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Musician Bruce Springsteen stands on stage with his guitar

Bruce Springsteen: On Jersey, Masculinity And Wishing To Be His Stage Persona

Springsteen's one-man show closes on Broadway Saturday, then begins streaming on Netflix. He spoke to Fresh Air in 2016, admitting: "People see you onstage and, yeah, I'd want to be that guy."


Other segments from the episode on October 5, 2016

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, Interview with Bruce Springsteen; Review of the film If Beale Street Could Talk.


TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Bruce Springsteen's Broadway show closes tomorrow night, but you can still see it, and you don't have to go to Broadway. It was filmed for Netflix and will start streaming this weekend. There's also a new soundtrack from the show.

We're going to listen to the interview I recorded with Springsteen in 2016 in his home studio in New Jersey, not far from where he grew up. His memoir, which had just been published, shares the title of his most famous song - "Born To Run." The theme of that anthem is escape, but in much of the book, Springsteen reflects on how he and his music were shaped by home, roots, blood, community, freedom and responsibility.

Throughout the book, you sense the presence of Springsteen's father, from whom Springsteen says he learned the rigidity and blue-collar narcissism of manhood '50s style. His Broadway show is adapted from the memoir. Let's hear an excerpt from the show's new soundtrack.


BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Well, the flag of piracy flew from my past. And my sails were set wing to wing. I had a jukebox graduate for first mate. She couldn't sail, but she sure could sing. I pushed B-52 and bombed them with the blues, with my gear set stubborn on standing. I broke all the rules, strafed my old high school, never once gave thought to landing. I hid in the clouded wrath of the crowd. When they said, come down, I threw up. Oh, growing up.

I've never held an honest job in my entire life.


SPRINGSTEEN: I've never done any hard labor. I've never worked 9 to 5. I've never worked five days a week until right now.


SPRINGSTEEN: I don't like it.


SPRINGSTEEN: I've never seen the inside of the factory, and yet it's all I've ever written about. Standing before you is a man who has become wildly and absurdly successful writing about something of which he has had absolutely no personal experience.


SPRINGSTEEN: I made it all up.


SPRINGSTEEN: That's how good I am.


GROSS: When Springsteen's memoir was published, he released a companion CD called "Chapter And Verse" featuring a selection of songs that span his career. When we spoke, we started with a track from it, the demo version of the song we were just listening to, "Growin' Up."


SPRINGSTEEN: OK, take two. (Singing) Well, I stood stone-like at midnight, suspended in my masquerade. I combed my hair till it was just right and commanded the night brigade. I was open to pain and crossed by the rain, and I walked on a crooked crutch. Well, I strolled all alone through a fallout zone and came out with my soul untouched. I hid in the clouded wrath of the crowd. When they said sit down, I stood up. Oh (ph), growing up. Well, the flag of piracy flew from my mast.


GROSS: Bruce Springsteen, welcome to FRESH AIR. And thank you for welcoming us into your studio. I'd love it if you would start by reading the very opening from the forward of your book. It's really a fantastic book, and I'd like our listeners to just hear a little bit of your writing.

SPRINGSTEEN: OK, my pleasure. (Reading) I come from a boardwalk town where almost everything is tinged with a bit of fraud - so am I. By 20, no race-car-driving rebel. I was a guitar player on the streets of Asbury Park and already a member in good standing amongst those who lie in service of the truth - artists with a small a. But I held four clean aces. I had youth, almost a decade of hardcore bar band experience, a good group of homegrown musicians who were attuned to my performance style, and a story to tell. This book is both a continuation of that story and a search into its origins. I've taken as my parameters the events in my life I believe shaped that story and my performance work. One of the questions I'm asked over and over again by fans on the street is, how do you do it? In the following pages, I'll try to shed a little light on how and, more importantly, why.

GROSS: Thanks for reading that. So many of your songs, particularly the early ones, are about, you know, like, searching for a dream and wanting to, like, bust out of the confines of your life. And in some ways, you know, I get the impression from your book that that was your father's story, except he never found the dream. It's kind of like - a little bit like the story that you describe in your song, "The River."

