Here's the full transcript of the interview above.
Springsteen talks mental health, therapy, John Wayne and Western Stars: The full transcript
Bruce Springsteen is a John Wayne fan.
So it is after listening to his latest album, “Western Stars,” and watching Springsteen's new movie of the same name. There are a few visual and verbal references to the Duke in both the movie and the song “Western Stars.”
Springsteen and I began a recent interview talking about Wayne, then delved into other things “Western Stars”-related and touched on several other topics. Springsteen, wearing a dark dress shirt, shoes and sport jacket with jeans, was courteous, thoughtful, quick-witted and easy with a laugh.
It wasn’t the first time we chatted. Over the years, we had met several times around the Asbury Park area, talking on and off the record about the events of the day, or a show he had participated in.
This time, sitting down for a 45-minute interview conducted in the basement lounge of a New York City hotel about two weeks ago, Springsteen had one request beforehand: Could we turn the air-conditioning off? I was glad he asked. I was concerned the racket might drown him out on my tape recorders.
"Western Stars" hits theaters on Friday, Oct. 25.
Q: Tell me a little about John Wayne? You mention John Wayne in the song "Western Stars," you do the great framing of the Ethan in the doorway shot (from "The Searchers" in "Western Stars") and then, Bruce, you say "Pilgrim" at the end. But the thing about John Wayne is that rock ’n’ roll hasn’t embraced John Wayne since Buddy Holly.
A: Right, "That’ll Be the Day."
Q: Tell me what John Wayne means to you and maybe this is a moment where a certain type of person can embrace John Wayne a little bit more.
A: I don’t know, it’s sort of intertwined in my life. If you grew up as a child in the ’50s of course he was just a huge Western star, he was the Western star and the civilized Western man all through the ’50s and ’60s. So I think he fell out of favor due to his right-wing politics, but the films he made are eternal. They’re just beautiful and forever and his performances in them are things of wonder as far as I’m concerned. I’ve always been a big fan, you know. I always found a sweetness and a tenderness in them, particularly in ‘She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.’
That whole ensemble that John Ford used was an amazing group of characters, a wonderful group of actors who worked, Ward Bond, who worked so well together. So it was a big part of my aesthetic life. Clint Eastwood also, of course, he was a sort of opposite end of the spectrum. But John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Gary Cooper – they were towering figures to me as a child.
Q: The Western motif, what do you do when you go to the West? You go there to become a man, to learn gun-slinging, you learn to face your fears. But also you go out West for the homestead, to set up a future for yourself and your family. To me, those are elements "Western Stars" speaks to, unless I’m over thinking it?
A: No, that dichotomy is there. It’s a part of life but it was certainly a part of Western life. You had two kinds of people that left. There were people who just were always looking over the rise, they were these strange loners, and then you had wagon trains filled with people who went out to build a society and build churches and schools and communities and families. So it was a home for both kinds of Americans and really they brought that dichotomy with them.
Q: I love how you threw in the element of people on the fringes of show business (in "Western Stars"). You have the stunt driver ("Drive Fast (The Stuntman))," you have the "Western Stars" guy, you have a Nashville songwriter ("Somewhere North of Nashville"). To me that shows … I think empathy is in short supply these days. You’re at the height of your profession, but you’ve walked those tracks.
A: Those were, once again, just characters I was interested in and I felt I could write about them in a certain moment. I’ve been involved in writing these Western stories for quite a while. If you go back to "Tom Joad" (1995’s "The Ghost of Tom Joad"), you have all the border songs that I wrote at the time. If you go to (the 2005 album) "Devils and Dust," (the songs) "Silver Palomino," "Black Cowboys" and "Matamoros Banks," so I’ve been writing in the geography for quite a while and this particular record allowed me to sort of draw on what are to me Western musical influences along with Western stories. So I said, "What’s the modern West?" It’s Hollywood, it’s Los Angeles. I went searching there for a few interesting characters to write about.
Q: To this day, I think it’s beyond a mythology, people view the West as, "I’m going to go West and make my name." Even yourself, you guys went out West, as depicted in "Springsteen on Broadway." It’s still the golden land.
A: Well, it was for my parents. It was my father (Douglas Springsteen) who was the motivation, but he was going to leave Freehold and he didn’t think of going to Pittsburgh or Florida, he wanted to go to California. What did he know about California? Nothing! As a matter of fact, I had a girlfriend who had been to San Francisco, and they were asking her for advice as to where to go.
