Articolo tratto del numero dalla rivista Musician del novembre 1984.
In a year when both political parties are fighting to see which can reclaim the
American flag and it’s attendant values as it’s own, how odd to see a rock’n’roller
predate them. Bruce Springsteen, as evidenced by Born In The USA’s introspective,
even homey slice of American life sagas has created a curious but very real rock
audience that might unknowingly have more in common with Cotton Mather than
Judas Priest, with Woody Guthrie than Prince. Springsteen’s shows, his music and his
attitudes share with his audiences a sort of New Puritanism, a sense of quasi religious
manifest destiny, and a fundamental acceptance of life and it’s troubles, along with the
faith that true belief will bring a better way. When Springsteen ends his shows with a
cry to “let freedom ring- that’s what we are here for, even if we have to fight for it
everyday’ there are no scoffers in his rock’n’roll flock, only true believers.
Springsteen has the power and the touch. In many ways, he resembles the television
evangelists riding the crest of a rebirth of religious fervor in this country. Unlike Jerry
Falwell, though, Springsteen’s message is that true salvation lies in a rock’n’roll way of
life. Articulating that way is not easy; it seems to be an intuitive way of knowledge.
How unusual it is to hear 20,000 rock fans cheer a performer’s rap on why you should
love your street and your hometown and your state and your country. Bruce talks
more about family values than Reagan does. Yet none of this suggests jingoism so
much as a pure yearning for a return to solid values. Of course any value is better than
no value, as demagogues and hucksters have always known. Any shyster can flourish
in a moral vacuum, and in the past rock ‘n’ roll has never gotten gold medals for
presenting either wholesome role models or messages to young people. So what is this
Part of Bruce Springsteen’s current level of success must be attributed to his talent as an
entertainer, and the absence of any real hard-edged competition. Even so, the ofthesitant
New York Times has flatly proclaimed Springsteen the “best rock performer
ever.” And there is no denying the fanatical intensity he brings to a show, the
evangelical zeal of the true believer. Springsteen is the hardest-working white man in
show business. His appeal transcends traditional rock ‘n’ roll parameters, though. He’s
selling something unique among rock superstars: a self-evident faith. And in
performance, he manages to project a R&R greatest hits collage: a bit of Buddy Holly’s
innocence, some of the dark sensuality of Elvis, a bit of Bob Seger’s blue collar integrity,
and the exuberance and abandon of a Mitch Ryder.
That charisma is as strong offstage. I caught up with Springsteen at shows in Detroit
and New Jersey and found the backstage atmosphere unusual for rock. No hysteria of
any sort, no cocker-spaniel bed-wetting exuberance. The feeling was rather like being in
a busy ant colony at work. (The parallel to the Crusades shall go unmentioned.) People
around Bruce don’t want reflected glamour so much as approval. The Springsteen work
ethic is clearly palpable. MTV may offer its viewers a lost weekend with Van
Halen—for Bruce, it’s the chance to be a roadie.
Bruce does not behave like a star either. When he met me in his dressing room in
Detroit after a show, his manner was that of an accomplice, a confidant, a comrade. For
someone who seldom grants interviews, he was forthright, to the point, and funny.
When I told him that he finally had a big enough constituency to either run for the
Senate or start his own church, he laughed it off: ‘Naw, Clarence is gonna do that.” That
breezy Jersey Shore camaraderie does not disguise a manner that is so simple and
direct that it’s almost misleading. This is a man who clearly has thought out his position
in the scheme of things and has some things to say about it.
MUSICIAN: Aren’t you offering uplifting rock ‘n’ roll? Isn’t there a moral lesson
involved with all that you do?
SPRINGSTEEN: Yeah, I guess. The one thing that bothered me about the Born To Run
record was that when it was initially criticized people thought it was a record about
escape. To me, there was an aspect of that, but I always felt it was more about
searching. After that, that’s what I tried with Darkness On The Edge Of Town and The
River and Nebraska. It was like: How real are these things in people’s everyday lives?
How important are they? I don’t know exactly what I’d call it, but I know that most of
my records after the Born To Run were somehow a reaction to the Born To Run album.
