As part of the TIFF Mavericks series, Ed Norton (here for STONE) was asked to interview the Boss, Bruce Springsteen. Tickets were hard to come by, and they actually arranged for a spill-over room for journalists unable to attend. One guy who apparently seen Bruce 250+ times in concert lined up a day-and-a-half before to secure a spot in the Lightbox theatre. In terms of hot tickets, this was one of them.
Early on, it became clear that Ed Norton was way out of his element. When the likes of an Elvis Costello (on his fab show, “Spectacle”) does an interview, they make their guest look good. Norton did no such thing, often asking so-called questions that were more forms of monologue, snippets of recollections or mildly inside jokes. One particularly egregious moment came when he read from Whitman’s LEAVES OF GRASS, asking for Bruce’s exigetical insight. When it wasn’t forthcoming, Ed actual began to answer the question himself.
Additionally, the audience was teased mercilessly, as a guitar tech came out and strummed for a sound check, only to have the session abruptly end without the Boss ever picking up an instrument.
These issues aside, there were some amusing and often charming insights that Springsteen managed to share between Norton’s ramblings, and, after all, for any die hard fan even the most trivial missive is worthy of reflection.
Ed Norton began with a pretty amusing anecdote about how Bruce, in one of his scrawled setlists, had a song that was going to be “For Ed”. The band, having read the note as “Eb” (ie., “E flat”) proceeded to try and work out the song in the new key. Bruce piped in and noeted that Norton at was more than once “guilty of fucking up E-street.”
Bruce talked of being 15 and hearing Dylan for the first time, specifically HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED. Like what he tried to do with the “Darkness” record, he felt that Dylan provided “the first real reflection about how the country felt at that time.”
Bruce (delightfully) described 60’s America as “Lynchian”, harkening to the films of David Lynch. He talked of “a superficial normalcy”, with an underlying anger, fear and distress. Growing up on the shores of Jersey, he “didn’t know anybody with a record deal”, there was no “regionalism” where people sought out the pockets of music being made outside the major city centres. Despite its proximity, North Jersey was a world away from the core of music production in NYC.
As success took hold, Bruce felt a sense of “survivor’s guilt”, being “the only one in [his] circle of friends and family that had any kind of monetary success.” The wealth was deceptive, however, as all the money “was going to things like recording and keeping the tours alive”. Still, there was a “pull on them from the outside”, an obligation to those that they grew up with that lacked the same drive as the boys in the band.
In the early days, Springsteen described himself as being “motivated by fear”, a drive that would provide the dark side at the core of this fourth record. He laughed that the band were “Bohemian by circumstance”, living their lives “influenced by records” and the stories they tell. By the time of the Darkness record he felt that he’d already “ingested all his musical references”, and was drawing upon literature and film due in part to the influence of producer Jon Landau (as an aside, Landau was sitting directly in front of me, and would vigourously nod when he agreed with something that Bruce would say). Things like Mallick’s BADLANDS provide an obvious reference to the record, but so to do films by John Ford, ROLLING THUNDER, Film Noir, etc. Bruce also talked about a road trip through the mid-West that he took with Steve Van Zandt, driving through the landscapes of the films that enthralled them both.
Back to Dylan as a major influence, Springsteen pointed out that he “always liked the singers where you couldn’t tell what they were thinking”, lyrics that had characters so rich that the singer themselves was subservient to the narrative. He also joked about his age, pointing that by the time Dylan was “only” 30 years old “they were already looking for the NEW Dylan!” In Dylan Bruce found that an artist could provide an “imagining of a world”, making that a “particular thing” and leaving “fingerprints on your heart.”
Talking briefly about Elvis, Springsteen noted how he pushed all these boundaries, “mixing gender and race, the scale of his story was vast”. James Brown too was a major influence.
Regarding new artists, Bruce talked about being a “gunslinger… always looking over your shoulder” about the up and coming artists. He pointed specifically to Pete Molonari and Gaslight Anthem as acts that he’s really responding to of late, and told an amusing tale of being with at a Bad Religion/Dropkick Murphys concert and watching with a degree of detachment as his son joined a mosh pit.
Wrapping up, he brought up Martin Scorsese, quoting him as saying that an artist is “somebody who can get others to care about things one’s own obsessions.” The Darkness album, he felt, was the first real articulation of the more bleak forms of these obsessions. Bruce talked about how the culling process of the Darkness record was made the more difficult because it represented 25% of his recorded output. 30 years later, he’s comfortable releasing these tracks that didn’t make the cut, as they play a far less critical role in the greater body of work. Finally, giving advice to young musicians, he encourages them to “worry their asses off”, pointing to the fact that it was the worry and the struggle that made his records at vital as they continue to be. Even in his 20s he wanted a “purposeful work life”, claiming “the hardness made it better, we wanted to be important. No modesty was involved” in the making of this record. 30 years later, no modesty is required.