Q: Oh, no.
A: So he knew absolutely nothing about California or the West except that was where he wanted to go to begin his new life. And he took my mother (Adele Springsteen), and my sister (Pam Springsteen) with him and that’s where they went, and that’s what they did. You know, they were like Okies. They spent $3,000, that was all the money they had. They spent two nights in the car and a night in a motel on the way out there. They just built everything from scratch when they got there. The first time I visited them they were in a tiny little apartment in San Mateo and I was 20 or 21. The idea that continues to hold true for a large portion of the country, when people think of creating something new, or becoming something new, that lure of a place to restart your life, retrace your steps, erase you sins, continues to be Westward.
Q: Even to this day, Silicon Valley’s out in the West. You kind of followed them, too. In the movie you state a girl on the East Coast broke your heart, what do you do? "I went out West."
A: Yeah (laughs)! Same thing! I was like, OK, I got to get out of here. I got to get as far away on the continental United States as I can!
Q: Yes sir!
A: And so (laughs) that was the deal for me! Same thing. And it wasn’t easy to get there in those days because no one had money for a plane or a train, so every time we wanted to go to California, it was usually with an old friend of mine Tinker (Carl West), we got into an old beat-up station wagon and we drove ourselves there. I was lucky I had a little outpost with my parents there after a while. And I went to do the same thing, I went with no plans on coming back. I thought I was going to go and begin a new career somewhere outside of San Francisco and I thought I would be able to do that with some difficulty, perhaps, but I thought I’d be able to do it. But at the end of the day I couldn’t.
Q: Wow. So for me the movie has elements of "The Searchers," a little "Sunset Boulevard," with the darker side of Hollywood.
A: There’s tiny little quotes from all my favorite things in there. Visual quotes.
Q: To me, and I heard you say this — I watched a YouTube of the Toronto (International Film Festival) Q&A — that it was a love letter to Patti (Scialfa).
Q: About how Patti helped you on this journey, not the physical journey to the West, but a journey to a better place. Do you feel it’s good and you’re lessening the stigma for other people who need a little help when it comes to therapy. In the play and the book ("Born to Run"), you said you grew up in a household where if there was that outlet, maybe things would have been different.
A: It would have been a vastly different household. Everybody needs all the help they can get, that’s the bottom line. You know, I came to it relatively late in life. I was in my 30s and it was and continues to be very valuable to me, it’s something … it’s been a very positive force as far as me sorting through my life and getting to a place where you can love somebody and receive love and Patti was an enormous, enormous part of bringing all of that into my life, that I had resisted and failed to be able to do earlier. You know, she was a very strong and supportive and a powerful woman, very loving and I got into a place where I was, I kind of dug myself into a black hole. It took quite a while to dig myself out of it and it took a lot of help from a lot of different places. So I’m very grateful for it and a part of what the film is a thank you to my lovely wife.
Q: Do you see, perhaps, there will be a benefit of it? If Bruce Springsteen needs help, I can ask, too?
A: I don’t know. It’s sort of a thing where I just started talking about it because it was such a large part of my life and at some point something you’ve been doing for 30 years and it’s had such a deep influence on you, it’s something that comes up in conversation at some point. But everybody has to find their own way but if I had grown up in a house, say, where that had been part of our resources, it would have been a very different life. But, who knows, you don’t know at the end of the day where the fuel for the fire comes from. I don’t have any regrets, but it would have been a lot easier on my parents and on my father if he had recourse for some help.
Q: Also, as was said at the Toronto Q&A and it makes sense to me, too, this is almost part of a trilogy of you really going deep for your art, for the stories that you’re telling. The trilogy being the movie, the book and the play. That makes sense to me, does it make sense to you?
A: I think probably coming up on 70 had something to do with it and just being at a certain point in your life and your work life where you felt prepared to sort of summarize the trip you’ve been on for quite a while. It all happened as an accident. The book came along as a result of us playing the Super Bowl (in 2009), and me writing a short essay about it that we put online and a few weeks following that I just started to write what became the book. And then out of the book, really, the play came, because I was asked by President Obama the last couple of weeks he was in office, "Gee, you never played in Washington, love to have you come down and play at the White House." So the last few weeks he was in the White House, Patti said, "Yeah, you should go down and do it." I don’t know, I don’t want to bring the band, it’s too big of a job, well maybe I’ll just go down and play some acoustic songs. I said maybe I’ll introduce some of the acoustic songs with some of the things I’ve written in the book and I spent about two afternoons in my studio, ended with … 90 minutes of what the Broadway show became. I went down there, I had the spoken pieces and I had the music pieces, at the end of the night he came up on stage and said, "Gee, I know you only did that for us, but it should be a show" (laughs).
