In anticipation of Bruce Springsteen's live concert on the plaza on Friday, Matt and I sat down to talk about the man and his music. Here's our Q&A:
Q: There are a lot of people out there who would love to get the chance to hang out with Bruce Springsteen. You've gotten to do that -- so what's he like?
Matt: He's the real deal. He is a no-frills rock star with no major entourage and none of the trappings of what you usually expect from a rock star.
Lauer interviews Springsteen on "Dateline" in 2002
I interviewed him in Asbury Park a few years ago. He drove himself into the parking lot of the Stone Pony and walked in, totally unassuming. Just a real down-to-earth guy. He's not the kind of guy who is requesting to have only red M&M's in his dressing room.
He's the same guy that he writes about in his songs. He's a working class guy, a hard-working guy, the type that comes across most vividly in his work.
Q: Is there anything in particular that you remember from your time with him in Asbury Park?
Matt: We jumped in a convertible down there, and he took me on a tour of Asbury Park, explaining why it was such a special place for him. It's a town that has had some difficulties over the years, fallen on some hard times.
What struck me the most about our trip there was how the people of Asbury Park acted towards him. They treated him exactly the way I would have hoped they would -- people would wave and say, "Hey, Bruce!" He would wave and say hello back, and then they'd go about their business. They really treated him like one of their own.
It was clear that they felt a connection with this guy, that they didn't put him on a pedestal. They treated him almost like a friendly neighbor. It's so rare, in this celebrity-obsessed culture that we live in, to see people act that way towards such a huge star.
Q: What about your conversations with him -- what kinds of things have you talked about?
Matt: One thing we've talked about is what it is in his music that connects with people. I asked him about "Thunder Road" particularly. The song begins with, "The screen door slams/Mary's dress waves/Like a vision she dances across the porch/As the radio plays." Yes, his music is filled with broad themes like working class life, love, respect.
But it's the little things -- a screen door slamming, a dress waving in the wind, Roy Orbison's voice -- those are the things that seem to connect with people. He said that when he writes a song, he's trying to link up pieces that mean something in his life, hoping that they'll mean something to his audience, too.
So when you listen to "Thunder Road," you're really able to indentify with an image that's stuck in his mind.
Q: Do you have any particular memories of Bruce's music from earlier in your life, maybe fromthe Born to Run era?
Matt: In 1975, when Born to Run came out, I went off to college. My freshman year, you could not walk past a bar without hearing the song "Born to Run" blaring from a jukebox. It was the great anthem of my college days.
From [his first album] Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. on, I've always had a great feeling for his music. But it's really since I've been in this job that I've come to truly appreciate the kind of guy that he is.
In this role, I get to interview presidents, senators, celebrities, all kinds of people. But the ones that I get the most excited about interviewing are my rock and roll heroes. With a president, that person is in your life for no more than eight years. But these guys -- Clapton, Springsteen, the Rolling Stones -- have been in my life for 30, 40 years. They are a part of who I am.
Interviewing Bruce every couple years, I've gotten a real appreciation for the kind of down-to-earth person that he is. And it's a lot more fun to interview someone who has intelligent views on important subjects.
We also just talk about our families as much as music. What it's like to raise kids. He was telling me last time we spoke about one of his kids getting their driver's license, and what that was like. He's a much more multi-faceted guy than just his music.
Q: You've gotten an early copy of Bruce's new album, Magic. First impressions?
Matt: I haven't been able to give it a thorough listen yet, but it's a throw-back to the rock and roll of some of his earlier albums.
Q: Favorite songs?
Matt: Well, he's playing five songs on Friday -- three new ones and two classics -- and I requested "Born to Run" and "Thunder Road." For me, "Thunder Road" is one of my favorites by any artist. And "Born to Run" means a lot to me from my college days.
I'm just excited to see him here on the plaza. When he comes on the stage, it doesn't feel like it's 8:30 in the morning. When he gets going, it feels like one of his great concerts at the Garden.