Springsteen was aware of the comical contradiction: the multimillionaire who, in his theatrical self-presentation, is the voice of the dispossessed. Very occasionally, twinges of discomfort about this have leaked into his lyrics. In the late eighties, Springsteen played “Ain’t Got You,” which appeared on his album “Tunnel of Love,” for Van Zandt. The lyrics tell of a fellow who gets “paid a king’s ransom for doin’ what comes naturally”—who’s got “the fortunes of heaven” and a “house full of Rembrandt and priceless art”—but lacks the affections of his beloved. Van Zandt recognized the self-mockery but didn’t care. He was aghast.
“We had one of our biggest fights of our lives,” Van Zandt recalled. “I’m, like, ‘What the fuck is this?’ And he’s, like, ‘Well, what do you mean, it’s the truth. It’s just who I am, it’s my life.’ And I’m, like, ‘This is bullshit. People don’t need you talking about your life. Nobody gives a shit about your life. They need you for their lives. That’s your thing. Giving some logic and reason and sympathy and passion to this cold, fragmented, confusing world—that’s your gift. Explaining their lives to them. Their lives, not yours.’ And we fought and fought and fought and fought. He says ‘Fuck you,’ I say ‘Fuck you.’ I think something in what I said probably resonated.”
Reminds me of the argument about doing observational vs. personal comedy. Going personal seems like the right path in many ways but then again, maybe they want to hear about their lives instead of yours. Sometimes dwelling on yourself onstage feels a bit selfish. But other times, the personal seems like the best path to the universal.
There's also an interesting passage about being an isolationist, relationships, and creativity.
It took some doing to get Springsteen, an “isolationist” by nature, to settle into a real marriage, and resist the urge to dwell only in his music and onstage. “Now I see that two of the best days of my life,” he once told a reporter for Rolling Stone, “were the day I picked up the guitar and the day that I learned how to put it down.”
Scialfa smiled at that. “When you are that serious and that creative, and non-trusting on an intimate level, and your art has given you so much, your ability to create something becomes your medicine,” she said. “It’s the only thing that’s given you that stability, that joy, that self-esteem. And so you are, like, ‘This part of me no one is going to touch.’ When you’re young, that works, because it gets you from A to B. When you get older, when you are trying to have a family and children, it doesn’t work. I think that some artists can be prone to protecting the well that they fetched their inspiration from so well that they are actually protecting malignant parts of themselves, too. You begin to see that something is broken. It’s not just a matter of being the mythological lone wolf; something is broken. Bruce is very smart. He wanted a family, he wanted a relationship, and he worked really, really, really hard at it––as hard as he works at his music.”
As Springsteen sees it, the creative talent has always been nurtured by the darker currents of his psyche, and wealth is no guarantee of bliss. “I’m thirty years in analysis!” he said. “Look, you cannot underestimate the fine power of self-loathing in all of this. You think, I don’t like anything I’m seeing, I don’t like anything I’m doing, but I need to change myself, I need to transform myself. I do not know a single artist who does not run on that fuel. If you are extremely pleased with yourself, nobody would be fucking doing it! Brando would not have acted. Dylan wouldn’t have written ‘Like a Rolling Stone.’ James Brown wouldn’t have gone ‘Unh!’ He wouldn’t have searched that one-beat down that was so hard. That’s a motivation, that element of ‘I need to remake myself, my town, my audience’—the desire for renewal.”
Live concerts shot in a minimalist way: CK, Cosby, Pryor, and Springsteen [Sandpaper Suit]
Funny comebacks from Tom Petty, Phil Spector, and Elvis Costello [Sandpaper Suit]
Thanks for posting, Matt. I adore Springsteen and always like to hear about the process, psyche of other artists.
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