Q: I’m sorry, did President Obama say that?
Q: Oh, for crying out loud.
A: So on the way back Jon (Landau, manager), Patti and I, we’re all thinking that was something I hadn’t done before. The alchemy was just something I simply hadn’t done before. And so we said maybe we should do a show, but we need a small audience. I did it for only 250 people in the East Room of the White House. So we said we need someplace small. Where are the beautiful small theaters? Well, they’re on Broadway. So we ended up looking around for some theaters, and we found the Walter Kerr, and Jordan Roth (owner of the Kerr, a Jujamcyn Theater). And then I ended up writing about another hour’s worth of material. It came together very fast and accidentally and the film came about sort of similarly in that sense as well, I’m not going to tour, so maybe I’ll just do a film of me doing a performance of the music with a big orchestra somewhere – in a theater or around home somewhere.
We ended up doing it in the barn (on Springsteen’s Colts Neck property) and once it was finished, we said OK, we’ll do the normal sort of interviews: What was it like to play on the sessions? What a nice guy I am. How great it was to work with me, all the usual stuff (laughs). But before that actually happened, I started to look at some of the performances, and it’s all new music. How am I going to draw people in to what I’m doing? Well, I think I need some sort of exposition that occurs before each song. So I sat at home one night and spent about two hours and wrote the whole script for all the spoken parts for the rest of the film.
Q: Oh wow. That fast, huh?
A: Yeah, it was all there waiting to come out. It was in the record, it just hadn’t been verbalized. Then we started to use them as just voiceovers, and then we needed images to accompany the voiceovers. So Thom (Zimny, "Western Stars" co-director) had some found images. We had a little bit that we shot in Joshua Tree National Park with Danny Clinch. Those fit really well. Then we went out and spent a couple of days shooting our own footage and came back, then I scored all of that and suddenly we had something that turned into an actual movie, turned into an actual film. But it was something that happened very organically, there was no initial plan out in front. So all of those three things really have kind of summarized a lot of my work and my life to this point, were all things that happened somewhat accidentally. Obviously the timing was right and it was the kind of work I was ready and anxious to do. But all those three things, I’m very proud of all those three things. I think they’re three of the best things I’ve ever done.
Q: Yes sir. The songs of "Western Stars," I heard that this material was around for a little bit. Were the songs of "Western Stars" the first of this trilogy?
A: Yeah, the songs of "Western Stars" have been around since 2012 when I started to write them. I wrote a lot of them on tour. I slowly recorded them but I recorded them within a group of about 40 other songs, so there was a lot of material and I didn’t know where the album was, or what the album was. It took me quite a while to figure that and take the 12 or 13 songs that we ended up using. You’re like a sculpture with a big block of stone in front of you. It just took a long time to chisel it down to those 13 songs on that particular record. So I had the music for quite a while and "Wrecking Ball" came along, and that seemed more speaking to the moment so we cut that record and of course, when you make a record like that, you’re out on a big tour that lasts a year and a half. So that’s two years that goes by the wayside pretty quickly. Every record project has a two year cycle to it for the most part.
But I always had that music, and I always went back to it and it was a question of this seems like a little one-off record, I don’t know who’s going to be interested in it, but eventually I just worked on it. Ron Aiello came in and he worked on it with me. Really, Ron Aiello, the first time we worked together, the first idea was to finish "Western Stars" a long time ago! We worked on it until suddenly it became something that was really quite unique and different than what I’ve done in the past. The orchestras and the sound of the record and its Western influences and the settings of the music gave it a certain freshness that I enjoyed very much.
Q: Did you acknowledge to yourself when you were writing the songs that you were going into pretty personal spaces with "Western Stars" in 2012?
A: We always sort of do that. I’m not noticing it any more than I’m normally am, I’m simply trying to write the best song I can, and whatever that entails is where I do. So I’m not really thinking about, I’m just trying to come up with the best piece of music that I can and wherever that is, wherever I can find that, that’s where I go.
