Bruce Springsteen may have stopped by New York City’s Town Hall theater on Friday night to speak about his life, music, and storied career—all issues addressed in confession detail in his new memoir Born to Run, which recently debuted atop The New York Times best seller list. But throughout the artist’s 90-minute conversation with editor David Remnick as part of this year’s The New Yorker Festival, one could sense that the crowd, for all of its enthusiastic cheers at mentions of his old New Jersey haunts (and chants of “Bruuuuuuuuce!”), were most eager to hear his thoughts on the topic consuming America: Donald Trump.
And the Boss did not disappoint.
“When he was just a big sort of bloviating New York billionaire, he could be highly entertaining, and funny,” Springsteen told the sold-out crowd toward the end of his lengthy Q&A. “But he’s not funny as a presidential candidate.”
He continued, “I predict he will not win. But I do believe he’s done a lot of damage already. I believe he’s just let loose some forces from the alt-right movement—he’s brought them into the mainstream—that are not going to go away when he goes away. And I don’t believe he’s going to go away. He’s not going to go gently into the good night. I think the subversion of the idea of democratic elections is a very dangerous idea. When you start telling people, unless you win, the election will be illegitimate, and when you have as many people listening to him as he does, it’s a very, very dangerous genie to let out of the bottle, and not one that goes back in particularly easily. So I’m a little afraid of his lasting effect on the country.”
When Remnick raised the point that many of the working-class landscapes empathetically portrayed in Springsteen’s songs (Youngstown, Ohio; Johnstown, Pennsylvania; Darlington County, South Carolina) are now Trump-leaning areas, Springsteen admitted that he wasn’t shocked, given the neglect such places—and people—had suffered at the hands of both Republicans and Democrats. In de-industrialized areas such as those, “Their concerns and their problems and their issues were never addressed by either party. So there’s this sea of people out there who are waiting and hoping and looking for something that’s going to bring some meaning back into their lives. So it’s not a surprise someone comes along and says, ‘You want your jobs back? I’ll bring them back. You’re uncomfortable with the browning of America? I’m going to build a wall to keep all those folks out.’ You want to hear these kinds of solutions to your problems. Unfortunately, they’re fallacious—it’s a con job.”
It was an ecstatically-greeted take on the presidential candidate from the artist, who sang at the 2008 inauguration of President Obama—whom he continues to support (despite some minor reservations about things like Obamacare’s lack of a “public option”), saying “I think he’s going to be remembered as a good president.”
Otherwise, the conversation (which Remnick claimed sold out in six seconds) focused squarely on Springsteen’s own life, with a particular emphasis on his relationship with his father—a subject that makes up some of the most revealing portions of Born to Run.
Describing his father as an angry man who felt like he was competing against his son for his wife’s affections, and who himself was raised a “mama’s boy” but loathed any hint of weakness—“He hated soft”—the musician acknowledged that his upbringing was fraught with paternal conflict. “He loved me but he couldn’t stand me,” Springsteen said about his dad, before later describing how his early tunes about working-class life (and his work-clothes concert style) was a means of publicly attempting a dialogue with a father who wasn’t capable of having an actual heartfelt one-on-one with his child.
When Remnick suggested that rock ‘n’ roll had once been summed up as one long, primal (figurative) cry of “Daddy!”, Springsteen heartily concurred, letting out a “Whaaaaaaa!” before saying, “I believe that’s true—at least, in my case.”
Interspersed with a few audio clips of his early songs, and bookended by Springsteen reading passages from his autobiography, the discussion rarely tackled the artist’s arduous struggles with depression, which are frankly investigated in Born to Run. Instead, Remnick used most of his hour and a half to compel Springsteen to praise his wife Patti Scialfa as his rock, and to reminisce about his early years playing clubs in Asbury Park, his career-igniting audition for Columbia Records A&R legend John Hammond, the recording of the album Born to Run, and—in one of many laugh-out-loud funny quips from the artist—the way that he explained his stardom to his own young children by asking them, “You know Barney the dinosaur? People are interested in me in the same way.”
And as for whether, at 67 years old, the artist—whose previous tour featured some of his longest-ever shows, many surpassing four hours—was starting to think about (gasp!) retirement?
“I get paid to be as present as I can conceivably be on every night I’m out there,” Springsteen said about the duty he feels to connect to his audience and, in doing so, to help them get in touch with their own “life force” and remember “how it feels to be really alive.” As he said at interview’s conclusion, his own storied career’s end will arrive at some undetermined future time, but—much to his audience’s pleasure—“No end in sight so far.”