Written by: Paul Gleason
By Paul Gleason
Talk About a Dream: The Essential Interviews of Bruce Springsteen
Edited by Christopher Phillips and Louis P. Masur
The inner sleeve of the Tunnel of Love album features my favorite photograph of Bruce Springsteen. Bruce sits at his wooden work desk, with his acoustic guitar in hands, pens stuck in a roll of Duct Tape, and recording device at the ready. Even though the photograph invites you in to the intimate place where Bruce wrote many of his greatest songs (I think of Nebraska and Born in the U.S.A., in particular, flowing from him in this very place), it depicts a certain annoyance on Bruce’s face. The stern expression indicates—to me, at least—that Springsteen would much rather be working on a song than posing for this shot.
I’m immediately reminded of the song “Factory,” from Darkness on the Edge of Town, in which Bruce sings, “It’s the working, the working, the working life.”
It’s this notion of work—whether it’s songwriting or the factory work about which he sings in the Darkness track—that, in part at least, links Bruce to his audience. For him, work is universal, especially in capitalist America, where that’s the real tie that binds. So when we see him play live or listen to one of his records, we’re aware that he works, just like we do.
Here’s the thing. Work is what Bruce does. And when you read the revealing interviews that Christopher Phillips and Louis P. Masur have collected in Talk About a Dream, you understand that Bruce loves his labor just as much as he feels alienated from it. In other words, he’s just like us—which means that he’s just like the characters about which he writes. We’re a part of Bruce, he’s a part of us, and we’re all a part of his art. Forget about any Dylan comparisons—Bruce’s work is Shakespearean in scope. All the world’s a stage, and we’re all on it together.
Talk About a Dream gives us an extraordinary glimpse of this stage. It’s like the mirror that Hamlet uses to catch his murderous uncle. But it’s not a mirror of knavery and death; it’s one that reflects a process of creation: that of Springsteen the artist.
The interviews range from Bruce’s first interview, which he gave to The Asbury Park Evening Press in February of 1973, to a February 2013 interview that he gave to Grammy.com. That’s right—40 years of interviews that take Bruce from his beginnings in his hometown to the heights of commercial and industrial recognition.
Springsteen the artist, of course, shows up in that first interview. He’s all of 23, and he talks about himself like he’s a man much older than his years in a voice that doesn’t sound like it could possibly come from the mouth of the man who would one day write Wrecking Ball. “I broke up a lot of bands in my day,” he tells interviewer Barbara Schoenweis, “because I’d get up there and start playing junk with them, and all of a sudden in the middle of it all, I’d just stop and say, ‘What is this jive?’”
Jive? Junk? Like a lot of young men before him, Bruce here is more interested in coming off as the coolest kid on the street. Early on, that seems to be who the successful artist is—the guy who knows that he’s better than everyone else in the room, that slightly condescending guy who pronounces that Dylan “knows his business,” as if Bobby needs the endorsement. It’s Schoenmaker herself who says that “Lost in the Flood” “is not unlike Bob Dylan’s in mood and sound.” But she does give Bruce credit for being unique if not melodic.
You can flip at random to almost any post-Born to Run interview to see how Bruce develops self-awareness as an artist. In a 1996 interview with Gavin Martin on The Ghost of Tom Joad, Springsteen demonstrates a humility that he just didn’t have in 1973. He tells Martin that he learned to play guitar from listening to The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, how he “studied every riff and the way they played it.”
By the time you reach the final interview (with Robert Santelli), which considers Wrecking Ball, among other topics, Springsteen connects his role as an artist to the political (“Every line and every bit of your language is shaded towards the things people are fighting for and caring about”), as well as to the “connection” he feels to his working-class roots.
In 2013 Springsteen looks outward and inward as an artist, feeling a sense of honor of working in an American tradition of socially aware, working-class artists that goes back to Steinbeck and Guthrie. How unlike the kid who, 40 years ago, told the world (or Asbury Park, at least) that Dylan knew what he was doing!
By collecting Bruce’s most important interviews, Talk About a Dream really provides an autobiography of the development of an artistic sensibility. It’s about how over the course of 40 years, a great artist moves from being the young punk that he needs to be in his early years—to be on fire with enough arrogance and drive to take on the world—to the stark realization of his obligation to his hometown, his class, his country, his politics, and, perhaps more than anything else, himself.
Indeed, above and beyond all else, Bruce’s art is internally driven. But over the years—and few artists ever accomplish this—he has made the inner workings of his imagination a stage on which the drama and comedy of our lives occur in all their infinite variety. It’s all there in the man, his music, and, now, Talk About a Dream.