transcript from: http://www.monmouth.com/user_pages/pwalton/springsteen
[Bruce Springsteen was interviewed by Bob Costas about "The Ghost of Tom Joad" and other subjects for the Columbia Radio Hour. The syndicated broadcast aired on various stations in late November of 1995. Most of the interview is transcribed here and on subsequent pages.]
Bob: That was "Youngstown" from "The Ghost of Tom Joad." Wanna talk a little bit about the inspiration for that?
Bruce: That was a song that really -- I go back to this book called "Journey to Nowhere" -- I had written the whole record and then I read the book, and "Youngstown" and a song called "The New Timer" are really drawn from a lot of the information and the stories that were in this particular book. I guess that was something that probably out of all the things on the record maybe that connects the most directly to something if you were a fan of "The River" or just the story of post-industrial America, what happens when your job disappears. You were able to make a good living for 20 years and all of a sudden that's not there for you and maybe you can find a job that pays half as much or a quarter as much and you're 45 years old, you're 50 years old. What happens when the craft you've learned, the skill you've learned ... I think, hey what if I couldn't... my music ability that's all that I have, I'm not a multitalented person, I have a talent in a specific area and I fumble around every place else. So I wanted to re-engage some of those ideas and some of those issues and that's really where that song came out of.
Bob: How much of your present approach on this album is attributable -- even if it's a small amount -- to some self-doubt about whether you'd become, for whatever reasons, too mainstream -- the whole idea that celebrity is the natural enemy of integrity, so you'd better deliver a counter-punch.
Bruce: Oh, I don't know. I'm not sure I really ... I don't sort of steer myself by those particular lights. And I have a variety of different feelings about it. A lot of the things I really liked were things that were very mainstream. The stuff that moved me and changed my life were mainstream records. They were from people who came from outside of the mainstream but changed the mainstream to accommodate who they were by the force of their abilities and their talent and their ideas and their presence. Those are the artists that I admired a lot, whether it was Dylan ... hey, before "Like a Rolling Stone" you couldn't sing like that and get on the radio. They couldn't get on the radio like that. I've also said the same thing before Nirvana came out with "Smells Like Teen Spirit." You couldn't sound like that and get on top 40 radio. And I always believed that it was a valuable risk to take. It was a funny situation in that I think that I was essentially probably a child of Elvis Presley initially, but I grew up in the '60s and Dylan's work and later Woody Guthrie's also meant an enormous amount to me so I sorta got caught in between ... those are some different roots in certain ways. The things that meant a lot to me when I was young were the things that came across the AM radio. I didn't live in an environment where there was a lot of cultural education, we weren't exposed to things that were outside of the mainstream for the most part. The mainstream was what you had and in your small town what came across the radio was ... I found it very liberating and I found it very meaningful. I think I incorporated that ... I had my choices. Way back, way way back in 1975. I could have not have done those interviews and probably not have been on the cover of both Time and Newsweek, and I could have possibly made some different choices in '85, but I was very interested in where that road lead and in finding out about who I was and what I could do or would do under those circumstances. 'Cause I thought I'd do something different, and in some ways I did and in some ways I didn't. And those are the things that interested me. I think that at this point if I had anything to say about the particular level of celebrity, which I don't have now, ten years ago it was different, was that at some point it felt pretty overwhelming, and I think at some point it overwhelms the story you're telling and trying to tell.
Bob: This much is also undeniable. Without everything that went before the audience would be smaller for what you're trying to say here. There's no fighting that.
Bruce: Right now, there'd be almost no audience. (laughs)
Bob: On it's own merits, no matter how high those merits are, absent what went before, this is a record that only a few people hear.
Bruce: You are absolutely right. And that's the facts. And that's something that I've been conscious of that sort of throughout my career, I've kind of made one sort of record and I'll go off an make another one. And that balance has always felt right to me. I know that an audience is hard to find. And it's easy if you've had one for a long time, it's easy to take that audience for granted and think oh, hey, people just come when I play, they just buy my records when they come out. But the truth is that that audience -- I was years on the circuit, years on the circuit I studied my craft in bars since I was 14 years old, that's 32 years ago, and it happened over a long period of time. And it is something of tremendous value. At the same time, not just necessarily any audience is of tremendous value. I think that if you subvert what you're saying, what you're doing, what you want your work or your life to be about, then you've lost yourself and the essence of what you do.
Bob: Do you feel like you ever did that?
Bruce: I don't think so. I think basically, I've made the records that I've wanted to make. I think that in the course of probably the "Born in the USA" record, the story I was living overshadowed the story I was telling, and that is the consequence of a certain amount of maybe success and fame, and that's just something you learn. Not with everybody, not with my core audience, and I think that there's a few things on that record that are probably... certainly the title song, which I knew that when I wrote it that it was gonna have impact. But "My Hometown," I didn't know people were gonna respond like they did one way or the other. But I think that it's something that I'm very, very cautious of right now, and I'm really, I feel like I'm just out there checking it out. I'm trying to find ... I want this record to be heard, at the same time, I want it to be understood.
Bob: Seems to me like "The Ghost of Tom Joad" is a record that people will have to listen to a half dozen times before they begin to form their feelings about it.