SPRINGSTEEN: Right. You know, my dad was young. He went to work. But he'd been to war. He'd seen some of the world. It wasn't like he was going to be an extensive traveler or something. That didn't seem to be in the nature of - in his nature or in the nature of his parents or many of the folks in my family, really. They were - we had a cousin that went to - off to Brown University. It was like a nuclear explosion took place.


SPRINGSTEEN: You know, it was just incredible for everybody. So you're correct. My parents did really sort of live out a big part of that story. And to a certain degree, he did find his little piece of what he was looking for in California.

GROSS: Because when you were 19, he moved to California.

SPRINGSTEEN: Yeah, they moved out West, which was a huge undertaking because no one - it's like - it was like moving to another planet for them. But I think that's what my father wanted to do. He wanted to move to another planet. And they had very little. They had $3,000. And they - I think they had an old Rambler.

And they slept two nights in the car and a night in a motel. And they had my little sister with them with all their stuff packed on top. It was a really go-for-broke decision, and it did pay off for them. You know, they - I think they enjoyed the West Coast and their California life quite a bit. You know, my father still had periods of illness that were...

GROSS: Difficult mental illness.

SPRINGSTEEN: Yeah, difficult to manage. But I believe he did feel like he found something there that he couldn't have found at home.

GROSS: Do you think the song "Born To Run" is in part about him and in part about you?

SPRINGSTEEN: Well, someone mentioned that to me the other day. I always thought it was just about me.


SPRINGSTEEN: But what do you know?


SPRINGSTEEN: And looking back on it, my parents lived out quite a bit of that story themselves.

GROSS: Except you had a dream in a way that your father maybe didn't have a dream that he could articulate.

SPRINGSTEEN: It certainly wasn't one he could articulate. It was just I got to get out of here.

GROSS: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.


GROSS: ...So this is - this story, I think, is really interesting. You tell a story how in 1967, there's a lot of friction between you and your father. And you're in your teens. You're growing your hair long. You're into music. And long hair then, probably particularly in the working-class town where you were, was a pretty...

SPRINGSTEEN: ...It was unusual.

GROSS: And a radical thing.

SPRINGSTEEN: It was an unusual thing. It was.

GROSS: Making a statement (laughter).

SPRINGSTEEN: You were making a statement.


GROSS: So you were in a motorcycle accident, got thrown, like, 20 feet, like, really hurt yourself pretty bad. You were in the hospital. You get home. Your father calls in a barber...

SPRINGSTEEN: (Laughter).

GROSS: ...And a barber cuts your hair against your will.

SPRINGSTEEN: (Laughter) It's funny now. I didn't think it was funny then.

GROSS: I'll bet you didn't.

SPRINGSTEEN: But I was lucky - I was lucky I survived the motorcycle accident because I - bike went under the car. I flew out about 20 or 25 feet. I didn't have a helmet on. I hit my head on the pavement and knocked myself out, gave myself a brain concussion, screwed up my left leg. And I was - I was lucky then that I didn't get killed because I didn't have any protective clothing on whatsoever. And I took a pretty good beating. But, yeah, such was the nature of the day when (laughter) the barber was called and Samson's locks were trimmed.

GROSS: I actually found it an upsetting story because here, like, you barely survived. You're laying there disabled, and your father takes advantage of you and cuts off something that you love that's part of your identity when you're already so physically wounded. It just - it felt very unfair to me. How did it feel to you at the time?

SPRINGSTEEN: Such was the lay of the land at the time. I mean, of course, I was furious about it at the time. And - but what can you say? It's water under the bridge.


GROSS: So you write, too, about your father that he was kind of very - let me quote you because you put it so well - you write that (reading) he loved me but he couldn't stand me. He felt we competed for my mother's affections. We did. He also saw in me too much of his real self. Inside, beyond his rage, he harbored a gentleness, timidity, shyness and a dreamy insecurity. These were things I wore on the outside, and the reflection of these qualities in his boy repelled him. I was soft, and he hated soft. Of course, he'd been brought up soft. A mama's boy, just like me.

So that timidity and shyness that you wore on the outside, it's kind of like the opposite of your stage persona.

SPRINGSTEEN: (Laughter) I know, it's bizarre.

GROSS: Can you tell us a little bit more about the timidity and shyness of your youth?

SPRINGSTEEN: Yeah. Well, T Bone Burnett once said that much of rock music is simply someone going wahhh (ph) daddy.


