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The Boss is back

Bruce Springsteen talks to “Today” host Matt Lauer about what inspires his music.
/ Source: TODAY

For nearly 30 years, Bruce Springsteen has been writing songs about working class America and touching a nerve. His latest album, “The Rising,” grew out of the aftermath of September 11. Matt Lauer recently sat down with him at the famed bar, The Stone Pony in Asbury Park, New Jersey, where they talked about life, love and music. Lauer started by asking The Boss what his role is when he takes to the concert stage.

Bruce Springsteen: You’re a witness. You’re a witness to your time. You’re a witness to events. You’re a witness to your neighborhood. You’re a witness to what you’re doin’. And our band at night, we take the stage as a group of witnesses really. And our purpose is to make you dance and to testify. You know? And that’s the crux of what we do. And hopefully you know, you’ll move and be lifted up by the end of the night.

Matt Lauer: When you started your career, did you ever stop and think 50 years old, 52, this is what I’ll be doing?

Springsteen: I always wanted to be on Miami Beach by now (laughs). Gettin’ the sun and (laughs) …

Lauer: Gettin’ the monthly check (laughs)?

Springsteen: …I always thought that I was gonna be a lifetime musician. And for some reason, even though the life of rock stars and popular musicians was very finite when I first started thinkin’ about it, I always had a long sort of a long range point of view on it. I’m not sure exactly why? Maybe I’m gonna be doin’ it in Madison Square Garden. Maybe I’ll be doin’ it someplace else. You know? Some days you make records and some of ‘em sell and some of ‘em don’t sell very well. You know. And that’s the way the dice rolls. And at this particular point in time, you know, it’s very, very thrilling to hear your music on the radio, which I haven’t heard for quite a while.

Lauer: How do you feel about success at 52?

Springsteen: I’m diggin’ it (laughs). I enjoy it more now than I ever did before in the sense that just having a lack of financial worries, and providing the stability, the security for my family. And then also the recognition for the work that I’ve done with the band over the years. That’s just somethin’ that, it’s nice as you go.

Lauer: But do you ever worry that the people who grew up listing to you, Bruce, all of a sudden look at you one day and say, “Yeah. He may sing about that, but he lives in the big house on the hill over there. How can he really identify with me any more?”

Springsteen: Well, I have a pretty nice house. You know (laughs). So the bottom line is the proof is in the music. You know? You’ve gotta feel a deep commonality with whoever and whatever you’re writing about, or the song won’t be any good. And that’s where the song’s integrity comes from and that’s where its believability and credibility and truth come from.

Lauer: I did a lot of reading, gettin’ ready to talk to you. You used the word haunted. That you are someone who’s haunted by certain things.

Springsteen: You know what, that’s everybody (laughs). I know that when I initially had my success when I was 25, I was the only person I’d ever known who’d made a record. It was something that you really sort of stood out in a sense. And it was an experience that just no one had had. I just asked myself a lot of questions about what I wanna do, who I wanna be, what kinda music do I wanna write? What do I wanna write about? What do I see my purpose as?

After September 11, Springsteen turned to what he does best — songwriting, in an effort to work through the aftermath of the terror.


Story goes that a couple of days later you were drivin’. I don’t know exactly where, but not far from here I understand. And a guy recognizes you.

Springsteen: Right.

Lauer: As you drive by. And he says, “Hey Bruce, we need you.”

Springsteen: Yeah, but he just kinda shouted out.

Lauer: But what did you take that to mean when he said, “We need you?”

Springsteen: Oh, I knew what he was talkin’ about. You know? (Laughs) I think one of the things people wanted to see in those early days was they wanted to see the faces of people who were familiar to them and people who mattered to them. It was a version of that, you know, like, “I wanna see your face, or I wanna, you wanna hear the voice of people who you’ve spent part of your life with. And I think that my music, we’ve worked hard for my music to play a very central and hopefully a purposeful place in my audiences’ life. Which is, was sort of a... It was a small wakeup call.

Lauer: Did you need that wake up call?

Springsteen: No. I don’t work from the outside in. And I think particularly when you write about events and, it’s an interesting thing. The song has to work independently I believe of, if that event had occurred or not. I think the one song I did write initially was “In the Fire,” which I wrote just sitting on the telephone. But that was really the only direct thing where I sat down and said, “Gee I need to write something that relates to this in some fashion.”

Lauer: 9/11 reconnected a lot of people with the values we used to hold dear: bravery, hard work, sacrifice. The things, the kind of things you’ve been singing about and writing about for a long time. So this isn’t about capitalizing on this particular time in our history. It just may be what, being somewhat immodest, a perfect time for your kind of music.

Springsteen: I’ve always tried to write for my times. I always felt that that was part of the job that I was doing that I was kind of tryin’ to record a little bit or what it felt like to be, you know, a guy my age living in this place, at this time. I grew up with a very big extended family with a lot of aunts. We had about five or six houses on one street and a church was in the middle, and the convent was here and the rectory was here and we surrounded those things. And so I’ve seen more weddings and (chuckles) funerals and, but it was always aunts and uncles around me and so I think in some fashion, the older I got, the more those thing mattered. And even before I was married and when my life had begun to become something very different, those were the times when I felt, you know, I needed to connect most.

Lauer: Sometimes you connect with audiences not with big concepts, not with loss and hard work, with little details that have always amazed me. Some of the things that you choose to put into your songs make me think about things I haven’t thought about in years. “Screen door slams, “Mary’s dress waves.”

Springsteen: Everybody knows those sounds. The details are important because you, that’s how you get under people’s skin. You know. You initially get under their skin with the, with the grit and the details of daily life. You know. Somebody fiddlin’ with their ring. It’s my job to work as a, just a little bit of a spark to help you get there.

Lauer: So when you say rise up in your lyrics and in your songs and the rising in the album, are you telling people to rise up not only after 9/11, not only after loss and pain, but against things like that?

Springsteen: I wouldn’t get on a soap box about it because you know, you’re sort of like, I think you know, you really can’t tell anybody anything. I’ve sort of found (laughs) that out a long time ago. And, I think it’s a rising feeling. It was, well it was, it’s just part of the journey that the record depicts. Everything is not preordained. Everything you know, fate has not been foretold yet. Either your fate or the fate of where we live, it’s up for grabs. You know, the stakes are still very, very high and runnin’ every day.

Lauer: There is talk in this state, in your state of (laughs)…

Springsteen: (Laughs) I know where…

Lauer: …New Jersey…

Springsteen: …you’re comin’ from (laughs).

Lauer: I used to think it was a joke. I thought they did it…

Springsteen: Wait!

Lauer: …tongue-in-cheek. They said, “Bruce Springsteen should run for Senate.”

Springsteen: Yeah. That’ll, that would be, you know…

Lauer: Well, wait. Stop and think about (laughs) it for a second. Don’t just brush it off. You are one of the most popular people in this state. You obviously…

Springsteen: That’s it. I’m in (laughs).

Lauer: …You obviously have strong opinions about things.

Springsteen: I’m in (laughs).

Lauer: Why not give it some consideration to run for the U.S. Senate?

Springsteen: Well, first that’s a real job. And I’ve spent the musician’s life is to avoid real work for as long as you can. You know (laughs). And I’ve been successful in doing so. That’s why they call it playin’. It came out of sort of a, I don’t know somebody here had the day’s headlines with it and it was a, the guy who did it was, got Jesse Ventura. So actually I don’t think about politics, but I am thinking about professional wrestling. I know (laughs), I may go there next (laughs).

Lauer: Well that’s right. Then you go to politics after that.

Springsteen: That’s right. So I gotta get that place in the middle.