To my own experience of it, which was really wild, it was really a big moment in my
life. Now, “Born To Run,” the song means a lot more to me than it did then. I can sing it
tonight and feel like it breathes in all those extra years. It’s been, like—I wrote it ten
years ago now. But it still feels really real. Very real, for me. It’s one of the most
emotional moments of the night. I can see all of those people and that song to them is
like—that’s their song, man. It’s almost as much the audience’s as it is mine. I like it
when the lights are up because you can see so much from people’s faces. That’s what
it’s about. But I like doing the old songs now, because I really feel they let the years in,
they don’t feel limiting. Like, I hear part of Nebraska in Born To Run now.
MUSICIAN: Is Born In The U.S.A. pnmarily about, as it suggests, blue-collar patriotic values
androck ‘n’roll realism?
SPRINGSTEEN: That was the direction I was going in. It was kind of hard to get there
because I was just learning the importance of certain types of detail, which I began to
get a handle on, I think, in “Darkness On The Edge Of Town.” And ‘IStolen Car” and
“Wreck On The Highway,” which was kind of country-music-influenced stuff. I wanted
the record to feel like what life felt like. You know, not romantic and not some sort of
big heroic thing. I just wanted it to feel like an everyday, Darlington County kind of
thing. Like in “Glory Days,” it sounds like you’re just talking to somebody; that’s what I
wanted to do. Wanted to make it feel like you meet somebody. The Nebraska stuff was
like that: you meet somebody and you walk a little while in their shoes and see what
their life is like. And then what does that mean to you? That’s kind of the direction my
writing’s going in and in general it’s just the thing I end up finding most satisfying. Just
saying what somebody had to say and not making too big a deal out of it.
MUSlClAN:Do you feel that you have real, believable characters now that people your
SPRINGSTEEN: That’s the hardest thing to do, the very hardest. When I wrote the
Nebraska stuff, there were songs that I really didn’t get, because I didn’t get the people. I
had all the detail, but if you don’t have that underlying emotional connection that
connects the details together, then you don’t have anything. There were songs that
didn’t get onto Nebraska because they didn’t say anything in the end. They had no
meaning. That’s the trickiest thing to do and that was my only test of songs: is this
believable? Is this real? Do I know this person? I was real lucky because I wrote almost
all the Nebraska songs in about two months. Which is really fast for me. I just locked in
and it was really different for me. I stayed in my house. I just worked all the time. Sat at
a table or with the guitar. It was exciting because I realized that this was different from
stuff I’d done before and I didn’t know what it was. But with songs like “Highway
Patrolman” and the “Nebraska” song itselfl writing like thatl I was real happy with it. It
just felt real. I didn’t know I was gonna do that, but I knew I was going somewhere in
MUSICIAN: Are those songs a reaction to what is happening in America? To American
SPRINGSTEEN: I don’t know. I think that what happened during the Seventies was
that, first of all, the hustle became legitimized. First through Watergate. That was a real
hurting thing, in that the cheater, the hustlerl the dope pusher on the street—that was
legitimization for him. It was: you can do it, just don’t get caught. Someone will ask,
what did you do wrong? And you’ll say, I got caught. In a funny kind of way, Born To
Run was a spiritual record in dealing with values. And then Nebraska was about the
breakdown of all those values, of all those things. It was kind of about a spiritual crisis,
in which man is left lost. It’s like he has nothing left to tie him into society anymore.
He’s isolated from the government. Isolated from his job. Isolated from his family.
And, in something like “Highway Patrolman,” isolated from his friends. That’s what the
record is all about. That happens in this country, don’t you see, all the time. You see it
on the news. And it seems to be a part of modern society. I don’t know what anybody
can do about it. There is a lot of that happening. When you get to the point where
nothing makes sense. Where you don’t feel connected to your family, where you don’t
feel any real connection to your friends. You just feel that alone thing, that loneness.
That’s the beginning of the end. It’s like you start existing outside of all those things. So
Born To Run and Nebraska were kind of at opposite poles. I think Born In The U.S.A. kind
of casts a suspicious eye on a lot of things. That’s the idea. These are not the same
people anymore and it’s not the same situation. These are survivors and I guess that’s
the bottom line. That’s what a lot of those characters are saying in “Glory Days” or
“Darlington County” or “Working On The Highway.” It certainly is not as innocent
anymore. But, like I said, it’s ten years down the line now.
MUSICIAN: So you and your characters are facing adulthood?