SPRINGSTEEN: So I've got to take my - I've got to take some blame for that myself, I guess. But, yeah, just it was - when I was young, you know, I was very shy, and that was my personality. You know, I was a pretty sensitive kid and quite neurotic, filled with a lot of anxiety, which all would have been very familiar to my pop, you know, except it was a part of himself he was trying to reject. So I got caught in the middle of it, I think.

GROSS: Do you know - like, you say in the book that you used to use - you were so nervous for a while during your childhood that you blinked, like, a hundred times a minute.

SPRINGSTEEN: (Laughter) Yeah.

GROSS: And you chewed your knuckles. Was there a specific cause of that anxiety or is it just, do you think, the way you were wired...

SPRINGSTEEN: I never - I mean, I never found out, you know. It was just tremendous anxiety, you know, tremendous feeling of being out of control of your young life.

GROSS: So do you think that your stage persona draws both from, like, the angry and uninhibited side of you and the more inhibited, timid side of you?

SPRINGSTEEN: I think it's both there. I think if you just - you know, I think plenty of folks, if you just looked at the outside, it can read - you know, it's pretty alpha male - you know? Which is - is a little ironic because, you know, it's - that was personally never exactly really me. I think I created my particular stage persona out of my dad's life. And perhaps I even built it to suit him to some degree. I was looking for - when I was looking for a voice to mix with my voice, I put on my father's work clothes, as I say in the book, and I went to work.

Whether it was the result of wanting to emulate him so I felt closer or whether it was - I wanted - as I say in the book, I wanted to be the reasonable voice of revenge for what I'd seen his life come to. It was all of these things. And it was an unusual creation, but most of these - most people's stage personas are created out of the flotsam and jetsam of their internal geography. And they're trying to - they're trying to create something that solves a series of very complex problems inside of them or in their history.

And I think when I - unknowingly, when I went to do that, that's what I was - I was trying to integrate all of these very difficult things that I'd been unable to integrate in my life and in my life with my parents.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, I'm talking to Bruce Springsteen. Let's take a short break here, then we'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, I'm with Bruce Springsteen. And we're recording this interview in his home studio.

So you also lived near the church.


GROSS: And church was a part of your life. And you write about Catholicism (reading) this is the world where I found the beginnings of my song. In Catholicism, there existed the poetry, danger and darkness that reflected my imagination and my inner self. I found a language of great and harsh beauty, of fantastic stories, of unimaginable punishment and infinite reward. Are there particular, like, Bible stories or, like, religious paintings that really made an impression on you?

SPRINGSTEEN: No. It was more just the basics. I think when you're a child, you just cling to the basics, which is the basic story of Jesus and the crucifixion and hell and eternal punishment and the flames. This was all stuff that was - forget when you're young. This is very tangible and is as real as the gas station next door to you, you know.

GROSS: Maybe especially since the church was just about next-door to you.

SPRINGSTEEN: (Laughter) Exactly. So these things - and also because we lived in the presence of the church and the convent and the rectory and the school 24/7. And this was an enormous cornerstone in the lives of my entire family. They were all pretty serious Catholic churchgoers. And as a child, you just - you know, these things were very, very - they were very, very terrifying. And...

GROSS: What things were you afraid of, hell?

SPRINGSTEEN: (Laughter) Yeah.

GROSS: Of eternal damnation?

SPRINGSTEEN: (Laughter) That one, too, you know. So, you know, these were stories that were not stories, you know, they were simply facts. This is what occurred. This is what can occur unless you tow the line, my friend, you know.

So when you're a child, it was very - and you forget that the Catholic religion at the time was much darker and more mysterious. The entire mass was in Latin. The church was - if you go to my church now, it's incredibly bright inside. But at - when I was young, it was very dark inside, you know. And it was just the difference in the way that they've painted it since I've gone there. And it strives for a very different and welcoming spirit.

Where when I was young, it was sort of built to intimidate. Even on this very local level in this very small church in this small town, it still held that sort of - held you in the palm of its darkness. And it was something I carried with me, never forgot, brought into my music. And it's been in my music ever since.

GROSS: So when your father told the family that he had to leave New Jersey and go to California, and he was going to do it. He hoped the family came with him, but he was going to go one way or another.


