Bruce Springsteen: Exclusive interview before ‘High Hopes’

Bruce Springsteen launched his international ‘High Hopes’ tour in Cape Town on Sunday 26 January 2014, just days after earning his 11th Billboard No.1 album. A small contingent of South African media was invited to an audience with the veteran star, and to attend his soundcheck with the legendary E Street Band.

This interview by Evan Milton first appeared in the Cape Argus ‘Good Weekend’ on 2014/02/03.

CAPTION: Bruce Springsteen launches the “High Hopes” tour in Belville, Cape Town, South African on 2014/01/26 (Courtesy Desmond Louw, Mobile Media Mob)

Bruce Springsteen launches the “High Hopes” tour in Belville, Cape Town, South African on 2014/01/26 (Courtesy Desmond Louw, Mobile Media Mob)

After collecting in a marquee on the Belville Velodrome athletics track and swapping Springsteen tales, the little corps was summonsed to assemble closer to an entrance. Word is that “The Boss” dislikes the nickname he earned in his early days as a bandleader, but it was clear that this was being run as a tight ship. We’d been able to hear some strains of the music from within, and it was clear that, yes, a version of The Specials “(Free) Nelson Mandela” was a likely opener. Then we filed in; 40 local media and about 60 international colleagues – just a hundred people clustered up against a stage with the awe-inspiring sight of 18 top-notch live artists arrayed there. For now, just for us.

Titters and jostling amongst the music hacks – is that really Tom Morello (The Nightwatchman Street Sweeper Social Club, ex Audioslave and Rage Against The Machineand Little Steven van Zandt and Nils Lofgren on stage? Many top-notch managers would kill for just one of these six string masters. Springsteen has all three, and a five-piece brass section, not to mention three backing singers and drum legend Max Weinberg. Just hours later, as Cape Town bore witness to the first ever tour-date on his new world tour, he would look out into the crowd and delight the audience with this quip, “The Asbury Park Convention Hall (in New Jersey) is just like this building. We flew 8000 miles to play in the same fucking building?!”

“5000 people? That’s like a lounge for Springsteen!”

– Fan, former DJ and promoter, and travel entrepreneur Stephan Ekbergh on “The Boss” in Belville.

To give some context: after the interview, but before the show, Swedish entrepreneur and Travelstart founder Stephan Ekbergh, happily strolling into the stadium along with all the regular punters, asked about the capacity of our little Velodrome: just over 8000, but with fire safety regulations keeping numbers to just over 5000. “That’s like a lounge for Springsteen!” Ekbergh said: “In Sweden and Norway he is huge – it’s always in massive stadiums.” Some Cape Townians only realised the treat of an artist of Springsteen’s stature launching a tour here after the performance. There he was, in our town, on the news on CNN! It must be big.

Back at the interview, Springsteen is a sharp guy. After tearing through “Raise Your Hands” with the band, and then dismissing them, he cosied down at the front of the stage, beamed and said, “Puzzle me with your queries!” An international interviewer introduced a question by saying that Springsteen’s concerts in South Africa were historical.  “It may be eventful – we’ll try to make it eventful for the people,” he laughed, “But there has been too much history here, for this to be historical.”

“This is simply a different kind of man…”

– Bruce Springsteen on Nelson Mandela

Of course, he understood what was meant, and continued: “It’s been nice to get close to the places we went in ’88 (the seminal “Human Rights Now!” tour that saw Springsteen headlining alongside Peter Gabriel, Youssou N’Dour, Tracy Chapman and Sting). “There’s been a miracle. It’s amazing for us to have an African American president, but imagine having someone who was in prison for 27 years, coming out and becoming president.”

He expounded further on the passing of Nelson Mandela. “It’s a cliché, but I remember a late night TV show where he was being interviewed and I thought, ‘This is simply a different kind of man. You get these guys, and you got those guys – and then there’s this guy’. It felt like a more an ancient kind of leader – in the States, someone like (Abraham) Lincoln or (George) Washington. A different sort of leader. I’m glad I was on the planet at the same time because I saw something, and I learned something. Even if you’re not politically connected, you have to think about it. I can’t imagine how you would not be crazy or self-centred after being in jail for 27 years. How you keep your sense of purpose. That is very unusual. Being able to contextualise your anger, and to not feel vengeful.”