SPRlNGSTEEN:That’s kind of where I’m at right now. I wanted to make the characters
grow up. You got to. Everybody has to. It was something I wanted to do right after
BornTo Run. I was thinking about it then. I said, Well, how old am l? I’m this old, so I
wanna address that in some fashion. Address it as it is and I didn’t see that that was
done a whole lot [in rock Iyrics]. To me it seemed like, hey, it’s just life, you know. It’s
nothin’ but life. Let’s get it in there. I wrote “Racing In The Street” kind of about that.
See I love all those Beach Boys songs. I love “Don’t Worry, Baby.” If I hear that thing in
the right mood forget it. I go over the edge you know? But I said: How does it feel for
you right now? So i wrote “Racing In The Street” and that felt good. As I get older I
write about me, I guess, and what I see happening around me and my family. So that’s
Born In The U.S.A. Born To Run was the beginning of that and it’s funny because I always
felt that was my birthday album. All of a sudden, bang! Something happened, something
crystallized and you don’t even know what. And now what are you gonna do? That’s
the big question. You have an audience; you have a relationship with that audience; it’s
just as real as any relationship you have with your friends. It’s funny. I wrote “Born To
Run” in 1974 and now it’s 1984 and you can kind of see that something happened along
the way. That’s a good feeling.
MUSICIAN: How do your rock values apply to your audience? What can you tell them of what
SPRINGSTEEN: I think it’s different for every performer. I don’t think it’s any one
thing anymore. You really can’t tell people what to hold onto—you can only tell your
story. Whether it’s to tell it to just one person or to a bunch of people. There’s nothing
more satisfying to me than coming in and playing really hard . . . and watching
people—watching their faces. And then going home and feeling real tired at the end of
the day but knowing that something happened. So, I don’t know about the question of
what rock ‘n’ roll means to anyone. I think every individual has got to answer that
question for themselves at this point. I don’t think there ever was anyone with an
answer. It’s like the difference between Jerry Lee and Elvis. At the time, they were both
great. It’s just that you’ve got to take it for what it is and see if you can make something
out of it. Some people, they don’t even hear it. It just goes over their heads or
something. So I don’t think you can really generalize.
MUSICIAN: So, is your music just about girls and cars?
SPRINGSTEEN: That’s what everybody is saying. I always like those reviews. It’s
funny, because I remember that when I was about twenty-four and I said, “I don’t want
to write about girls and cars anymore.” Then I realized, “Hey! That’s what Chuck Berry
wrote about!” So, it wasn’t my idea. It was a genre thing. Like detective movies. I used
to compare it to spaghetti westerns.
SPRINGSTEEN: Yeah. It’s probably less like that now than it was at one time. But I was
always very interested in keeping a continuity in the whole thing. Part of it for me was
the John Ford westerns, where I studied how he did it, how he carried it off. And then I
got into this writer, William Price Fox, who wrote Dixiana Moon and a lot of short
stories. He’s just great with detail. In “Open All Night” I remember he had some story
that inspired me, I forget what it was. But I was just interested in maintaining a real line
through the thing. If you look just beneath the immediate surface, it’s usually right
there. So I like the girls and cars idea.
MUSICIAN: But you consciously write images.
SPRINGSTEEN: Oh yeah, I always loved the movies. And, after all, music is evocative.
That’s the beauty of it. Which is also the danger of video. The tools can be great there
and obviously it can be used real well. But it can also be used badly because it’s an
inanimate thina in and of itself. The thing about a good song is its evocative power.
What does it evoke in the listener? A song like “Mansion On The Hill”—it’s different to
everybody. It’s in people’s lives, in that sense. That’s what I always want my songs to
do: to kind of just pan out and be very cinematic. The Nebraska record had that
cinematic quality, where you get in there and you get the feel of life. Just some of the
grit and some of the beauty. I was thinking in a way of To Kill a Mockingbird, because in
that movie there was a child’s eye view. And Night Of The Hunter also had that—I’m not
sure if surrealistic is the right word. But that was poetic when the little girl was running
through the woods. I was thinking ofscenes like that.
MUSICIAN: What about your relationship with video, from “Atlantic City” filmed without you
in it to “Dancing In The Dark?”
SPRINGSTEEN: Well, when I did the Nebraska record they didn’t want it. I really didn’t
have anything to do with the Atlantic City video. The only direction I gave was to say
that it should be kind of gritty-looking and it should have no images that matched up to
images in the songs. I was really happy with it. I liked the way it came out. “Dancing In
The Dark” was Brian DePalma. That was interesting, working with him. I really haven’t
gotten into video as of yet. We did that one around the time we were starting the tour
and putting together the show. And that is the center of what we do. That has to be
right. I look forward to getting into video, to see what can be done with it.