A: What was it like working, I think you did some recording with David Sancious (for "Western Stars")?
Q: Yeah I did. He’s worked on my records a little bit over the years. He’s just always a pleasure to work with, he’s one of the best musicians I’ve ever known in my life, he’s an incredible musician, guitarist, pianist and still a great, great friend so it’s always a pleasure to have Davey on my records.
Q: "Hitch Hiking" starts off the record and I think I hitch-hiked once or twice in the ’80s, by mistake.
A: It’s pretty late by then. By the ’80s it was already considered too dangerous I suppose.
Q: I was going to ask you about that. People don’t hitch-hike anymore?
A: It’s done as an art form.
Q: Do people hitch-hike in other parts of the country, or the world? They don’t hitch-hike in Jersey no more.
A: If you see a hitch-hiker anywhere, even out West, it’s pretty rare. But in the ’60s and the ’70s, it was very common. That was my only form of transportation till I made "Born to Run." Literally through my first two albums, I was still getting around hitch-hiking up and down the Jersey Shore.
Q: That is great. I’m listing to that song and I’m thinking that must have been a wealth of experiences and stories for you, that maybe you tapped into throughout your career? Because you’re in the cabin of this car, talking…
A: You got to understand, I hitch-hiked … Every. Single. Day. Every day I went from Freehold to Manasquan, about 20 miles there, about 20 miles back and it’s probably three, four five car rides there, three, four, five back unless you hit somebody who happens to be going to your destination. I did that from when I was 15 to when I was 24. So I hitch-hiked for almost 10 years, really constantly. So it was an easy song to write (laughs).
Q: The last time I hitch-hiked I was scratching my head at 3 o ’clock in the morning across the street from your former bungalow (in Long Branch) and somebody picked me up. You know what, later I’m thinking I shouldn’t have jumped in that car, but the guy gave me a ride. I think my favorite song is, and I love it so much, is "There Goes My Miracle." I’m thinking Walker Brothers on that, and even the drumming part on that, you might even have a track going on too, but it’s almost like a funky drummer thing going on.
A: It’s something Ron threw on.
Q: It’s glorious. That to me is the peak of orchestra there on that record.
A: Yeah, Ron had a little drum loop going. Yeah, I would say it’s Walker Brothers, Righteous Brothers, it’s sort of a classic, we’ll say Southern California pop orchestral piece. It’s the most accessible thing on the record, I suppose, it’s something that on another day it sounds like it might have had a shot at being a single (laughs).
Q: I’m a sucker for any song that talks about the rules. Any song that lays out the rules I’m down with. How many days did you guys do the recording of the songs in the barn on your property in Colts Neck (for the movie)?
A: The whole project of the initial recording was just four days. There were two days of filming, a day of rehearsal, sort of filming a little bit, and then a day of pure rehearsal. Then I did a session up in New York of studio instrumentals with the band before we came down to New Jersey. The whole thing happened in four days.
Q: Tell me about Rob Mathes (the orchestra conductor for "Western Stars")? You gave him a big role in this?
A: Well, I need a lot of help when it comes to orchestrating something. The way I do it is sort of the way that I record when I’m recording on my own. I do everything really quick. I’ll sing a song to a track, to a loop – just me and an acoustic guitar. Everything on ‘Western Stars’ initially started with me, an acoustic guitar and little drum loop. Then I run around and put all the instruments on and it takes me about two hours. Then I listen to see if I have a song worth working on. If I do, I’ll continue working on it a little bit, but Ron Aiello will come in and really kind of does a lot of homework as far as taking the rough things I did and making them sound much better. But I would come up with all of the string parts, the lines and the different orchestrations but to actually have a string section play it, it’s got to be written out and it has to be notated and so Rob Mathes comes in and does that and adds his creativity to it also. So he was very, very valuable. Rob put together the entire orchestra and band that I played with in the film. I walked in in New York City and played with a rhythm section and they knew everything better than I did – it was the first time I met some of them. So I walked in, said hello, played the album from start to finish, and I was trying to keep up with the band, who were so good, and Rob had directed then so well, that they knew everything. So we spent the next four days together and that was that (laughs). So Rob was a wonderful collaborator.
Q: You put a lot of faith in him and it sounds….