“History has situations like Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, and they are not replaced. These were individual people that did change history, who moved the course of events, and changed the way we live and the way we think. Does it change you? Yes, absolutely. I’ve got to tip my hat to Steve van Zandt. Years ago he created the ‘Sun City’ record (released as Artists United Against Apartheid in 1985, and with recruits like Bob Dylan, Herbie Hancock, U2, Run-DMC, Miles Davis, Lou Reed, Ringo Starr and Afrika Bambaataa). He was way of the curve; way ahead of his time. He got the rockers and the rappers together – and that had not been done before. For us in the States, it led to a much greater understanding.” It also added weight to the United Nations call for a sports and cultural boycott against the then pariah state – and saw van Zandt and Springsteen reunited after a split in the E Street Band.

“It’s coming into their heads at once. For us, it was pieced out, week by week and month by month.”

– Bruce Springsteen on music in the 21st century, compared to in the 20th century

Back to music, and what Springsteen, as a legacy artist, thinks about how it’s all changed. “‘Legacy artist’?” he quips. “That just means you’re old. They keep on coming up with all these words that mean you’ve been around a long fucken time! When we grew up, music defined who you were. It’s like that again. I listen to my son and he will argue like crazy about the merits of a group, and he sounds like me when I was 20. Talking about a favourite Dylan song, maybe ‘Changing of the Guards’, and about wasn’t that a B-side? There’s all that – the history of such acts – and it’s coming into their heads at once. For us, it was pieced out, week by week and month by month: you got a new single or a new album. He’ll listen to Tom’s band, Rage, and listen to Billy Joel and then something else. We’ll play to kids who know everything about the band, and kids who know nothing. Music seems to be less culturally appointed now – it’s about what your friends are turning you onto, and then they make their own pizza, which is kinda great.”

This interview by Evan Milton first appeared in the Cape Argus ‘Good Weekend’ on 2014/02/03.

  • High Hopes” is available in CD shops and online from BruceSpringsteen.net.
  • Download the Cape Town and Johannesburg “High Hopes“ shows here: http://j.mp/1fAFQok  (Downloads of each Antipodean live date of the tour will be available a few days after the concert onto official Springsteen USB wristbands purchased at the concert – but also as direct downloads sans wristband).
  • Also see Backstreets.com. for tour pictures and updates.
  • See Rolling Stone SA‘s video of some of the press conference here.
  • Read Charles Leonard’s take on the same concert and interview – and fine words from his four-on-one talk with Little Steven Van Zandt here.
  • Elsewhere, it has been written that Springsteen referenced Sharpeville and Marikana in ‘American Skin’. In fact, Bruce Springsteen used the lyrics “I was killed at Sharpeville 1960” and “I was killed with the miners in Marikana” in ‘We Are Alive’, where his original recorded track used “A voice cried out / I was killed in Maryland in 1877 / When the railroad workers made their stand / Well, I was killed in 1963 one Sunday morning in Birmingham / Well, I died last year crossing the southern Desert / My children left behind in San Pablo / Well they left our bodies here to rot / Oh please let them know”. You can hear this in the live download of the Cape Town show from 2104/01/26 (at 2min30sec).
(Front): Tom Morello, Jake Clemons (nephew of the late Clarence “The Big Man” Clemons), Curtis Kin. (Back): Max Weinberg. “High Hopes” tour in Belville, Cape Town, South African on 2014/01/26 (Courtesy Desmond Louw, Mobile Media Mob)

(Front): Tom Morello, Jake Clemons (nephew of the late Clarence “The Big Man” Clemons), Curtis Kin. (Back): Max Weinberg. “High Hopes” tour in Belville, Cape Town, South African on 2014/01/26 (Courtesy Desmond Louw, Mobile Media Mob)

This Bruce Springsteen interview by Evan Milton originally appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of 2014/02/02

This Bruce Springsteen interview by Evan Milton originally appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of 2014/02/02

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