GROSS: And so he left. Your mother went with him. Your youngest sister went with him. Your sister, who was in the middle, was 17, she'd just gotten pregnant. You say she didn't even know how to make toast.

SPRINGSTEEN: (Laughter).

GROSS: And your parents left...

SPRINGSTEEN: I may be a little harsh on her there. I think she knew how to make toast.


GROSS: And you were 19. And suddenly, you know, suddenly, there were no authority figures in your life. I mean, your parents were gone. Your father wasn't going to, you know...


GROSS: ...Whatever he was doing, he wasn't going to do it anymore.


GROSS: He wasn't going to be around. What did that freedom feel like to you?

SPRINGSTEEN: By the time I was 19, my parents weren't very authoritative over my life.

GROSS: You were already gone?

SPRINGSTEEN: Yeah. At the time, I was already down at the shore. And I was staying out overnight and sleeping on the beach and, you know, playing - going - coming home at 3, 4 a.m. after having played a show, or in some club or - and so I was really - I was deep into my - I was five years into my own life already. It started when I was 14 and a half.

And I didn't have any doubt about that - at that time about what I was going to do or where I was going. I was a musician. I was going to play. I had a band. We were going to make enough money to survive on.

So it was - I was quite prepared for that to occur, whereas my sister was in a very different situation. She just had a newborn and a new marriage and really missed the family when they left.

GROSS: We're listening back to my 2016 interview with Bruce Springsteen, recorded in his home studio after the publication of his memoir, which he later adapted into his solo Broadway show. The show closes tomorrow but was filmed for Netflix and will start streaming Sunday. There's also a new soundtrack of the show. We'll talk about the Asbury Park era of his life and more after we take a short break. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.


SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Sandy, that waitress I was seeing, lost her desire for me. I spoke with her last night. She said she won't set herself on fire for me anymore. She worked that joint under the boardwalk. She was always the girl you saw bopping down the beach with the radio. The kids say last night she was dressed like a star in one of them cheap little seaside bars. And I saw her parked with lover boy out on the Kokomo.

Did you hear the cops finally busted Madame Marie for telling fortunes better than they do? For me, this boardwalk life's through, babe. You ought to quit this scene too. Sandy, the aurora is rising behind us. This pier lights our carnival life forever. Oh, love me tonight, and I promise I'll love you forever. Oh, I mean it, Sandy, girl, my, my, my, my, my baby. Yeah, I promise, Sandy, girl. Sha, la, la, la, la, baby.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with Bruce Springsteen. His Broadway show closes tomorrow, but it was filmed for Netflix and starts streaming Sunday morning. There's also a new soundtrack of the show. The show was adapted from his 2016 memoir. I spoke with him when the book was published. We recorded the interview in his home studio in New Jersey not far from where he grew up.

During your early years as a musician, you were in Asbury Park, boardwalk, carnival atmosphere. What did you love about that kind of urban beach (laughter), you know?


GROSS: And the - you know, Madame Marie and all of the - like, all of the boardwalk regulars, you made great stories out of those characters, great songs out of those characters. But what appealed to you about knowing them and writing about them?

SPRINGSTEEN: It was just my location at the time. I didn't move to Asbury with the thought of - you know, it wasn't an anthropological (laughter)...

GROSS: But you connected in some way.

SPRINGSTEEN: ...Reason. But I went, and I just fit in there. Asbury was down on its luck but not as bad as it would get. And so there was a lot of room to move. You know, clubs were open till 5 a.m. There were gay clubs. In even the late '60s, it was a bit of an open city. So as young ne'er-do-wells, we fit very...

GROSS: (Laughter).

SPRINGSTEEN: You know, we fit very comfortably in that picture. And then when I went to write, I just wrote about what was around me. It fired my imagination. It was - of course, was a colorful locale. The city was filled with characters and plenty of people at loose ends. And so it just became a very natural thing to write about. I didn't give it too much thought at the time.

But I did think that it gave me a very individual identity in that if I was going to go out into the musical world on a national level, I was very interested in being connected to my home, my home state. There wasn't anyone else writing in this way about these things at that time. So it was something I did very intentionally in the sense as creating a certain very, very specific and original identity.

GROSS: And that's one of the things that really interests me in comparing you to Dylan because when you first started, people comparing you to Dylan, one of the new Dylans...