MUSICIAN: What about reactions to the blaster mix of “Dancin’ In The Dark?”
SPRINGSTEEN: People kind of get a rigid view of certain things. That mix was an
experimental thing initially. I heard one on the radio and I said, “Man, that sounds like
fun! Let’s do one of those.” And so we got it to (producer) Arthur Baker and he was
great, he was tremendous. I had a good time with it. He did the whole thing. His
overdubs were kind of connected to my songs. He would put in something that
sounded like a glock (glockenspiel) or a twangy guitar. When I heard it I just thought it
was fun. This was kind of wild, man, this guy, he’s got an unchained imagination. I
thought it was real creative. You’ve gotta do different things and try stuff. I figured that
a lot of people would like it and that the people that didn’t like it would get over it. My
audience is not that fragile, you know. They can take it. I’m just into seeing some
different things. I could easily go out and do just what I did before. But now we’re
playing outdoors on this tour, which I hadn’t done before. And we did the blaster thing
and the video thing. I want to learn it myself. I want to just step out and see what
works. If something doesn’t work, that’s okay and if something does, great. In ten
years I’ve built up a relationship with my audience.
MUSICIAN: To the point where they would support a quasicommercial risk such as
SPRINGSTEEN: Yeah! It was really well-supported by my audience, which was real
satisfying and in tune. So, I say, hey, let’s do some things, get in there. I can’t stand in
one place. You’ve got to take some chances.
MUSICIAN: What about fans’ expectations? Especially the assumption that you’ve
inherited the rock ‘n’ roll crown.
SPRINGSTEEN: I don’t think you can ever think about that. I certainly would never
think that. All those people were my heroes at one point or another. I still love Dylan,
love the Stones. I kind of look at what I do in a couple of different ways. One is that it’s
my job and it’s something I like doing and I do it the best that I can. Obviously I’m
aware of people’s expectations and you gotta wrestle with that. But at the same time
you gotta say, I write songs and we got a band, and that’s who you are, you know? I
don’t think you can carry that kind of thing around with you. I just want to do what I
can do. At different times I allowed myself to live under those types of pressures, of
I think that the audience and the performer must allow each other room to be human
and to make mistakes. If not, then they don’t deserve each other. That’s what I wanted
our band to be like. When I’m onstage I always feel, “What would I want to see if I was
the guy in the fifth row?” I’m watching it and being up there and doing it at the same
time. I still feel like such a big fan myself of all music.
MUSICIAN: What happened with Steve van Zandt?
SPRINGSTEEN: It was real emotional, him going, and I’ll certainly miss him. But he
had to. He had written a lot of real good songs; he had something to say and he has for
quite a while. And it was time that he stepped out and did what he had to do. But I talk
to him all the time. Nils (Lofgren) I’d known on and off. Me and Nils auditioned the
same night at the Fillmore West in 1969. When the situation came up, I had spent some
time with him and I knew that he thought and felt about music and rock ‘n’ roll the way
that I did. So that was kind of it. We never auditioned anybody or anything. He really
brought an emotional thing to the band. At this point I think that the band is the only
thing that counts. It’s the emotional commitment you gotta have to get on that stage.
MUSICIAN: Are you going to vote this year?
SPRINGSTEEN: I’m not registered yet. I think I am gonna register and vote my
conscience. I don’t know that much about politics. I guess my politics are in my songs,
whatever they may be. My basic attitude is people-oriented, you know. Kind of like
human politics. I feel that I can do my best by making songs. Make some difference that
MUSICIAN: You have no perfume or beer companies or anybody sponsoring your tour.
Would you ever?
SPRINGSTEEN: We get approached by corporations. It’s just not something that
struck me as the thing that I wanted to do. Independence is nice. That’s why I started
this. For the independence. I’m telling my story out there. I’m not telling somebody
else’s. I’m ;,aying what I want to say. That’s the only thing I’m selling. I had a few small
jobs before I started playing but when I picked up that guitar, that was when I could
walk down my own path. That’s just the way I like it. It’s a lucky feeling, you know,
because how many people get to set their own standards and kind of run their own
MUSICIAN: You’re doing the Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man” as an encore. Is that a
SPRINGSTEEN: I don’t know. I like that one line in the song, “What can a poor boy do
but play for a rock ‘n’ roll band?” It’s one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll lines of all time. It
just seemed right for me to do it. It’s just fun. In that spot of the night it just fits in there.