A: He’s great, he’s a serious secret weapon, Rob Mathes. He works for a lot of people, he’s incredible.
Q: Panic at the Disco, I think he produced a couple of records for them. Local guy, does a lot of high profile gigs, Marc Muller has a big presence on the record, the steel guitar.
A: He’s incredible. Great musician, great guy, beautiful steel on all of the stuff, just so evocative. A wonderful musician and wonderful guy.
Q: Tell me about your role co-directing ("Western Stars") with Mr. Zimny? Would you, sometimes, in the middle of a take … I’m curious about how that worked?
A: Well, basically the film is a collaboration between the two of us. Once we had the performance pieces, the conceptionalizing of the voiceovers and all the interstitial pieces that really turn it into more of a film, it was something that we worked on together and Thom was generous enough to say, ‘Hey, we collaborated on this, you co-directed this with me,’ and that’s how it came about. But I’m not behind the camera (laughs).
Q: Any chance of doing these songs with E Street Band? Have you heard (Steven Van Zandt’s) version of "Tucson Train"?
A: Yeah, he played it for me a few days ago, I think I heard it last week.
Q: It’s good.
A: It’s great – it’s fun. It was really terrific.
Q: Is that kind of planting a seed that maybe we would hear some of these songs….
A: I don’t know, something might come out. But I don’t have any plans of featuring it in our next E Street Band tour. It’s really an experience of its own, like a lot of my other records tend to be sometimes. I won’t know ’til I get there.
Q: Hey, I was at the Monmouth County Historical Association (in Freehold) the other day, and they have a new exhibit, "Springsteen: His Hometown," and the Springsteen Archives are involved. I wanted to ask you what’s your vision, what’s your hopes for the (Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music at Monmouth University) going forward. They’re based at Monmouth University and the exhibit is something that’s going to be a real shot for Freehold, you’re going to get people from all over the world …
A: That’s great.
Q: … coming to Freehold. What’s your vision for the archives and how it’ll engage the local community and the rest of the word, too, I guess?
A: Yeah, I don’t exactly know at the moment. I know it’s been great to have a place where your stuff is so people who might be interested can go and have access to it. As far as what it will end up being, I hope it will be a creative space for young people and people in general who are interested in my music or American music in any way. It’s going to develop as it gets closer to being something that’s a reality. I look forward to being very involved in it and I think it’s just going to be a positive thing for the Shore community.
Q: Do you plan on seeing the exhibit at the Historical Association?
A: Yeah, I’m looking to going to see it (Springsteen attended the opening event on Sept. 28). I have no idea about what’s been done, so I’m curious to see it.
Q: It’s unbelievable. There’s a Springsteen in the Civil War, there’s a Springsteen in the Revolutionary War, it’s great!
A; Right! It’s funny, someone sent me a family tree a couple of years ago, and I did find out that there had been a Springsteen in the Revolutionary and Civil wars. I’m interested myself to see what they dug up.
Q: They have a guitar they say was played in the battalion that your Civil War ancestor served in.
A: Really … I’m coming down!
Q: What caught my eye, and I was aware of this gentleman because I did a story on a young lady whose high school yearbook you signed, I saw a picture of Mr. (Robert) Hussey. I thought it was pretty cool that he seemed to make a connection to you.
A: Yeah he did. It was English class and it was about writing and I think he recognized something in my writing at the time. Really, that’s all that you’re looking for when you’re that young – somebody who recognizes the spark in you somewhere. But my recollection of him is that he was just a good teacher and empathetic and someone I liked very much when I was in school.
Q: You do seem to be in town (Freehold) a little bit more lately?
A: I don’t know, maybe all the writing about the past and things have brought me back a little bit and plus maybe we’ve just been home more. I get there pretty regularly you know, whether it’s Federici’s or Jersey Freeze, driving through or stopping and seeing a friend, I still come through pretty regularly.
Q: My friends will kill me if I don’t ask you, still going forward with possibly an E Street Band tour?
A: Yeah, sure. The way that works is pretty basic. I have some music, which I hope is good. But I don’t know ’til I hear it back (laughs). So I got to get the band together in the studio, which hopefully we’ll do before the year is out, and you start to make some music and we see what we have, and when we have something we look for places to play that music, and that’s how an E Street Band tour is put together (laughs).
Q: Sounds like a deal.