GROSS: ...And everything. In some ways, like, persona-wise, you're the opposite. He changed his name. He surrounded himself in mystery. His lyrics are very obscure. Your lyrics tell stories. You're all about a place. You reveal so much about yourself and the world around you in your songs that - you know what I mean? Like, I know...


GROSS: I know that you're more than what you literally tell us about in the songs. But still, you have an identity and try to tell us something of who you are in your songs.

SPRINGSTEEN: You just go where your psychology leads you. I think - you know, I've always loved the fact that Bob's been able to sustain his mystery over 50 or 60 years. That's - in this day and age, that's quite a feat in itself. And, you know, the things that I loved about Bob's music - and I describe him in the book as the father of my country, which he really is - were things that just didn't fit when I went to do my job. You know, I'd come out of a somewhat different circumstance. And shoes - the clothes just didn't fit.

GROSS: I want to quote you again. So you write - this is toward the beginning of your career - (reading) I wanted to be a voice that reflected experience and the world I live in. So I knew in 1972 that, to do this, I would need to write very well and more individually than I had ever written before. And this was - at some point you realized too that although you had, like, the most popular bar band in (laughter) Asbury Park that there was a bigger world. There was a lot of...


GROSS: ...Talented people. And in order to, like, be someone in that world, to have a career, to make a difference, that you had to figure out what was unique about you, and you had to write great songs. And in fact, you achieved that. You wrote great songs. But, you know, how did you go about trying to write the best songs that you could, I mean, when you knew that a lot of this was going to depend on the songwriting?

SPRINGSTEEN: When I thought about signing a record deal or writing something that might put me in the position - because I'd already had plenty of things that had fallen through with my rock bands - I looked at myself, and I just said, well, you know, I can sing, but I'm not the greatest singer in the world. I can play guitar very well, but I'm not the greatest guitar player in the world.

What excites me about a lot of the artists I love - and I realize, well, they created their own personal world that I could enter into through their music and through their songwriting. There's people that can do it instrumentally, like Jimi Hendrix or Edge of U2 or Pete Townshend. I didn't have as unique a purely musical signature. I was a creature of a lot of different influences.

And so I said, well, if I'm going to project an individuality, it's going to have to be in my writing. And at the time - for one of the few times in my life, I didn't have a band. I just had myself and the guitar. So I was going to have to do something with just my voice, just the guitar and just my songs that was going to move someone enough to give me a shot.

So I wrote songs that were very lyrically alive and lyrically dense. And they were unique, but it really came out of the motivation to - or I understood it was - I was going to have to make my mark that way.

GROSS: You - you've lived your life - a lot of your life - on the road. And for a lot of your early years, I mean, you were single. You were in monogamous or semi-monogamous (laughter) relationships, as you describe it.


GROSS: But you weren't married. You didn't have children. You had a first marriage. And then Patti Scialfa joined the band, and you got married. And you have three children now.


GROSS: What did it take for you to see family as something that was a wonderful thing, as opposed to something that was going to harm your sense of freedom and flexibility...


GROSS: ...And creativity?

SPRINGSTEEN: I think for a lot of musicians that's a difficult call because we're - by nature, we're transient. We move on. We're people that - like I say in the book, there's folks that stay, and there's folks that go. And we're folks that go (laughter). I didn't have a blueprint from my childhood that I could call on, which is an enormous deficit when you're trying to put together a family life.

I didn't see a family life where men were thriving inside of it. You know, my dad tended to blame the family for his inability to achieve what he wanted to achieve, you know? So unfortunately, I was coming from that particular frame of mind. And it took quite a bit of work and time and mistakes to begin to feel - to understand the strength and - that comes along with building a home life, you know? That was very mysterious to me. I was very skeptical of it for a long time and didn't understand it fully until Patti and I got together.

GROSS: Was it helpful to be married to somebody who was in the band?

SPRINGSTEEN: I think so.

GROSS: Because she would certainly understand what life on the road was...


GROSS: ...And what being a musician is because she is one.

SPRINGSTEEN: Yeah, I think so. Patti was an artist and a musician, and she was a songwriter. And she was a lot like me in that she was transient also. She worked busking on the streets in New York. She waitressed. She had - she just lived a life - she lived a musician's life. She lived an artist's life.

