On CBS, Pelley Hails Springsteen as Left Wing's Jukebox Hero

October 8th, 2007 6:37 PM

On Sunday’s 60 Minutes, Anchor Scott Pelley interviewed left-wing rocker Bruce Springsteen and said of the aging musician that he "sees himself following a long American tradition that reaches back through Vietnam and on to the Great Depression, from Dylan to Guthrie."

Apparently that tradition includes the ranting that Springsteen gave at a live concert on NBC's September 28 "Today" when he "yelled about "rendition," "illegal wiretapping," "voter suppression," "an attack on the Constitution," "the neglect" of New Orleans and "the loss of our best young men and women," in a tragic war." After Pelley’s description of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as "incorruptible"and "friendly"a couple weeks ago, we should not surprised by his glowing assessment of Springsteen's anti-American views.

Pelley opens the segment exclaiming that "He’s returned to full-throated rock and roll, and a message that is sharper than ever, damning the war in Iraq, and questioning whether America has lost its way at home." Pelley then helps to further frame Springsteen’s political activism and wonders what the message is:

Much of the new music is a protest. Some of it blunt, as in the song that asks "Who will be the last to die for a mistake," but most of it subtle, like the story of a man who returns to his all-American small town but doesn’t recognize it any more, "It's gonna be a long walk home." What's on your mind? What are you writing about?"

It should not be that difficult to read the Boss’s mind on that one Scott.

Here is the full transcript of the interview:

SCOTT PELLEY: "Tonight, a rare look behind the scenes with Bruce Springsteen. It's hard to picture, but Springsteen turned 58 last month. His breakout hit, "Born to Run," is 32 years old. While most rock stars his age are content to tour with their greatest hits, Springsteen launched, last week, what may become his most controversial work ever as a songwriter. Even now, Springsteen is an artist in progress, having moved from stories about girls and cars to populist ballads that echo the dust bowl days of Woody Guthrie. Springsteen's put all that together now in his first tour with the E Street Band in four years. He's returned to full-throated rock and roll, and a message that is sharper than ever, damning the war in Iraq, and questioning whether America has lost its way at home. This was opening night last week in Hartford, Connecticut, the start of a world tour, that could last up to a year. Springsteen told us his concerts are part circus, dance party, political rally, and big tent revival."

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: "You're the shaman, you know? You're the storyteller. You're the magician. The idea is whatever the ticket price, we're supposed to be there to deliver something that can't be paid for. That's our job."

PELLEY: "You have got to be, wild guess, worth somewhere north of 100 million dollars. Why are you still touring? You don't have to do this."

SPRINGSTEEN: "What else would I do? You got any clues? Got any suggestions? I mean, am I going to garden? Why would you stop. I mean, you know, you play the music and grown men cry. And women dance. And, you know, that's why you do it."

PELLEY: "It's good to be a rock star."

SPRINGSTEEN: "I would say that yes it is, you know, but the star thing I can live with. The music I can't live without. And that's how it lays out for me, you know. And I'm as -- I got as big an ego and enjoy the attention. My son has a word, he calls it 'Attention Whore.' But you have to be one of those or else why would you be up in front of thousands of people, you know, shaking your butt. But at the same time, when it comes down to it, it's the way it makes you feel. I do it because of the way it makes me feel, and the way that I can make you feel when I do it. And I like making you feel a certain way when I do it. It thrills me, it excites me, it gives me meaning, it gives me purpose, you know."

PELLEY: "Some of the pieces in the new record are gonna be considered controversial. Give me a sense of what you think has to be said. Why are you still writing?"

SPRINGSTEEN: "I'm interested in what it means to be an American. I'm interested in what it means to live in America. I'm interested in the kind of country that we live in and leave to our kids. I'm interested in trying to define what that country is. I got the chutzpa, or whatever you want to say, to believe that if I write a really good song about it, it's going to make a difference. It’s going to matter to somebody, you know."

PELLEY: "The old gang is coming back, their nearly life-long friends and one of the most successful neighborhood bands ever, the E Street Band, named for the road where they used to rehearse. Springsteen's wife of 16 years, Patti Scialfa, plays guitar in the band. They have three teenagers back home. Their reunions start where they first met, Asbury Park, New Jersey. For a rock band, it's all very businesslike; rehearsal starts at 9 a.m. There are more than 250 songs in the Springsteen catalogue. That's what makes the rehearsals, like the one we watched, so critical. Before each concert, maybe just an hour before, Springsteen writes by hand the list of songs, and their order. He changes it every night. Before each concert, maybe just an a hour before, Springsteen writes by hand the list of songs and their order, he changes it every night, but at least one song is almost always there, so familiar to the band that all he has to write on the list is "B-to-R." E Street keyboardist Roy Bittan and guitarist Steve van Zandt go back with Springsteen more than 30 years. You have got to hate "Born to Run." Right? Come on, come on, when it's time, it comes up on the list, you're like, okay boys play it like you've never played it before, here we go."

ROY BITTAN: "It's funny you said that because I was watching something on TV. And it was Tony Bennett. And they asked Tony Bennett, 'Aren't you tired of singing I Left My Heart In San Francisco?' And his answer was, 'It gave me the keys to the world.' So a lot of times we play that song and sometimes you take it for granted, and other times you go 'Well there it is,' you know, that's it."

STEVE VAN ZANDT: "You know, I figure if we do a few more tours I might actually learn it. So, you know. I mean, we live in hope, right?"

PELLEY: "Humor helps if you’re an E-Streeter, because in the 1980s, Springsteen walked away from the band after more than 15 years together. He wanted to play with other musicians, and sometimes with none at all."

