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The Rolling Stone Interview: Bruce Springsteen Leaves E Street

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What was it that woke you up to the fact that you were missing something or had a problem?
Unhappiness. And other things, like my relationships. They always ended poorly; I didn't really know how to have a relationship with a woman. Also, I wondered how can I have this much money and not spend it? Up until the Eighties, I really didn't have any money. When we started the River tour, I had about twenty grand, I think. So, really, around 1983 was the first time I had some money in the bank. But I couldn't spend it, I couldn't have any fun. So a lot of things started to not feel logical. I realized there was some aberrational behavior going on here. And I didn't feel that good. Once out of the touring context, and out of the context of my work, I felt lost.

Did you ever go to a therapist or seek help like that?
Oh, yeah. I mean, I got really down. Really bad off for a while. And what happened was, all my rock & roll answers had fizzled out. I realized that my central idea – which, at a young age, was attacking music with a really religious type of intensity – was okay to a point. But there was a point where it turns in on itself. And you start to go down that dark path, and there is a distortion of even the best of things. And I reached a point where I felt my life was distorted. I love my music, and I wanted to just take it for what it was. I didn't want to try to distort it into being my entire life. Because that's a lie. It's not true. It's not your entire life. It never can be.

And I realized my real life is waiting to be lived. All the love and the hope and the sorrow and sadness – that's all over there, waiting to be lived. And I could ignore it and push it aside or I could say yes to it. But to say yes to part of it is to say yes to all of it. That's why people say no to all of it. Whether it's drugs or whatever. That's why people say no: I'll skip the happiness as long as I don't have to feel the pain.

So I decided to work on it. I worked hard on it. And basically, you have to start to open up to who you are. I certainly wasn't the person I thought I was. This was around the time of Born in the U.S.A. And I bought this big house in New Jersey, which was really quite a thing for me to do. It was a place I used to run by all the time. It was a big house, and I said, "Hey, this is a rich man's house." And I think the toughest thing was that it was in a town where I'd been spit on when I was a kid.

This was in Rumson?
Yeah. When I was sixteen or seventeen my band, from Freehold, was booked in a beach club. And we engendered some real hostile reaction. I guess we looked kind of – we had on phony snakeskin vests and had long hair. There's a picture of me in the Castiles, that's what it was. And I can remember being onstage, with guys literally spitting on it. This was before it was fashionable, when it kind of meant what it really meant.

So it was a funny decision, but I bought this house, and at first I really began to enjoy it, but then along came the Born in the U.S.A. tour, and I was off down the road again. I had a good time, and I began to try to figure out things. I was trying to find out how to make some of these connections, but once again it was sort of abstract, like how to integrate the band into some idea of community in the places we passed through.

Readers' Poll: Ten Favorite Bruce Springsteen Albums

It was during this time that you met Julianne?
Yeah, we met about halfway through that tour. And we got married. And it was tough. I didn't really know how to be a husband. She was a terrific person, but I just didn't know how to do it.

Was the marriage part of your whole effort to make connections, to deal with that part of your life?
Yeah, yeah. I really needed something, and I was giving it a shot. Anybody who's been through a divorce can tell you what that's about. It's difficult, hard and painful for everybody involved. But I sort of went on.

Then Patti and I got together, on the Tunnel of Love tour, and I began to find my way around again. But after we came off the road in 1988, I had a bad year right away. I got home, and I wasn't very helpful to anyone.

You were still living in Rumson?
Yeah, and then we lived in New York for a while. That wasn't for me, on account of growing up in a small town and being used to having cars and all that stuff.

I'd made a lot of plans, but when we got home, I just kind of spun off for a while. I just got lost. That lasted for about a year.

What kinds of things did you do?
The best way I can say it is that I wasn't doing what I said I was going to do. Somewhere between realization and actualization, I slipped in between the cracks. I was in a lot of fear. And I was just holding out. I made life generally unpleasant. And so at some point Patti and I just said, "Hell, let's go out to L.A."

I've always felt a little lighter out here. I've had a house in the Hollywood Hills since the early Eighties, and I'd come out here three, four months out of the year. I always remember feeling just a little lighter, like I was carrying less. So Patti and I came out here, and things started to get better. And then the baby came along, and that was fantastic. That was just the greatest thing.

Had you wanted to have a baby in the past?
I know there were a lot of things in the paper about Juli and me and that the issue of having a baby was what caused us to break up. Well, that just wasn't true. That's a lie.

