In very much the same way, the authors continue to mine the rich Springsteen vein for new perspectives on the man and having been biographed by the likes of the notable Dave Marsh back in the late 1980’s and more recently by Clinton Heylin’s work on his career into the 1980’s, it’s been Peter Carlin’s ‘Bruce’ which has attempted a more up to date biography – the first for some quarter of a century. There have been, naturally, the more ‘throwaway’ publications accompanying the periods of high profile such as the mid 80’s ‘Born In The USA’ frenzy which catapulted Bruce into mega stardom. There have also been the trivia books, the quiz books (I have two of them!) and the more scholarly type studies which have attempted to deconstruct his albums and his muse.
In seeking a fresh perspective, Jeff Burger has gathered a collection of interviews from various media ranging from the well known and high profile to some more obscure publications and transcripts from previously unavailable radio and TV interviews. With a telling foreword from long time friend and colleague Elliot Murphy, it’s immediately made clear how the ability of Springsteen to express himself so eloquently in interviews is a real strength. That may not have always been the case however, as the chronology of the collection of writings begins in 1973 and Springsteen confessing to Bruce Pollock (one of the first journalists to interview him for a national magazine) “I’m not really a literary type of cat”. A fact which is reinforced by the first of two pieces by Steve Turner (probably the first British journalist to see Springsteen when he attended his show supporting Chicago – the band, in Philadelphia - the city, in 1973) which almost bookend the book. His first meeting with Springsteen saw his then-manager, Mike Appel doing most of the talking for him, to the extent that it’s an Appel rather than Springsteen interview. Contrast that with his 2009 piece for the Radio Times (which incidentally I also have tucked away with its fine cover story entitled ‘Meet the Boss’) in which Springsteen does get to speak for himself (albeit briefly) and most openly, on setlists, festivals, being an embarrassing parent to his kids and naturally, Obama. In fact, the Kerry and Obama Rally speeches from 2004 and 2008 show how much Springsteen’s standing and influence was valued as a political tool – perhaps something which back in 1973 would have seemed quite preposterous.
In between the material is pretty comprehensive in covering the periods around key album releases and tours, induction speeches at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for Dylan and U2, and presented as interview articles or simple Q&A pieces while the context of each piece is neatly placed into context with some opening comments from Burger.
So what works well? The 1978 interview with radio DJ and early supporter Ed Sciaky from 1978 is a classic piece as Ed and Springsteen are clearly comfortable and relaxed with each other and the conversation flows easily as Springsteen recognises the support in his early days. It’s just like reading the transcript of a couple of mates having a chat. Along similar lines is David Hepworth’s Q magazine interview from 1992 by which time Springsteen was a household name. Hepworth is a knowledgeable fan and interviewer and able to conduct what was perhaps Springsteen’s most in depth interview up to that point, catching Springsteen at a time of his career and personal life when much was in flux; removing himself from the long association with the E Street Band and in his marriage-divorce-marriage-children personal relationship.
There are a few curios amongst the collection; the brief chat in 1986 with the Sydney Morning Herald at the height of the Born In The USA mania which is no more than a passing word or two and seems slightly out of place, when placed next to the other interviews from this time and as part of the collection as a whole. There’s a rather revealing piece conducted in 1996 by Judy Weider, editor of the gay magazine The Advocate; not normally a publication you’d expect to be linked with someone who has a very ‘straight’ image. It’s an enlightening piece for both the reader and Weider whose early skepticism is turned on its head by Springsteen’s lucidity, understanding and empathy with the subject.
What does become more and more apparent as the pages turn, is the reinforcement of Elliot Murphy’s opening words about Springsteen’s increasingly powerful draw as an communicative interviewee who rarely gives bad copy. The chapters in particular which showcase his keynote speech – 1973’s ‘non literary cat’ now considered as a big draw speaker – to the 2012 South by Southwest Music Festival are 14 pages of text from an experienced and outstanding orator almost as far removed from the mumbling and uneven speaker of forty years ago. However, it’s the four page eulogy for Clarence Clemons – certainly a case of less is more – which is both an extremely movingly and articulately expressed address to and about his friend – which is borne not only from his companionship and comradeship but also the joy, the frustration and of course the tears.
All in all Burger has edited together a most enjoyable collection of writings which show a fascinating development of a struggling and jobbing musician into a major artist and also as a growing individual and his emerging beliefs and philosophy.
Review by Mike Ainscoe
Springsteen On Springsteen: Interviews - Speeches - Encounters by Jeff Burger is available on Amazon