Bruce Springsteen's State of the Union

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I played at the boys' facility there around that time! I was in a band, and I played for the fellas at the academy. We played big-band music – I was nine or 10. I played trumpet. I can't believe I haven't laid down tracks for you yet. We played all those songs like "In the Mood" and "Take the 'A' Train" and "Golden Earrings."
Can you still play that thing?

The embouchure is slightly out of shape thanks to the years of smoking, but I imagine I could do a few lip-ups and have myself back in shape in no time.
We have a horn section. We're ready for you.

It must be a strange thing – to lose something that can t be replaced, and to find yourself in this position of other people saying, "So how are you going to replace that?"
Yeah. We're not the first band that's had to deal with that issue. That's just the way that it is. In Clarence and my case, we were not just in a band together – we were a real duo, a team that existed not only within the structure of the E Street Band, but also apart from it as something powerful in and of itself. That's something and someone you don't replace, not 40 years of it. You just have to give thanks that it was a part of your life, that he was a part of my life, and honor what we did together.

You make that part of the conversation you're having with your audience.
You have no other choice. And that's what we're going to do when we go out this time. It's just a question of how you address it. We wanted people who were close to home, people who understood the band, not necessarily somebody who could play rings around the moon – all our guys are great players, but it's not what we're about. It was about how well you understand who we are and what we do and what we're trying to do. We were very, very lucky, and we had Eddie Mani on, who worked with Southside Johnny over the years. He's worked with me in the Seeger Sessions Band, he played with the E Street Band back in 1988, and we had Jake Clemons, Clarence's nephew. Jake traveled with us on the last tour for quite a while with "C" – he'd picked up the saxophone as a youngster after he came to a show in 1988 and saw his uncle.

That's how he got into it?
Yeah. He's been a musician most of his life and has worked really hard. Between those two guys – and we have an excellent horn section we're going to bring out this time – I feel really comfortable with how it's going.

I imagine musicians having that mentality of "Go on without me – I'm down, I can't keep going, but go on without me!"
I've seen some funny moments onstage. I've seen Max [Weinberg] stretchered into his dressing room, neck bolted down, and two hours later, in the middle of "Badlands," playing like a banshee. I know what it took for him. I've seen the guys do some strange and funny things. At the end of the day, a show is just a show. It's an act of theater, it's pretend, it's as deeply rooted in reality and real feelings as you can make it, but it's a performance, and life and the things we've experienced the past couple of years, they're bigger and broader than that. They're real friendships you have with all these folks that were not part of what people saw – that were part of some mystical, strange chemical alchemy that you had with this person. I was my son Evan's age when I met Clarence, 22. And I'm 62, right? So there was a huge relationship that occurred beyond our audience's imaginations and dreams.

So I'm looking forward to the shows being a happy thing, a sad and happy thing. Like I said, people need to miss Clarence. I need to miss him, too. That's what's going to happen.

Do you have an idea for yourself of where this conversation is going? Are there conversations you've wanted to wrap up with the audience that you haven't had a chance to?
It's never going to be wrapped up. You're never going to hear anything called an E Street Band farewell tour – that's never going to exist. It just goes until it stops, and then it keeps going.

It doesn't even stop then.

You can still get stimulated by things artistically. Do those things have to be greater and greater to break through to you, or is the muse still tuned as finely as it was?
You just have to be living and listening. I don't have a wide knowledge of hip-hop – I listen to some, I have a glancing knowledge of it – but it found its way into this record. You have to let it impact you. You have to be open and see the value, hear what magic it holds, and somewhere down the line, maybe years later, suddenly there's a little spot in your song where you go, "I know what this needs," and it's there for you. Listening, paying attention, being open – that's supposed to be the natural development of adulthood.

What's the development of adulthood? I knew it was something.
It's supposed to be how we broaden and move into adulthood. We're supposed to be picking up as we go – a larger experience of our world. It's something I've tried to facilitate through what I've done – broaden people's perspective, broaden people's vision and assist people in seeing through to, for lack of a better word, the inner reality of things. Your show is basically an interpretive media class.

That may be the nicest thing anyone's ever said about our show.
That's one of the things it is. That did not exist, in that form, until you did it. You have to go back to some of the early stand-up, Mort Sahl . . .

It's funny – what you were saying about how that song could have been sung in the 1800s, I feel that way about "The Daily Show." There have always been people who do this, we're just using the form and technology that exist now to express it.
This is what the guys at Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers forgot. They forgot that they are a part of a continuum of history, and it's not about the fucking buck that you make today at whoever's fucking expense. If there's not a sense of continuity, a sense of some sort of communal obligation and responsibility, a sense of a future involved in what you're doing, and a sense of being beholden to the past, you end up being one shallow, greedy motherfucker, just trying to get all you can get.

Now that's a name for a song, "Shallow Greedy Motherfuckers."
I had that one, but I left it off.

I love that you've never let the tail wag the dog, which is pretty surprising for a guy in rock & roll. I never saw you in a Ziggy Stardust suit – you were never that guy.
I would have looked completely ridiculous in it. Any time I tried to put anything on other than the boring things that I still wear, I just, for some reason, looked ridiculous. I wish I could have carried a little more flash.

Whatever you were wearing during those times, I can remember me and my friends hearing you and thinking, "Oh, we're not alone. It feels like this guy knows us." Maybe that's the magic of the conversation.
At the end of the day, that's what it's all about. When I did your show, that's the experience I'm having. It's like, "Oh, my God, an island of sanity."

I think this is when we should kiss and hug [laughs].

This article is from the March 29, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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