JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight, part two of Jeffrey Brown’s conversation with Bruce Springsteen.
The working-class rock ‘n’ roll hero talks about his lifelong bouts of depression, his love of reading, and the election of Donald Trump.
JEFFREY BROWN: On a visit with Bruce Springsteen at his home in rural New Jersey, most of the talk, of course, was about music, the core of his life and career.
But part of the story he tells about his rise to the world stage also involved books, what he describes in his memoir as his self-education.
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: I think, when I discovered the Russian guys, they were — that was…
JEFFREY BROWN: The Russians did it?
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: That was the big thing.
JEFFREY BROWN: You mean like the big hitters, like Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy and those guys?
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: The big hitters, yes.
Yes, when I got into “Anna Karenina” and “Brothers Karamazov” and “Crime and Punishment,” that was the stuff that — that had a big effect on me, because it was so psychological.
JEFFREY BROWN: Does your reading affect your writing as a songwriter?
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: I think it affects you internally in a way that’s not immediately evident, but that it simply increases your frame of reference.
You learn more about the craft of writing, what good writing feels like. But, mostly, it just enlarges you as an individual.
The one thing I wished for my children is that they’d be readers. And…
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, and are they, because that’s what I was going to ask you, because, nowadays..
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: No. No.
JEFFREY BROWN: They’re not.
JEFFREY BROWN: Their father didn’t make himself a reader until around 30, so the kids, in their 20s, still have time.
By that point, Springsteen had become a major rock star. But, in his 30s, he also suffered a serious bout of depression, something he would struggle with throughout his life, including an episode as recently as his early 60s, all while keeping up a rigorous touring and recording career.
Springsteen, now 67, credits his wife, Patti, and years of counseling and antidepressants with getting him through. He writes candidly of these struggles in his new memoir.
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: It was a big enough part of my life to where it felt like it needed to be included in the book, you know?
And, also, I think it was an insight into some of your creative fire, where it comes from. I wrote — the premise of the book was to give my audience an insight into how I created, and what were — what’s the fuel for the fire.
JEFFREY BROWN: You see them as combined, twined. There’s a kind of trope of many artists of creativity and madness.
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: Mental illness and creativity are — it’s a thin line in between the two. I tend to believe that.
I don’t know many artists who are not crazy. Most of the artists I know are crazy in one way or another. I think that’s why you get into it. You’re in pursuit of a certain sort of peace that’s very, very, very difficult to come by.
And I realized the only time I felt complete and peaceful was while I was playing or shortly afterwards, even though it was in front of thousands of other people, which most people wouldn’t consider to be a safe place. For me…
JEFFREY BROWN: No, they wouldn’t. So, why is that a safe place?
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: For me, it’s always been.
For me, once I count the band in, and I delve deep into my song, I feel a certain sort of integrity and integration that I rarely find in my daily life.
It’s better now than it used to be, but it’s still something that, if I want to deeply experience it, I walk on stage, I play, I perform, I create, I write. And that’s where sort of that peace comes over me.
JEFFREY BROWN: As he matured as an artist, Springsteen’s music took on issues of the political culture, Vietnam, poverty, those left behind in the 2008 recession.
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: I integrated it because politics and life go hand in hand. And so it needed to be a part of my music.
Thus, the different social forces that affected my parents’ lives or my friends’ lives or I saw around me became essential for me to write about.
JEFFREY BROWN: He also became more up front in his own politics, joining Barack Obama on the campaign trail, and, in the recent election, supporting Hillary Clinton.
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: I was going around the world swearing — I was betting on Hillary, going around the world, interview after interview.
JEFFREY BROWN: And you were wrong, like many people.
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: Yes. Yes.
JEFFREY BROWN: But what explains it?
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: I think a lot of things.
I think that people with legitimate concerns about how — how are you going to live, how are you going to — where are you going to find your jobs? Deindustrialization that I have written about for 40 years left a good part of the American public behind.
And I think if somebody comes up and simply says, your jobs? I’m going to bring them back. You’re not comfortable with the browning of America? I’m going to build a wall. ISIS, I’m going to defeat them.
Those are very — it’s a simple, but it was a compelling message for a lot of people. And…
JEFFREY BROWN: But these are the people that you have been writing about for all those years.
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: Yes, that’s true.
JEFFREY BROWN: So, did you lose touch with them? Did they lose touch with you?
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: It was just a very divided country, you know, a very divided country. And I don’t really know another way to explain it.
While I didn’t think that Donald Trump’s message was credible enough to affect the vote to that degree, I was wrong, and it was.
JEFFREY BROWN: In this book, you often talk about telling your story, but also telling our story, which has come through in your music, right, telling a story of this country.
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: Yes. Yes.
JEFFREY BROWN: How do we bridge divides in this country?
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: I think you can’t demonize somebody that’s on the other side of the political spectrum, or you can’t generalize about them.
I know people on both sides of that particular divide. And they just have a different opinion about it. So, I think that maybe look outside your own daily experience also, which is something that, as a writer, that was sort of something that meant a great deal to me.
That’s probably — I mean, that’s been my story over — to tell over the past 40 years. And there’s common ground in it. But it’s going to take a while to see where it goes.
JEFFREY BROWN: In the meantime, the music continues. Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band head to Australia and New Zealand at the beginning of the new year.
From Central New Jersey, I’m Jeffrey Brown for the “PBS NewsHour.”
JUDY WOODRUFF: A remarkable, rare interview with that man.
You can watch the full 40-minute interview with Bruce Springsteen on our home page, PBS.org/NewsHour.
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