I think people would look at it and go, "Jeez, you have all the creature comforts, how do you understand that?"But it's clearly something that was imprinted on you genetically in your soul. It just doesn't matter.
We talk, we write, we think, and even as late in the day as I am, we experience so much through the veil of the formative years of our life. That never goes away.
I have a metaphor. I say, "Look, you're in a car, your new selves can get in, but your old selves can't get out." You can bring new vision and guidance into your life, but you can't lose or forget who you've been or what you've seen. New people can get in, but nobody ever gets out: The child from 1950, he doesn't get out. The teenager, the adolescent boy, no one can get out. They are with you until the end of the ride, and you're going to pass a certain amount of them on.
And they exert an amazing amount of influence.
The key is, of course, who's driving. On any given day, you're hoping that one of your better angels is at the wheel. That's not necessarily always the case, but that's what you work toward. Why do you always hear of the tycoon hoarding Kleenex, like they are the last he's ever going to see? Why is my mother-in-law switching out all the lights in her house? She came up through the Depression, when those fucking lights had to go out, and you used the one that you needed. These enormous economic shifts imprint people at an incredibly deep level. People who are going through the pain of this one, it's a life-changer – it will change the way you grow up and the way you think for the rest of your life for the people who are suffering through this one.
You lose trust.
And that stays with you even if the economy gets better, even if you get a better break. The cumulative effect of these kinds of recessions and this kind of punishment of people is so deep, and so those things are always there.
So how does that shape your work?
For me, it's the thing that pisses you off the most, the thing you want to fix the most, right? They're the things you want to heal the most, they're the things you want to repair the most. They're what obsess you, and what makes your art interesting to other people: "What's that thing eating at that guy?" Hank Williams, all the people I love the most, had something eating at them that they just couldn't shake off. That makes for interesting work and an interesting life, if you shape it correctly. That, for me, has been lifelong. Occasionally, you come upon a moment in time when you're really able to push up against it, where there's something out there for you to really push up against. And this last decade, there's been a lot of that. That was the case with The Rising and with Magic, which was a record about the Bush presidency. And this record, in a funny way, is an opportunity – an opportunity to bring the questions that have obsessed me for a large part of my life to the forefront. The problem we're having right now is that those questions aren't being pushed to the forefront on a national level – they're just beginning to really be voiced. I think Occupy Wall Street has given the president some elbow room where he can talk about income equality, talk about programs that would help the folks that have been hit the hardest, but it's just the very, very beginning. I think that is a moment that's here, and you have to give credit to the folks at Occupy Wall Street for changing the national discussion, which I really believe that they did.
As dark as this record gets, there's a sense of hope by the end.
All of these issues aren't going to be solved immediately, obviously. I have faith that through pressing on and through paying attention and listening and being vigilant and voicing your concerns and insisting that the right thing be done, you can move your world inches closer to where you want it to be for your children. You have to have faith in that. You have to have a clear eye, but you still have to have an open heart and mind. Because you have to have spirit, you have to have the soul.
If you look at the character in "Jack of All Trades" or when you move to "Rocky Ground" and those voices, they're resilient voices, and voices that go on through the next generation. When you get to the end of the record, the voices are really coming from the other world, they're coming from beyond the grave. In "We Are Alive," those are voices of people who have died, and even "Land of Hope and Dreams" – something that I wrote 10 years ago – gives voice to those spirits.
I love that song. How did you come to include it?
This was funny, because I wrote everything else on the album, and I did not have an end. I stopped somewhere around "Rocky Ground" and I said, "Where do you take this? How do you turn this into something that provides both clarity and inspiration?" Because that, along with fun and entertainment, is what I think my job is. So I sat around and I had "Land of Hope and Dreams," and that was a song I wrote when the E Street Band got back together again in 1998. I wrote it before the tour as the band's current manifesto. In other words, we have stood for these things in the past. This is our current statement of how we will try to stand for these things in the future. That's what our band is about.
But it was a funny song because the voices in it sort of do come from beyond the current moment, they're talking about that other world: "People, get ready, there's a train coming" – everybody knows what that refers to. It refers to both something that's present, whether it's a train of equality, justice, fairness, whatever, good times, joy, struggle – that train is coming into your life every single day of your life. And then there's the train that you hop on maybe when that train has passed. It's the train that you're riding, your children are going to ride long after you're gone, and there was a deep sense of that in the gospel church, and in the black community, that forged an enormous character and toughness. So for me, you're talking about that, too. It's the train that keeps going when I'm gone, and when your music and these times are just a memory. . . . These ideas are something that I wanted at the end of this record. We had a difficult time recording it, because we had a very good live version of it, so I had to find a way to reinvent it, rhythmically, and once again, I have to give credit to the fella that produced it with me, Ron Aniello, and Jon Landau, who also contributed an enormous amount to this record.
After that, the record ends with "We Are Alive." How did that one come together?
When I got there, I needed one more song – I needed a strange kind of party. And "We Are Alive" provides that. It's a party filled with ghosts. It's a party filled with the dead, but whose voices and spirit and ideas remain with us and go on and on. That's why I talk about the girls in Birmingham, the workers in Maryland and the new immigrants crossing the southern border. It's just the recurrence and how the blood and spirit of all those people regenerate the country and what America is, generation after generation, so I end the record with a party of ghosts. Ghosts who are speaking to the living.
Throughout this album, you get a taste of many different Springsteen flavors. You have so many different constituencies that want so many different things from you. How do you deal with that?
Generally I do what I like at any given moment and let the people find out where they fit in. The only thing I do keep in mind is that I'm in the midst of a lifetime conversation with my audience, and I'm trying to keep track of that conversation. Martin Scorsese once said that "your job is to make your audience care about your obsessions." So if the artist loses track of the conversation he's having with his audience, he may lose us forever. So I try to keep track of that conversation, while giving myself the musical freedom I need.
You don't want to shut people out.
No. I see the cops, the firefighters, the construction workers, the conservative guys, the Republicans, the Democrats. My family is filled with Republicans and Democrats, every Sunday night at the table, and so it's not hung there on anybody's political hat. I want people to just experience it as their own, and see where their ideas and their feelings fit inside of it. Its independence means a lot, because I respect the audience that comes to see me. I want them to be able to hear it as clearly as they can. I don't want the horse to follow the cart.
Has that gotten harder as the times have gotten more divided? As you find that the partisan voices are getting more shrill, is it harder to put something out and feel like it lives beyond that conversation, and it can be the conversation you want to have?
The conversation I want to have with the audience is just the one that I want to have. There's also the one they're having with themselves, the one they're having with their buddy, the one they're having with their wife. It's a wide-open playing field. We've been onstage and we've been booed by our own crowd.
I've been there.
I mentioned Bush being impeached at the Meadowlands in 2000-something, and some people booed, and that's fine.
A conversation can be an argument. That's the thing I don't understand. That's what Thanksgiving is for – you sit and you and your family argue out all different points of view, but you still love each other.
Yeah. I'm proud of our band in that we've maintained an audience who want to listen to us, in the sense that they're interested in not just what you were saying in '85 or '80, but interested in what we're saying right now – what's the next step we're going to take together, what are we going to argue about, what are we going to debate the meaning of?
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