It’s just so driving, man. After “Born To Run,” we got to go up. That’s the trick. ‘Cause
it’s hard to find songs for our encore. You gotta go up and then you gotta go up again.
It ,has tremendous chord changes, that song.
MUSICIAN: Is this another tour that lasts forever?
SPRINGSTEEN: Well, it’s just the way we’ve always done it. It’s partly because the
records take a while and by the time we get out, you want to go everyplace. But that
was the original idea: this is a traveling band. You gotta bring it to people. Up real close,
as close as you can get. That’s what I like to do. ‘Cause if you want it for yourself, you
gotta want it for everybody, ’cause it’s all connected. In the end it’s all part of the same
thing. Which is why Elvis’ message was so profound. It reaches everybody,
everywhere. Doesn’t matter where or what the problems are or what the government
is like. It bypasses those things. It’s a heart to heart. It’s a human thing. That’s why it
should go out. Somebody comes out, they shout and yell, they have a great night, it’s a
rock ‘n’ roll show. It makes a difference, makes them think about something different.
If I walk out on that stage and I feel it, there’s a moment here that can’t be recaptured.
This is the night that they meet you and you meet them, head on. That chance only
comes once. One time. And you gotta take advantage of it. Some nights, like tonight in
that Detroit medley, you can hear- the scream and that captures the entire night. That’s
what I came to do. That’s all I wanted to say.
PLAYING IN THE BAND
By Bill Flanagan
Recording Born In The U.S.A. really depended on the band playing at its full potential
all the time,” says Max Weinberg. “Because there was very little rehearsal. We just went
in without ever really running the songs down and recorded everything live. We cut
seventy or seventy-five songs. Sometimes the band didn’t even know the chords.
They’d be looking at Bruce’s hands. Bruce always sings live. We really depended on
“It was funny about this record,” the drummer went on. “Most of it was recorded before
MTV, before the Police got really big. ‘Born In The U.S.A.,’ ‘Darlington County,’ ‘Glory
Days,’ ‘I’m On Fire’—all those songs were recorded in the original sessions. This is more
of a true American rock ‘n’ roll band sound. It’s the way we always sounded in
“We hadn’t played in six months and suddenly we came together and played. So it was
very loose, very relaxed. We didn’t even work it out. That makes more sense for a
band like us, trying to capture the heat of the moment. It took us ten years to get to the
point where we could really do that. We’ve always tried, but it didn’t come off. That’s
one of the reasons I think my drumming on Darkness At The Edge Of Town leaves a bit
to be desired. You’ve got to make it as immediate as possible. As Bruce says, ‘We don’t
make records, we make music.”‘
It’s July. Max Weinberg and the rest of the E Street Band are in Canada to play three
nights in the Toronto Blue Jays’ baseball stadium. “Dancing In The Dark” has been all
over the radio since early May. Born In The U.S.A., the new album has been in the stores
for a couple of weeks. The Bruce Springsteen tour, which will last more than a year, is
just getting underway.
Like this tour, the E Street Band has been over a decade in the making. Organist Danny
Federici has been playing with Bruce for fifteen years. Garry Tallent (bass) and Clarence
Clemons (sax) came aboard before Springsteen’s first album was recorded in 1973.
Weinberg and pianist Roy Bittan started in late ’74, in time to play on all of BOM TO
Run except the title track. The band has two new members tonight. Nils Lofgren is a
star in his own right, almost as well known for his work with Neil Young as for his own
albums. Also new is background
vocalist Patti Scialfa, a striking young woman with a powerful voice and
southern New Jersey origin. By the end of a three and a half hour concert, it’s obvious
that one of rock’s best bands has gotten better. At a point when any ambitious musician
would be content to maintain his level, Springsteen’s group has made a leap forward.
“I’ve seen Bruce’s show a lot over the last ten years,” Nils Lofgren comments. “As good
as the band has always been, they’re certainly better now. They’ve really matured. The
first time Bruce played the new album for me, I especially noticed how good the band
had gotten. They needed all that time, ten or fifteen years, to all progress to that stage.
