Band guitarist Steve Van Zandt mug as wiseguy Silvio Dante on The Sopranos, though he misses Big Pussy (who, incidentally, once joined Springsteen onstage. Springsteen says he had a pretty good voice).
A loud, unpleasant mewling erupts nearby. "We've got peacocks," Springsteen says, nodding at a nearby hutch. "They're great watch animals. They'll sit on top of the house, and if anyone comes within fifty feet, they'll squawk." Springsteen also keeps horses; he recalls one of his first, which his family named He Who Is Afraid of Small Things because the horse would throw Springsteen whenever a squirrel or rabbit crossed his path.
In recent months, Springsteen's most time-consuming pastoral endeavor has involved making his farm organic. As he explains, it's a five-year process, during which inspectors regularly test the soil for chemicals. For now, Springsteen is growing nothing but a ground cover of reedy wildflowers, which will eventually be plowed back into the earth as part of the nonorganic purging.
And so goes the life of Bruce Springsteen, five decades on. He keeps an eye on the homestead. Takes his kids down to the Jersey shore. Goes for rides in his vintage blue Corvette. Gets pissed off reading the paper — most recently over the stories of corporate malfeasance and the current administration's laissez-faire attitude.
Most important, Springsteen is making rock music again — and it has been a while. His last studio album, 1995's The Ghost of Tom Joad, won a Grammy for best contemporary folk album. The new album, The Rising, is not Springsteen as lone troubadour, but Springsteen reunited, finally and completely, with the E Street Band. The group had reformed pre-Tom Joad to record three new tracks for a 1995 greatest-hits album, and it embarked on a triumphant comeback tour four years later, but The Rising is its first full album since 1984's Born in the U.S.A.
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