So we were both people who were very uncomfortable in a domestic setting, getting together and trying to build one and seeing if our particularly strange jigsaw puzzle pieces were going to fit together in a way that was going to create something different for the two of us. And it did.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Bruce Springsteen. I'm actually his guest because we're recording this in his home studio.


GROSS: We're going to take a short break here, and then we'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is Bruce Springsteen. But as I've said, we're really a guest in his home studio.

SPRINGSTEEN: Welcome, welcome.

GROSS: (Laughter) Thank you. You started going to therapy in 1983. And at some point, you say, in your 60s, you had a really bad depression. And I'm wondering if you thought about, during that period when you were very depressed, how many people in the world really wanted to be you? And...

SPRINGSTEEN: (Laughter) Doesn't count for that much at the time.

GROSS: Yeah, right.

SPRINGSTEEN: (Laughter) You know, but - you know, people see you on stage and yeah, I'd want to be that guy. I want to be that guy myself very often.

GROSS: (Laughter).

SPRINGSTEEN: You know? I get plenty - I have plenty of days where I go, man, I wish I could be that guy. And...

GROSS: (Laughter).

SPRINGSTEEN: ...You know, it's not quite - there's a big difference between what you see on stage and then my general daily - (laughter) my daily existence.

GROSS: You write about how being on stage is almost like medicine for you.


GROSS: You know, does it get you out of yourself? Does it...

SPRINGSTEEN: Oh, of course. You're immediately pulled out of the - your - the inside of your head, and it immediately changes your frame of mind. I've never been on stage where I've - no, that's not true. I have been on stage on a few occasions where I felt I couldn't escape the interior of my - my interior thoughts. But Peter Wolf once said, what's the strangest thing you can do on stage? Think about what you're doing.

GROSS: (Laughter).

SPRINGSTEEN: There's just nothing weirder you can do. If you're up there thinking about what you're doing, you're just not there. And it's not going to happen. So you have to learn to sort of overcome that tendency towards self-consciousness and just blow it wide open. And you jump in and join all those people that are out there enjoying what you're doing together.

GROSS: During the depression, there was a period of a year and a half when you weren't on the road. You were home with one of your sons - I guess with your youngest?


GROSS: Did that contribute to the depression because you couldn't be on stage, and you couldn't have that kind of cathartic experience?

SPRINGSTEEN: Yeah, I tend to be not my own best company. I can get a little lost when - if I don't have my work to occasionally focus me. But at the same time, you've got to be able to figure that out. The year and a half I was home, my son was in his last year of high school, and it was kind of my last opportunity to be here with him in the house. And I wanted to get that right.

GROSS: As you mention in your book, you wanted to write songs that you wouldn't outgrow, that you could sing as an adult...


GROSS: ...That weren't just kids' songs. And...


GROSS: ...You know, done. Accomplished (laughter).


GROSS: But when you sing some of your early songs now, as you still do, like "Born To Run," does the song have a different meaning to you than it did when you first started, you know, performing it?

SPRINGSTEEN: We just had a series of concerts where the show was very interesting because we started out with my earliest material. And we played about half a record off of our first record and then half or three-quarters off of the second record. So it was going back to my earliest music and re-singing my earliest songs that I wrote when I was 22.

And it was funny that they just fit perfectly well. You know, there was (laughter) - they sort of gather the years up as time passes. And you can revisit - the wonderful thing about my job is you can revisit your 22-year-old self or your 24-year-old self any particular night you want. And the songs themselves do broaden out as time passes and take on subtly different meanings, take on more meaning, I find.

GROSS: What's an example of a song that's taken on a different meaning or more meaning for you?

SPRINGSTEEN: A lot of the ones that are people's favorites. You know, "Born To Run," I - that expands every time we go out. It just seems to - you - more of your life fills it in, fills in the story. And when we hit it every night, it's always a huge catharsis. It's fascinating to see the audience singing it back to me. It's quite wonderful, you know, to see people that intensely singing your song.

GROSS: As someone who grew up in Brooklyn and now lives in Philadelphia, I love that you've continued to live in New Jersey - not only in New Jersey, but not far from where you grew up. Why have you stayed close to the home that your father left? Your father went to the opposite coast when you were a teenager.