There’s no short cuts to where they are. To walk into the band at this moment is just
There’s a wonderful moment toward the end of “Born In The U.S.A.” when the whole
band sounds as if they’re teetering, about to lose it, then pull back together with the
exhilaration of an airplane pulling out of a nosedive. Compliment Springsteen on that
track and he says, “That’s Max. Max was the best thing on that song. That was only the
second take, and it’s Max’s best ever.”
Weinberg recalls the moment: “We all thought the song was over. I was just about to
stop playing. Then we went on for another eight minutes. There’s a long jam that’s not
on the record. It was very exciting. At the point when we started recording Born In The
U.S.A., my style was very stripped down. I made a conscious effort not to do as many
fills. That particular song was a real fluke because I wasn’t into playing that way. It was
real late at night, the session was over, and Bruce just started playing this guitar
rhythm. That day on the way to New York I’d been listening to a Stones tape. I had the
‘Street Fighting Man’ groove in my mind. Roy came up with the line that he plays and it
just fell into place. It was the simplest, quickest thing that I’ve ever had happen to me in
Weinberg’s sparser approach was influenced by his research for The Big Beat, his book
of interviews with the greatest rock drummers. Talking to his heroes and studying their
work gave Weinberg new insights. Max spent a day with Ringo, came back to the
States, and played like Ringo on the next song the band cut, “Bobby Jean.” Listening to
Who’s Next led to approximating Keith Moon on the end of “No Surrender. ” “I used to
overplay terribly,” Weinberg volunteers. It’s a surprising admission from one of the
most imitated—and sought after—rock drummers of the last ten years. Wasn’t that big
drum presence part of the Springsteen sound?
“I was never comfortable with that,” Max declares. “There’s certain tracks I listen to I
know I could have done better on. I played badly on ‘Prove It All Night.’ I just wasn’t
hitting the mark that day.”
Clarence Clemons doesn’t disagree. “Like Max says,” the sax player shrugs. “He was
over-playing. He was over-anxious to do everything just right instead of relaxing and
letting it happen. In the three years we were off the road everybody grew so much,
musically and emotionally. Ind it shows. Now everybody’s sure of themselves, of their
abilities. You just play. It’s a lot easier now.”
Bruce Springsteen has grown. And not just as an artist, as an influence, and as a
commercial force. Springsteen has GROWN. He’s taller. After the first of the Toronto
concerts, my buddies and I were at the hotel pool when the Boss came out to join us for
a swim. Heavy exercise and proper diet has transformed a once Jaggeresque physique
into He-man proportions. The word around the dressing room is that with his new
muscles, Bruce’s once horrible posture got unbent, and new inches were unfurled. The
morning after one of his marathon shows leaves him exhausted, Springsteen drags
himself out of bed and heads for the gym.
All of which brings us to the E Street Band’s role as New Prototype for rock ‘n’ roll
habits. People magazine compared the clean-living band to the Hardy Boys. Intoxicants
stronger than beer can’t be found backstage, and workouts are the hot pursuit. Moms
and dads who fell in love to the music and image of the Rolling Stones must wonder
what to make of kids who celebrate being “Born In The U.S.A.,” bring American flags to
rock concerts, and make a drugless guy like Springsteen the country’s top rocker.
Whatever happened to decadence? [You wanna take that one, David Lee? -Ed.]
During intermission at one of the four-hour concerts Clarence Clemons stretches out
on a rub-down table and says, “This tour, everybody’s physically fit. Everybody!s into
being in shape, being aware of what you’re putting in your body.” To the suggestion
that, in a high-glamour era, the E Streeters project a regular guy image, Clarence says,
“That’s the fun of it. To be a regular guy and to generate such enthusiasm. And not lose
touch with your reality. We’ve all been around. We’ve seen it. And it’s no big deal. I
hate that decadence. Some bands go out and play forty-five minutes. They’ve got
limousines and caviar and champagne.” Clemons makes each luxury sound like a
communicable social disease. “Forget that. I just want to do my job and make people
Confronted with accusations of temperance, bassist Garry Tallent flops back in his chair
feigning drunken incoherence. “No,” he smiles as he straightens up. “It’s true but,
especially since People magazine, it’s become a thing. There’s a lot of bands out there
who aren’t zonked every night. We’re not the only ones. I just don’t want it to become
a big thing: ‘Oh. These guys are straight.’ That’s silly. Tlien it becomes something that
it’s not intended to be. To my way of lookin’, it sort of fits. All of a sudden people are
taking care of themselves, running, working out. If anything, ” Tallent smiles, “I think
the times have caught up with us. We’re the band of the 80s.”