Bruce: I don't know...
Bob: The first couple times through, I'm not so sure you're going to get it all.
Bruce: I don't know. That's for the listener. I've heard it a lot of times. I haven't heard it ... since we finished it off. I think I can have the experience of the record, I can't quite have that initial listening experience that you're talking about. That's something I have as each song goes down, and that's slightly different because if I don't think I'm getting it, I move on to something else. Sometimes I'll go back, like "Straight Time." I played it once, I put it away and basically, I threw it away. And Jon [Landau] came out and he has a tendency ... he always asks my engineer, "What's laying around that hasn't been played or I haven't heard?" I think my engineer pulled that one out and he came back and said, "Hey, wait a minute." So sometimes you don't know; sometimes you do something that was better than you thought it was.
Bob: When people come to see you on this tour, obviously they're going to see an acoustic show, not an acoustic version of songs previously recorded...
Bruce: It's not "Unplugged," it's not "Unplugged"...
Bob: Right. So they're gonna see an acoustic show. There's an interesting contrast in that...
Bruce: What the show is, it's a folk show, to put it in sort of in the sense that I'm not sorta doing my favorites or their favorites, or the hits or whatever you call it. I'm concentrating very specifically on this particular record and material that feels like it complements it. It's a show that ... it's a quiet show. There's a lot of focus in it. So it's pretty different.
Bob: I guess there is some feeling on the part of fans of an individual or a group, that when they go to see a concert, that concert should be an updated version of the catalog. We're gonna get all the classics, plus we're gonna get the handful from the new release that will join that group of classics, and that's not what's going to happen here.
Bruce: I think there's a time to do that. We'd played a couple nights with the E Street Band and we played a bunch of the old songs, and it was fun to do I enjoyed it and it's something where it's a departure. I really haven't done this before. I've played a few isolated shows. I've played Neil Young's Bridge Benefit a few times acoustically, and I've played a benefit for the Christic Institute acoustically with Jackson Browne. Then I started out on my own, when I got signed I was playing Max's Kansas City by myself with acoustic guitar, so in a funny way it's a throwback to what that was. But it's something I haven't really done before; it's something I've wanted to do for a long time. It really pares everything away and makes what you're about and what you're doing real clear, and that's what I'm interested in communicating right now. I'm real excited about it and I think the fans are going to enjoy it.
Bob: Everyone wonders, no matter how much they enjoy this record, no matter how much they enjoy this tour, when will Bruce be back with the E Street Band? So now I've asked the question. I've discharged my obligation, now you discharge yours.
Bruce: (laughs) Oh, we had a great time doing the "Greatest Hits," and what can I say, it's a special group of people and I'm sure at some point we'll be doing something. I hate to predict because I'm always wrong myself, and I follow, when I said you sort of follow your voice, and the voice of this particular record was something that felt like, yeah, was just something I heard in my head right now, whether you hear the world speaking to you or something inside you speaking to you that moves you in a particular direction, and that's really, that leads you hopefully to your most honest work, hopefully to your best work, hopefully to your honest job. But then also if you make a quiet record you tend to want to make some noise maybe later or something. I'd want to be able to call on the guys, and if everybody felt like it and if I was gonna make a rock record right now that'd be the first thing that I'd do. Outside of my family, that's the most important relationship in my life, that and my relationship with my audience.
Bob: Do you still stand by your statement that the two best days of your life were the day you picked up the guitar and the day you learned how to put it down?
Bruce: Oh, those days have been supplanted now. I guess the best days of my life were certainly the birth of my children. I think any parent always says that. And finding the thing that moves you ... something to do... finding something to do is really really important. I think maybe that that's why I'm attuned to that in others. Something that is so important to me, it was so important, and it's been so rewarding. That was the American idea was that everybody would have that opportunity, that chance. That's an idea worth fighting for.
Bob: The easy, glib thing is when people say when someone gets successful and they have material wealth they get out of touch with the troubles of people on the margins. I think that's too easy, but if a person truly finds happiness -- and it seems like you're happier than you've ever been for a stretch of time now in your life -- if the person finds happiness, is there a danger that the artistic edge can be muted?
Bruce: No, no, because ... it depends, once again any of those things you can't generalize. Life's circumstances change people in a lot of different ways. I know you can make a lot of money and be isolated, but I knew some hard-core isolated people who had nothing and who cut themselves off. I've said in the past, you can isolate yourself with a six pack of beer. I don't buy those types of generalizations, I think it depends on the individual and the idea that happiness somehow mutes your work, I'm not so sure. It depends what drives you, it depends what you want and the things that you still ... I still search for the big part of the meaning of my life in my work ...
[NOTE: At this point, there is a gap in the tape which was used to make this transcript. Subsequently, the previous and following quotes may or may not be related.]
Bruce: ... since you were born isn't something that disappears. I think
anybody who was ever seriously kicked around never ever forgets. You know that
stuff never leaves you, and I think if you're a person whose job is to mine
your imagination, you keep every aspect of your life wide open. It's never a
closed book. You never say, "Well, that was then." It's always now.
It's all always now. And so you draw from that well as you can.
Thanks to Susan R. West and the LuckyTown Digest.