PELLEY: "How was the news broken? Did Bruce tell the band himself? Tell me about it."

BITTAN: "I think Bruce picked up the phone and called everybody. And I think everybody was shocked and, I'm sure hurt. And just felt really abandoned."

PELLEY: "Was that hard? Was it heartbreaking? You say, 'Look, I'm going on. I'm leaving you behind.'"

SPRINGSTEEN: "Well, I didn't exactly put it like that."

PELLEY: "How did you put it? How did you put it?"

SPRINGSTEEN: "I soft-soaped it somehow. And, you know, everybody was, you know everybody had different feelings. I mean people were mad or angry and somebody said okay. And I -- you know at the time, I wasn't going to be any good to them at that moment. I think what happens is sometimes you got to break the -- your own narrative. We all have stories we're living and telling ourselves, and there's a time when that narrative has to be broken because you've run out of freedom in it. You've run out of places to go."

PELLEY: "The split forced the band to find other places to go. That's Van Zandt on the left, who joined the mob on "The Sopranos" on HBO, and drummer Max Weinberg joined Conan O’Brien on NBC. But they always drop what they’re doing to return to Springsteen. We watched the band do a small rehearsal before an audience of just 2,000 in Asbury Park. There’s something special about a Springsteen audience: they know the words, and the stories they feel in themselves. This was the day after Bruce’s 58th birthday, and we found him immediately after the show, wringing wet. What did you learn about the band tonight?."

SPRINGSTEEN: "We made fewer screw ups than I thought we might, you know. The main thing you learn is not so much the band, because the band will just play better from tonight on out, you know? But you learn a lot about the set, the set that you're creating, you know you're trying to work your new things in. You're trying to get in what you're trying to say. You're trying to get people just to rock. You know, to go crazy and have fun."

PELLEY: "Pretty good for 58."

SPRINGSTEEN: "Oh. That's nothing, you know. That's, I'm still a chiseled hunk of muscle so…I guess I'll keep going for a while."

PELLEY: "Not far from this very dressing room, Springsteen's music career began over four decades earlier as a teenager in Freehold, N.J."


SPRINGSTEEN: "You know, I was probably one of the smartest kids in my class at the time. Except you would've never known it. You would've never known it. Just because where my intelligence lay was not, wasn't able to be tapped within that particular system. And I didn't know how to do it myself until music came along and opened me up, not just to the world of music, but to the world period, you know, to the events of the day. To the connection between culture and society and those were things that riveted me, engaged me in life, gave me a sense of purpose. What I wanted to do. Who I wanted to be. The way that I wanted to do it. What I thought I could accomplish through singing songs, you know."

PELLEY: "It's not just the singing. It's the writing, isn't it, for you?."

SPRINGSTEEN: "Of course. You wrote about what you were -- what interested you and every good writer or film maker has something eating at them, right? That they can't quite get off their back . And so your job is to make your audience care about your obsessions."

PELLEY: "His recurring obsession is the life that he knew as a boy, the harsh relationship with his working class dad who didn't think much of a rock and roll son."

SPRINGSTEEN: "You know, it was a tough, struggling household. People struggled emotionally. People struggled financially to get through the day. Small town. The small town world which I continue to return to. It's like when I went to write, though, I put my father's clothes on. He, you know, the immersement in that world through my parents and my own experience as a child and the need to tell a story that maybe was partially his. Or maybe a lot his."

PELLEY: "Your dad wasn't all that proud of you as a young man?"

SPRINGSTEEN: "Oh, he was later. When I came home with the Oscar and I put it on the kitchen table, and he just looked at it and said, 'Bruce, I'll never tell anybody what to do ever again.' It was like, that was his comment. I said, 'Oh. That's okay,' you know."

PELLEY: "The music that emerged from his upbringing was a kind of blue collar ballad set to rock and roll, Elvis meets Dylan, uniquely Springsteen. Much of the new music is a protest. Some of it blunt, as in the song that asks "Who will be the last to die for a mistake," but most of it subtle, like the story of a man who returns to his all-American small town but doesn’t recognize it any more, "It's gonna be a long walk home." What's on your mind? What are you writing about?"

SPRINGSTEEN: "Well, I would say that what I do is I try to chart the distance between American ideals and American reality. That's how my music is laid out. It's like we've reached a point where it seems that we're so intent on protecting ourselves that we're willing to destroy the best parts of ourselves to do so."

PELLEY: "What do you mean?"

SPRINGSTEEN: "Well, I think that we've seen things happen over the past six years that I don't think anybody ever thought they'd ever see in the United States. When people think of the American identity, they don't think of torture. They don't think of illegal wiretapping. They don't think of voter suppression. They don't think of no habeas corpus. No right to a lawyer … you know. Those are things that are anti-American."

PELLEY: "You know, I think this record is going to be seen as anti-war. And you know there are people watching this interview who are going to say to themselves, 'Bruce Springsteen is no patriot.'"

SPRINGSTEEN: "Well, that's just the language of the day, you know? The modus operandi for anybody who doesn't like somebody, you know, criticizing where we've been or where we're going, you know. It's unpatriotic at any given moment to sit back and let things pass that are damaging to some place that you love so dearly. And that has given me so much. And that I believe in, I still feel and see us as a beacon of hope and possibility."

PELLEY: "Springsteen sees himself following a long American tradition that reaches back through Vietnam and on to the Great Depression, from Dylan to Guthrie."

SPRINGSTEEN: "There's a part of the singer going way back in American history that is of course the canary in the coal mine. When it gets dark, you're supposed to be singing. It's dark right now. The American idea is a beautiful idea, it needs to be preserved, served, protected, and sung out. Sung out."