But was it something you wanted to do – have a family – or was it something you were afraid of?
Well, yeah [pause], I was afraid. But I was afraid of this whole thing. That's what this was about. I had made my music everything. I was real good at music and real bad at everything else.

Was Patti the person who really helped you get through all of this?
Yeah. She had a very sure eye for all of my bullshit. She recognized it. She was able to call me on it. I had become a master manipulator. You know, "Oh, I'm going out of the house for a little while, and I'm going down . . ." I always had a way of moving off, moving away, moving back and creating distance. I avoided closeness, and I wouldn't lay my cards on the table. I had many ways of doing that particular dance, and I thought they were pretty sophisticated. But maybe they weren't. I was just doing what came naturally. And then when I hit the stage, it was just the opposite. I would throw myself forward, but it was okay because it was brief. Hey, that's why they call them one-night stands. It's like you're there, then bang! You're gone. I went out in '85 and talked a lot about community, but I wasn't a part of any community.

So when I got back to New York after the Amnesty tour in '88, I was kind of wandering and lost, and it was Patti's patience and her understanding that got me through. She's a real friend, and we have a real great friendship. And finally I said I've got to start dealing with this, I've got to take some baby steps.

What were some of those baby steps?
The best thing I did was I got into therapy. That was really valuable. I crashed into myself and saw a lot of myself as I really was. And I questioned all my motivations. Why am I writing what I'm writing? Why am I saying what I'm saying? Do I mean it? Am I bullshitting? Am I just trying to be the most popular guy in town? Do I need to be liked that much? I questioned everything I'd ever done, and it was good. You should do that. And then you realize there is no single motivation to anything. You're doing it for all of those reasons.

So I went through a real intense period of self-examination. I knew that I had to sit in my room for eight hours a day with a guitar to learn how to play it, and now I had to put in that kind of time just to find my place again.

Were you writing any songs during this period?
At first, I had nothing to say. Throughout '88 and '89, every time I sat down to write, I was just sort of rehashing. I didn't have a new song to sing. I just ended up rehashing Tunnel of Love, except not as good. And it was all just down and nihilistic. It's funny, because I think people probably associate my music with a lot of positives. But it's like I really drift into that other thing – I think there's been a lot of desperate fun in my songs.

Then I remembered that Roy [Bittan] had some tracks that he'd play to me on occasion. So I called him and said, "Come on over, maybe I'll try to write to some of your tracks." So he had the music to "Roll of the Dice," and I came up with the idea for that, and I went home and wrote the song. It was really about what I was trying to do: I was trying to get up the nerve to take a chance.

And then Roy and I started working together pretty steadily. I had a little studio in my garage, and I came up with "Real World." What I started to do were little writing exercises. I tried to write something that was soul oriented. Or I'd play around with existing pop structures. And that's kind of how I did the Human Touch record. A lot of it is generic, in a certain sense.

We worked for about a year, and at the end I tried to put it together. Some albums come out full-blown: Tunnel of Love, Nebraska, Lucky Town – they just came out all at once. Human Touch was definitely something that I struggled to put together. It was like a job. I'd work at it every day. But at the end, I felt like it was good, but it was about me trying to get to a place. It sort of chronicled the post-Tunnel of Love period. So when we finished it, I just sat on it for a couple of months.

Then I wrote the song "Living Proof," and when I wrote that, I said: "Yeah, that's what I'm trying to say. That's how I feel." And that was a big moment, because I landed hard in the present, and that was where I wanted to be. I'd spent a lot of my life writing about my past, real and imagined, in some fashion. But with Lucky Town, I felt like that's where I am. This is who I am. This is what I have to say. These are the stories I have to tell. This is what's important in my life right now. And I wrote and recorded that whole record in three weeks in my house.

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Song Stories

“Long Walk Home”

Bruce Springsteen | 2007

When the subject of this mournful song returns home, he hardly recognizes his town. Springsteen told Rolling Stone the alienation the man feels is a metaphor for life in a politically altered post-9/11 America. “Who would have ever thought we’d live in a country without habeas corpus?” he said. “That’s Orwellian. That’s what political hysteria is about and how effective it is. I felt it in myself. You get frightened for your family, for your home. And you realize how countries can move way off course, very far from democratic ideals.”

More Song Stories entries »
 
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