SPRINGSTEEN: It's ironic, yeah. They (laughter) - it's rather ironic. But I just felt very comfortable here, and I was uncomfortable with city life. I was more or less a kid that came out of a small town. And I was a beach bum and loved the ocean and loved the sun and I liked the people that were here. I liked who I was when I was here. I wanted to continue writing about the things that I felt were important, and those things were pretty much here.

I felt like a lot of my heroes from the past lost themselves in different ways once they had a certain amount of success. And I was nervous about that. And I wanted to remain grounded. And living in this part of New Jersey was something that was - it was essential to who I was and continues, to this day, to be that way.

GROSS: So we've been recording this interview in your home studio. Would you just tell us a little bit about the studio? I mean, it was built for you.

SPRINGSTEEN: Well, Patti built this studio. She really - she with some help. This was just part of our garage. And...

GROSS: Yes, because I'm looking through a curtain.

SPRINGSTEEN: (Laughter).

GROSS: Well, the curtain's closed now. But when it was open, there was, like, a big vintage...

SPRINGSTEEN: Yeah, there's a lot of motorcycles over there.

GROSS: ...Car or truck or motorcycles and - yeah.

SPRINGSTEEN: (Laughter) And there's a lot of - we're surrounded...

GROSS: ...Most studios don't have a garage attached to it like that (laughter).

SPRINGSTEEN: (Laughter) We're surrounded by vintage automobiles and motorcycles.

GROSS: (Laughter) OK.

SPRINGSTEEN: But this piece of the garage, Patti said, well, let's make a studio out of it because we were using the house across the street to record in for a long time. And I said, OK, you know, go ahead. See what it's about. And she just did an incredible job building this facility here. But it's like if I died when I was 15, went to heaven, this is where I think I would've ended up.

GROSS: (Laughter).

SPRINGSTEEN: We're surrounded by guitars, keyboards, recording decks. It's just a paradise.

GROSS: Bruce Springsteen, I can't thank you enough for...


GROSS: ...Inviting us into your studio and allowing us to do this interview.

SPRINGSTEEN: Thank you very much.

GROSS: Thank you so much.

SPRINGSTEEN: Very enjoyable. I appreciate it.

GROSS: And I really love the book.

SPRINGSTEEN: (Laughter) Thanks a lot.

GROSS: (Laughter).


SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Born in a dead man's town, the first kick I took was when I hit the ground. End up like a dog that's been beat too much, till you spend half your life just covering up now. Born in the USA, I was born in the USA. I was born in the USA, born in the USA now. Got in a little hometown jam, so they put a rifle in my hand, sent me off to a foreign land to go and kill the yellow man. Born in the USA, I was born in the USA. Born in the USA, I was born in the USA. Come back home to the refinery. Hiring man said, son, if it was up to me. Went down to see my VA man. He said, son, don't you understand now? Oh, yeah. Oh.

GROSS: My interview with Bruce Springsteen was recorded in his home studio in 2016 after the publication of his memoir, which he adapted into his Broadway show. The show closes tomorrow, but it was recorded for Netflix and will start streaming Sunday. There's also a new soundtrack of the show. This is FRESH AIR.



This is FRESH AIR. Two years after "Moonlight" won the Academy Award for best picture, the writer-director Barry Jenkins has returned with a new independent drama called "If Beale Street Could Talk," adapted from the novel by James Baldwin. Newcomer Kiki Layne and Stephan James play the young lovers in 1970s Harlem, whose lives are thrown into turmoil when one of them is falsely accused of a crime. Film critic Justin Chang has this review.

JUSTIN CHANG, BYLINE: I can't imagine a harder act for a filmmaker to follow than "Moonlight." That movie, a quietly shattering portrait of a young black man wrestling with his sexuality, held you rapt with its intimacy. It left you feeling as if you'd stared deep into that young man's soul. I don't know if the writer-director Barry Jenkins has matched that achievement with his new movie "If Beale Street Could Talk." But at times, he comes remarkably close. This is a heart-stoppingly beautiful movie, a love story so tenderly directed, exquisitely photographed and lushly scored that every scene seems designed to make you swoon.

