The Boss on Broadway: Bruce Springsteen on His ‘First Real Job’

Those were more concert experiences. The sets would change. This is a locked-in piece of music and script that I’m going to be performing pretty much the same on a nightly basis. It’s a solidified piece of work. And I think the intimacy of the venue is going to really affect it, to make it quite a bit different from the acoustic tours. Though I don’t know if I’d be doing this without the experience of doing them. When I recorded “Nebraska” back in the ’80s, I didn’t tour on it because I wasn’t sure if I could.

Are you using video?

Basically it’s a one-man show. There’s no production beyond the stage, some lights and some very high-quality sound. I thought anything beyond the song and the story ended up feeling too rigid and distracting. It happens every time we go to do a tour, you know?

You did a VH1 Storytellers with some extensive spoken interludes [in 2005].

That would be the closest thing to what I’m doing now. When I did the VH1 thing, Elvis Costello came up to me later and said, “Gee, it created some third entity.” And that’s what I’m interested in doing with the show. I’m playing familiar music, but I believe it will lead you to hear it with very fresh ears by the context that I set it in. I always make a comment that when things are working in art, one plus one equals three.

I think an audience always wants two things. They want to feel at home and they want to be surprised. And I go out every time to do those two things. I try to make people feel that they’ve come to some place that they’ve known for a long time, and then also try to surprise them with some new insights or new forms or new energy or just a new way of doing something. You’ve got to have that X factor. If you don’t have that, you’re dead in the water.

Do you go to Broadway shows?

We go on occasion. I saw “Hamilton.” I guess that was the last thing I’ve seen. It was great.

But you didn’t try to write a Broadway musical.

That’s tough! I salute the guys that have given that a shot. It’s not the same rules as pop music writing. It’s a completely different format, and I think it takes a set of completely different skills. It’s not like, oh, I’ll write 12 songs and kind of stick them together somehow. The guys I know who tried it really gave a good shot at it. My friend Sting, I thought, did a great job [with “The Last Ship”]. But it’s a different thing conceiving it from the beginning to the end. I admire all the Broadway writers, Sondheim, who have been able to do that so magnificently, but it’s not something I could ever do. It just seems too hard.

And then I’ve never really been good at, say, writing to script. In other words, “Now I need a song about [a certain subject].” I’ve never written like that. I’ve always written about what’s pressing itself upon me to write at a given moment. I’ve never sat back and said, well, I need a song about Trump, or I need a song about this happening or that happening. When I’ve crossed over with topical songwriting, even that was something that began as, you’re angry about something or you want to say something. That’s the feeling that comes up first.

With your book and with “Springsteen on Broadway,” you’re surveying your whole past. Are you also writing songs?

I’ve finished a record. I had some inspiration. When you’re locked into a period of creativity it’s very similar to being hungry all the time. You have an appetite to write. It’s one of the nicest feelings in the world for a songwriter because you know what it is to be without that appetite. Once you lock into that, then you’re feeding yourself. Everywhere you go you’re hungry. So I might come up with a verse sitting at the kitchen table, I might be asleep and wake up in the middle of the night and run upstairs to my writing room and come up with another verse or two. Literally I do it anywhere and everywhere and that’s a nice place to be. It doesn’t happen that often.

Writing the book must have made you think about your life story.

I really never had planned on writing anything. So when it came around, yeah, obviously, you draw a story from your story. I supposed you’re contextualizing your own life for yourself, and in the course of it you’re trying to have an honest hand.

It’s one of the things that I’m sort of glad it exists. Just for your kids — your kids really don’t know much about your life, you know? We had our kids late, I was 40 when our first son was born, and they showed a healthy disinterest in our work over all the years. They had their own musical heroes, they had their own music they were interested in. They’d be pretty blank-faced if someone mentioned a song title of mine, and I always looked upon that as that we did a good job. I know that none of my kids have read the book, though I imagine someday they will perhaps. I kind of like that. My job, it’s a strange job, it’s an eccentric line of work. And it’s not comparable to anything else and it can be difficult to be around it. As I say in the book, I know a lot of kids who wouldn’t mind seeing 50,000 people boo their parents. But I don’t know how many would want to see those people cheer their parents. It’s just not right (laughs).

The book explains that you’ve always been a musician. You never really had a 9-to-5 job. But “Springsteen on Broadway” is five nights a week for five months. It’s steady work.

That’s a real job. This is my first real job, I think (laughs). That’s the one thing I’m going into with a certain sense of faith. I go, well, I’m not using myself so totally physically on a nightly basis. And I’m not using my voice — you know, you’re not screaming. But the mental energy that it takes to do it is the same. People come to see you be completely, completely present. Any time you’re trying to do that, it takes a lot of energy.

You say the show and stories are locked in — won’t that become repetitive for you?

I’ve played “Born to Run,” many, many times. I’m sure if we went on the internet we could find out how many. (laughs) But the key is, you have to approach it not as a repetition but as a renewal. And to do that your spirit has got to be 100 percent present. But it’s a new audience every night. There’s new faces, there’s new opportunities. Those songs have been very good to me over the years, and in return I try to be good to them. So you have a chance of renewing the emotion and the spirit in that music on a nightly basis. That’s the place I work to get to every night when I’m onstage. I think that if the foundation of what you’ve built is built well, you’ll be able to inhabit it on a nightly basis and your audience will come in and it will feel like they’re seeing it for the first time. (laughs) That’s my plan, anyway.

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Source: New York Times



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