You come from working-class roots. You’ve obviously gone well beyond them. How do you stay connected to where you came from?
People always ask that question like there’s some trick to it [laughs]. Really, that was something that came very natural to me from the beginning. I could look back and see that there were a lot of my heroes who came before me that got distracted or lost in the confusing life that came with their success. So, I had a deep sense of where my power source was coming from, you know. It came from memory and experience, rooted in geography, locality, a sense of place, a certain people. These are the things that are at the heart of the engine on a nightly basis. Maintaining a connection to those things, to me, was always a survival instinct. It was necessary. The things that pulled you away from that, I viewed with some suspicion. I’ve certainly enjoyed the life and privilege that I’ve had because of my success. But there’s been a fundamental focus on those things that we carried over the years with the E Street Band. I’m lucky I’ve had the band I’ve had, one that was surrounded by those things and believed in those things as well.
When I had the privilege to help you with your book, Songs, back in the late ’90s, I remember going to your house and being amazed at the books in your study that were about American history, politics, art, and music. You really seemed to be immersing yourself in the American experience.
Reading those books and listening to that music, to me it was always a tool, a part of seeking out your truest identity. It was all part of trying to find out who I was, where I came from, and I was always interested in writing about what I found. So, yeah, I did become quite a student, and still am.
Speaking of books, this seems to be the era of the music memoir. Everyone from Neil Young and Gregg Allman to Pete Townshend and Clive Davis has written one. I read that you, too, were working on one, and then I read that you’ve given up on it.
I don’t ever give up on anything, really. I do something for a while and then I put it aside, you know. I’m always returning to what I have, the raw material. A while back, I recorded a country record and put it aside. I returned to it a couple of months ago and thought, “What am I going to do next?” As for the memoirs, I got some stuff I’ve worked on, but I don’t have anything fixed. I worked on it for a while, then the music came along and the tour came along. There doesn’t seem to be an urgency to return to it at the moment. It’ll present itself and I’ll see what happens. Like you said, there’s plenty of others to read at the moment.
I know you’re a big reader. What have you read lately that has stuck with you?
One of the things I’ve done recently was read all the Western stories of Elmore Leonard. If you’re interested in character study, he’s just the master of nailing someone in a few lines. He’s good for songwriters because that’s about all the time you have. And what else? Let’s see. [Springsteen goes to his iPad for his book list.] I’ve also read Christopher Hitchen’s collection of essays, and Why Does The World Exist? by Jim Holt to get my existential buzz [laughs]. Another book I read was Matterhorn [Karl Marlantes’ Vietnam War novel].That was great along with Stoned by Andrew Loog Oldam and the follow-up, 2Stoned. Very, very good books on the music industry. Then some baseball books. Finally, I have quite a fixation on the Apollo astronauts, so I read a few books on them. Basically, I’ll get on a topic and read two or three books in a row, and then I’ll move on to something else.