The story, adapted from a novel by the great writer and civil rights activist James Baldwin, takes place in Harlem during the early 1970s. Kiki Layne plays 19-year-old Tish Rivers who's in love with 22-year-old Fonny Hunt, played by Stephan James. The two of them are childhood sweethearts. He's a sculptor while she works at a department store. The movie begins with an impossibly gorgeous shot of them walking through a park scattered with autumn leaves. It's an idyllic moment, and we already sense that it can't last.

By the next scene, Fonny is in jail talking to Tish through a sheet of glass. Fonny has been accused of rape by a woman, we later learn, who was pressured to name him as her assailant by a racist cop with a grudge against Fonny. As if that weren't enough, Tish has just found out that she's pregnant. The timing is unfortunate, but Tish at least has her family's unconditional support. Regina King gives a wonderful performance as her steadfast mother who learns about the pregnancy first. She knows exactly how to break the news to Tish's father and older sister, played by Colman Domingo and Teyonah Parris. That night at dinner, she busts out the liquor and makes the announcement.


REGINA KING: (As Sharon Rivers) Hey, not too much for Tish.

COLMAN DOMINGO: (As Joseph Rivers) All right, What's going on?

KING: (As Sharon Rivers) This is all sacral - and, no, I ain't lost my mind. We are drinking to new life. Tish going to have Fonny's baby.

CHANG: Barry Jenkins is a marvelous director of actors. Simply hearing the dialogue doesn't convey the subtlety of the characters' expressions, the way their shock and disbelief gives way to a quiet acceptance - even delight. Fonny's family isn't nearly as understanding, especially his fundamentalist Christian mom played with jaw-dropping bitterness by Anjanue Ellis. Still, you can see why both families are under a great deal of strain. Tish's mother and sister, in particular, are working day and night with Fonny's lawyer to get the charges dropped.

But this isn't one of those uplifting dramas where a brilliant legal strategy saves the day. There isn't even much of a plot to speak of. The movie shuffles backward and forward through time - almost woozily as if it were still drunk on early memories of Tish and Fonny together. We see them walking the streets, enjoying a meal at a Spanish restaurant and making love for the first time in their dilapidated West Village apartment. The scene fully captures Tish's description in Baldwin's novel. (Reading) We held each other so close that we might indeed have been one body. In one flashback, we meet Fonny's old friend Daniel, played in a brief but profoundly affecting performance by Brian Tyree Henry. They're having a conversation in Fonny and Tish's apartment. Fonny complains about how few landlords want to rent to black tenants while Daniel recalls his own run in with police officers who tried to frame him for a crime.

"If Beale Street Could Talk" places Fonny's arrest within an entire history of systemic oppression - a history the movie overtly references with old photographs of black men being arrested en masse. Those are ugly images, and they stand in direct contrast to the softly caressing light of James Laxton's cinematography and the ecstatic swells of Nicholas Britell's score. Jenkins has acknowledged the many international filmmakers who have influenced his work - especially Wong Kar-Wai, the great Hong Kong director of such intoxicating romances as "In The Mood For Love." But while "If Beale Street Could Talk" may invoke Wong with its intensely saturated colors and glamorous swirls of cigarette smoke, it isn't simply paying homage. There's a political dimension to all the cinematic poetry. It's as if Jenkins were trying to show us the world for the harsh unjust place that it is but also the more hopeful beautiful place it could be.

GROSS: Justin Chang is a film critic for The LA Times. Monday on FRESH AIR, we'll talk about the life of Frederick Douglass with historian David Blight. His new biography of Douglass is on many best-of-the-year lists. Douglass' speeches about his escape from slavery and the abolition movement were so popular...

DAVID BLIGHT: Seeing and hearing Douglass became, through the course of the 19th century, a kind of American Wonder of the World.

GROSS: I hope you'll join us.


BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) You better watch out. You better not cry. You better not pout. I'm telling you why. Santa Claus is coming to town. Santa Claus is coming to town. Santa Claus is coming to town. he's making a list. He's checking it twice. He's going to find out who's naughty or nice.

GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham, with additional engineering support from Joyce Lieberman and Julian Herzfeld. Our associate producer for digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross.


SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) He sees you when you're sleeping. He knows when you're awake. He knows if you've been bad or good. You better be good for goodness sake. Oh, you better watch out. You better not cry. You better not pout. I'm telling you why. Santa Claus is coming to town. Santa Claus is coming to town. Santa Claus is coming to town.

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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