Three days after winning four Grammys for his AIDS-related "Streets of Philadelphia," Bruce Springsteen was back at work Saturday--making a video for "Secret Garden," a new song on his just-released "greatest hits" album.
The plan was for him to talk about his new songs and recent reunion with the E Street Band in an interview during a lunch break at the video shoot in a large, old house on the edge of Hancock Park.
But that was scrapped as Springsteen's three young children, ages 1 to 4, arrived. His attention turned immediately and totally to them. He led his two sons and daughter around the set, then into a trailer to talk about their day.
It was a revealing side of one of the pop world's most famous, yet private men.
For much of his career, the 45-year-old New Jersey native wrote about the struggle to achieve your dreams, often questioning whether you could find a love that was real or the reassuring comfort of family and friends.
Now a father and married to singer Patti Scialfa, Springsteen has found the answers. This change is one reason that "Streets of Philadelphia" is such a heartbreaking portrait of the ravages of AIDS. Springsteen knows how much there is to lose from the death of a loved one.
During a second break in the video shoot, he returned to the trailer and spoke candidly about his music, the E Street Band and, mostly, about fatherhood and the changes in his personal life.
Question: Are you able to spend a lot of time with your kids?
Answer: Sure, I've only toured eight months in the past five years (laughs). I'm probably around the house a lot more than most dads because I don't work 9 to 5. We do the normal things . . . eat together, play, go places.
Q: When they showed up today, did you turn yourself over to them because it was rewarding to you, or do you just want to show them how much they mean to you?
A: I remember when I was a kid and my dad was working the night shift in a plastics factory in Freehold and he forgot his lunch at home. My mother brought me down to give it to him, and I remember all the noise and the activity. Another time, he was a truck driver for a while and he took me on one of his routes. I helped him unload the truck. Those were like the greatest days for me.
Q: So you want to share some of that spirit with them?
A: Well, I don't know what their whole take is on what I'm doing with the cameras and all. It'd probably be more fun for them if I was driving a truck and they could ride around with me. But I think children enjoy being given access to the adult world. They want access not only to your home life, but they want some sense of your work life . . . just knowing what it is.
Q: You used to talk about giving 100% of yourself to your music and wondered if you could ever find time for relationships and children. What have you discovered?
A: I've found that giving 100% to your job isn't the same as giving 100% of your life to your job. Very often when I thought I was giving 100% of my life to my job, I was simply obsessing over something. I think that changes as you get older because you want more out of life. You've got your kids and your wife and your overall family becomes more important. You see your parents differently. Hopefully, one of the things you learn as part of your craft is how to focus your abilities and your energy into a shorter span of time.
Q: As you became more successful and content, did you fear losing touch with the rebel, underdog perspective that was so much a part of your musical vision?
A: To me, those basic underdog emotions or whatever are part of your core being. I'm not sure it's true that something gets lost as you gain other things in life. I believe when your children are born, for instance, that you are reborn in some fashion. When we had our first child, we went out and everything was different . . . the sun was different, the sky was different. I think it thrusts you in a certain direction . . . and makes you want to lead a more purposeful life in some fashion.
Q: What was it like getting back together with the E Street Band? Was there any tension? Most people probably assume there were some hurt feelings on the band's part when you decided you wanted to work with other musicians a few years ago?
A: I assume that's true, but we had such a long, deep relationship. It's similar to like members of your family. Your relationship goes up and down a bit, but generally I've had good relations with all the guys over all the years. Everybody has kind of seen each other's best and worst sides and done things that aggravate or don't aggravate someone else.
Q: Let's talk about the E Street Band. A lot of your fans just couldn't accept the fact during the last tour that you were on stage with other musicians. What were your feelings about the tour?
A: I felt the shows were very good and, in general, I thought the response was good. At the same time I can understand how some fans found it disorienting. With the E Street guys, we were like a family, like neighbors. In some ways, they were the physical realization of the community I imagined and sang about in the songs. There was a very deep symbolic importance, and a lot of people missed that.
Q: Do you agree the music you ended up making on the "Human Touch" and "Lucky Town" albums was similar enough in tone to your old work that you could have made the albums, in retrospect, with the E Street Band?
A: That's probably true. If there had been a more radical musical break, people might have more easily understood why I wanted a change. Basically, I just wanted to feel I had the artistic freedom to do anything I wanted to do. If you don't have that freedom, you feel you have boxed yourself into some intolerable situation. The decision isn't about the people or anything, it's just your own need for that freedom.
Q: What's the status of you and the band now?
A: It's open. We had a great time the other night (playing a club in New York). I'd love to play and work with the guys again at the right point . . . when everybody is looking forward to it.
Q: Do you see a tour this year?
A: I'm not going to be touring (for a while). I would want some new music to tour with.
Q: When do you think you'll have another album ready?
A: I have about 16 or 17 songs that I have been working on at intervals over the past year. Right now, they are just sitting there. The songs have tended to be pretty quiet . . . mostly acoustic material in some ways. I'll know in the next couple of months whether I am going to pursue finishing that record or do something else.
Q: Let's talk about the new songs on the greatest-hits album. "Secret Garden" is a song about some of the hidden recesses of human condition. How did it come about?
A: I wrote it very quickly, one of my men-and-women songs. It's about the unknowability of people in general. The record I was working on (last year) touched on that . . . how difficult it is to know even ourselves. We live with a very limited scope of our own identities unless we are pushed or pressed into moments when we surprise ourselves either pleasantly or shockingly in some fashion.
Q: What about "Murder Incorporated?" That song dates back to the early '80s, right?
A: I wrote it in '82, when I wrote the "Nebraska" stuff. The idea is that murder has been incorporated into the society very systemically, a system that basically has set itself up so that violence is one of its byproducts. The whole idea of a constant class of disenfranchised people seems to be accepted as the price of doing business. That's what the song is about, and it is probably more relevant now than when I wrote it.
Q: You wrote in the booklet that comes with the new album that "The Hard Land" kind of summarizes your body of work. Is that why you close the album with it?
A: Sure. It is a pretty tough little song in some ways, yet it has a carrying-on spirit to it. You've always got to feel there is tomorrow . I want to hold that idea and pass that hope to my children and my fans and their children . . . that hope.