It was surprising enough to see Bruce Springsteen performing Willow Smith's "Whip My Hair" with Jimmy Fallon (as Neil Young) earlier this week — let alone doing it as his bearded 1970s self. Fallon tells Rolling Stone how it all came together.
"We have a great writer, Mike Dicenzo," Fallon says. "It was his idea to do the Neil Young [parody], and 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air' and 'Pants on the Ground.' We were tryin' to think of [another one], and he was like, 'Dude, I think I found the song: we should do 'Whip My Hair' by Willow Smith.' And I listened to the song and went, 'Oh my God, it could be great.'
"We were just gonna do that as Neil, but in the meantime, we'd been talking to [Springsteen manager] Jon Landau. I know he'd loved the [Glee/"Born to Run"] Emmy opening. They called us up and said, 'Bruce wants to come on and do a couple songs off the box set and the new record.' I was like, 'Oh my God — would he be up for a bit?' We didn't hear back for a couple days, but they said, 'Yeah, he'd be open to it — he's not really into that stuff, but if you wanna pitch him something.'
"So we did a scratch track in my office, sent it to Bruce — and he loved it. He was like, 'I'm in!' And then Jon Landau — this is the craziest call — says, 'I have an idea: If Jimmy's being Neil from the '70s, maybe Bruce should be Bruce from the '70s? We'll get a beard ...' And I was like, 'What?' So he says, 'Here's his number, give him a call and talk about it.' "
Fast-forward to Bruce and Jimmy in the makeup room. "He brought his actual sunglasses from the Born to Run times, and he goes, 'I got the glasses, I just need a floppy hat.' We got him one, and we taped this beard on him, and he goes, 'Wow, that's it right there.' And I go, 'Do you want to put the wig on?' And he's laughing, 'What are you trying to do to me?!' There was no one else in the room. I go, 'Let me shut the door. It's just me and you. Just put the wig on, and we see if it looks good.' He was so sad! So I put a wig on Bruce Springsteen, and then he put the hat over the wig and looked in the mirror, and he was just like, 'Whoa.' And that was it. He looked exactly like he looked in 1970. It was spooky.
"So then we went to show Jon what we did, and I think he started [tearing] up a little bit, to be honest. He was just, like, 'Gosh, Bruce, you look like when we first started working together. That's crazy!' Like, when would he ever do [something like] this? You don't dress up as yourself at home. It was a really cool moment.
"Right before he was about to come out I heard applause backstage in the hallway — I was like, 'What was that?' And said, 'He just walked into everyone from his camp.' No one had seen him yet, just Jon, and people freaked out. They were like, 'Oh my God, Bruce, you look so young.' Everyone was getting nostalgic.
"One of my friends who was at the show was like, 'I'm the biggest Bruce fan. There's no way he would do that!' It was just so fun. He just went for it and nailed it, and all I kept saying in my head was, 'Keep a straight face ... keep straight face.'
"I've listened to it probably 10 times already."