Garry Tallent joined the band in January of 1971. “Bruce always did originals,” Tallent
says. “As long as I’ve known him. When I started playing with him the idea was,
‘Strictly originals.’ And we didn’t work. I think we were together nine months,
rehearsing in the garage, working just once in a while. Then we decided to play some
clubs. So we learned some Rolling Stones songs and some Chuck Berry songs,” Tallent
laughs, “which were basically the same—so we could fill out five sets.”
What’s most different now?
“Being accepted,” Tallent smiles. “Even in the little clubs, the acceptance has been there
quite a while. This scale, worldwide, is great. But I can’t remember too many times it
was really a bummer ’cause people didn’t accept us. I remember a couple of occasions
early on when people wanted to hear Steel Mill (Bruce’s hard rock band) and we
weren’t giving them that kind of stuff any more. We had trouble playing in places
where he was once very popular. But that was a long time ago. What’s the same is
feeling that what you’re doing is great. I’ve always loved Bruce’s writing and I’ve
always loved playing in a band with him. That has always been.”
It’s twenty-five minutes before showtime the next evening. Springsteen wanders out of
the dining room backstage, and toward his dressing room. Lofgren paces up and down
the hall, strumming the Chuck Berry rhythm of “Open All Night” on an acoustic guitar.
From out of a side door emerges crew member Terry MaGovern—a big, dignified man
with a gray beard—dressed in a large foam-rubber tree costume. During “Growin’ Up”
Bruce will launch into a monologue about Clarence and he being lost in the Jersey
woods. MaGovern has been drafted into portraying the woods. His partner Jim
McDuffie will represent the animal kingdom, dressed as a bear. Roy Bittan comes out,
sees MaGovern and goes into hysterics. While Nils still strums to himself, Roy grabs his
camera and gets his wife Amy to pose with the forest primeval.
In the dressing room across the hall, Patti Scialfa lines her eyes and searches for her
toothpaste. ” I always take my work seriously,” Scialfa says. “But working for Bruce is
real different. I want to be as good as I can possibly be. I’ve never been as disciplined as
right now. I do a voice lesson every day. I work out. I feel a real responsibility to give a
hundred percent. Bruce makes me feel that in a very positive way.
“Some people you work for are crabby, or they have a lot of problems that come out.
That makes it hard to feel good about yourself. But Bruce is a great leader. He’s
fearless.” Patti laughs. “He gets up there and he’s calm, he looks very centered. It’s like,
‘This is it. This is what we’re going to do.’ Working for somebody like that enables me
to rise to my best. He brings out a purity. There’s nothing putting up blocks.”
Patti had seen Bruce play only once before joining the band. She met him in the
summer of 1983, while sitting in with a local bar band, Cats on a Smooth Surface, in
Asbury Park. (She had left a gig with Southside Johnny a year earlier.) At the beginning
of the summer of ’84, Bruce invited her over to his house to sing with Nils, Roy and
him. “We just sat around with acoustic guitars,” Scialfa remembers. “It was very casual,
which I thought was nice. He called about two days later and asked if I wanted to come
up and sing with the whole band.” Patti passed the audition, and was asked to join the E
Street Band on a Sunday night. The tour began that Wednesday. She got through the
first show using crib notes. Patti still hasn’t told Bruce that she’s one of the girls who
auditioned to join the band when Born To Run came out.
Is there a greater lesson in Patti’s story? She thinks so: “You can meet somebody nice in
Nils Lofgren was about to start work on an album for a European label when he got
the call, in May. Last winter Nils spent some time at Bruce’s house. “I’d heard these
stories that Steve (Van Zandt) might not be able to stay,” Lofgren explains. “So just for
my own head, I told Bruce that if it got to the point where he actually had to find
another guitar player, to keep me in mind. I just said it and dismissed it.”
When Bruce asked Nils to join, he jumped at the chance. “I love bands,” Lofgren says.
“Grin had to break up ’cause we did four albums and none of them did well enough on
the business end for us to stay together. That was a real painful thing. It had been ten
years since that break up, and to get a chance to play in a great band was really
fantastic. It’s exciting for me to be in a band and not be the leader.”
On their night off, several E Streeters went to see Difford and Tilbrook. As Glenn
Tilbrook was ill, the former Squeeze leaders played, with their encore, only about sixty
minutes. Afterwards Garry Tallent went backstage to pay his compliments and invite
them to the following night’s Springsteen concert. “I’d love to go,” Tilbrook said, “but
we’ve got to play here again tomorrow at eleven.”
“Well,” Tallent replied, “We go on about 8:15.”
“Oh great, then we’ll come see the first part of your show before we play.”
“Yeah,” some wise-ass piped up. “and then when you’re done you can go back and see
No one’s worked as hard to bring intimacy into arenas as Bruce Springsteen. He still
runs all over the hall during soundcheck to check out acoustics in the cheap seats. Every
time Springsteen has moved up—from clubs to 3,000 seat theatres, from theatres to
civic centers, he’s delayed the move way past the point where ticket demand warranted
Rather than play one night to the whole Toronto ballpark, Springsteen had chosen to
play to part of the stadium for three nights. But he was uncomfortable with the video
screen that was used to give those far off a good look. Although assured that the
multiple cameras and sympathetic direction had made the movie screen a valuable
addition, Bruce sighed that he had doubts about it. The whole show was an experiment,
an attempt to see if it was possible to achieve in a ball park anything like the intimacy
he’d maintained on the slow climb from bars to arenas. Springsteen is again at a point
where his audience has gotten too big for the halls he wants to play.
“As far as interaction with the audience goes,” Roy Bittan says over dinner a few weeks
later, “I do not feel Bruce has lost anything. Some people say, ‘Oh, it was so much better
when we played in little clubs.’ I don’t perceive any difference. Bruce relates to the
entire audience, whether it’s 50 people or 3,000 or 25,000. I don’t believe he increases
the size of the places we play until he feels that, sound-wise, productionwise, and with
his own particular way of performing, he’s positive he can project to that last person in
the last row.
“I like sound outdoors,” Bittan continues. “It’s real clear. It has a real stereo quality about
it. Technology today has reached the point where you can play those large places. It’s
not like the Beatles playing Shea Stadium with two little P.A. columns and 64,000
screaming people. I want to see us in a 60,000 seat arena. I know people are going to
react in the same way. That interaction between Bruce and his audience isn’t going to
change. I’m looking forward to that. I think it’s a positive step. I think the video screen
is great. I love it. I think you do reach a point where the visual element is reduced to a
bunch of ants on a postage stamp. That’s the point where the video screen really
Even at Blue Jays Stadium, the crowd hushed when Springsteen dismissed the band to
sing “No Surrender” with his acoustic guitar. They also paid strict attention to his long
stories about growing up. Springsteen demands a lot of his audience, and he usually
gets it. He began to tell a story about his hometown:
“When I was a kid, I lived by this park. And in the park was a monument. My mother
used to always say, ‘Where are you going?’ We’d say, ‘We’re gonna go play around the
monument.’ Then when I was fifteen and in my first band, we needed our publicity
pictures taken. We all had these plastic leather snakeskin vests we got at the auction.
And we had these frilly shirts like the Kinks used to wear. Beatle boots. We went down
to the monument and we did all our poses. Had to have all those poses down exactly. It
wasn’t till I was olderthat I found out there’d been this Revolutionary War battle fought
outside my town ….”
At that point one kid yelled, “Rock ‘n’ roll.” One kid out of 22,000. Springsteen instantly
cut short the story and, with a signal to the band, began playing.
The day after Labor Day, the last night of summer vacation, Springsteen played the first
of two shows at the Centrum in Worcester, Massachusetts. “Dancing In The Dark” had
lasted a whole summer on the radio. That night, Springsteen finished the story of the
“It wasn’t till I got in my late teens that I even knew what it was a monument to. There
was a Revolutionary War battle fought outside my town. Before this tour I went down
to Washington and I visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. It’s a big walk and a lot of
years between those two places. One of the guys, the drummer, who was in my first
band’s name is in the stone down there. I guess that’s what monuments are for. So that
you’ll always, always remember. So that you never forget. That this is your
In the summer of ’75, just after he finished mixing Born ToRun, I approached
Springsteen after a gig and asked him about the buzz that he was going to be a really
“I don’t think about it, man,” Bruce shrugged. Then he admitted, “Well, I do think about
it, I guess. But . . . you do what you do. And whatever comes from that, then that’s
what happens. Whether it’s a big place or a little place, it’s great.” He looked at his feet
and explained, “See, what it is is, I’m always happy when I play with the band.”