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Pop Music | Checking In With . . . Bruce Springsteen

Some Glory Days, Revisited

The Boss reminisces about the songs, once set aside, that get a hearing on his new four-CD boxed set.

November 08, 1998|ROBERT HILBURN | Robert Hilburn is The Times' pop music critic

"Bruce Springsteen: Tracks," a four-disc boxed set due Tuesday from Columbia Records, contains 56 previously unreleased Springsteen recordings, along with 10 others that have appeared only as B-sides of singles.

The material ranges from the folk-oriented, pre-"Greetings From Asbury Park" demos that he made with producer John Hammond to tunes written for but not included on such albums as "The River" and "Born in the U.S.A." More than a dozen songs haven't even appeared on the scores of Springsteen bootlegs that have been circulated over the last 25 years.

On the eve of the set's release, Springsteen--who has moved to his native New Jersey with his wife, singer Patti Scialfa, and their three children after years of living chiefly in Los Angeles--spoke about the songs and those rumors of a reunion tour next summer with the E Street Band.

Question: Are you a fan of boxed sets?

Answer: Yeah, I listened a lot to the Bob Dylan set ["Biograph"] when it first came out. . . . The same with the Hank Williams stuff. It's an interesting way to listen to someone's work because it allows you to dig a little deeper into someone's musical ideas. That's what I wanted to do with this album, sorta fill out people's understanding of the music I have made.

Q: Why now?

A: After the "Tom Joad" tour, I started working on some more acoustic music, but that reached a point last fall where it wasn't going any further. So I then started on some electric music, and I hit the same point with that over the winter.

That meant I wouldn't have any new album for a while, so it seemed like a good time to [put together] this set. I've thought about it from time to time for a long time because I knew that the stuff was sitting around, and I remembered that it was, at least to me, very good. It's music that didn't make it onto albums because I could never find the proper context for it.

Q: How did you choose the material for the set?

A: If the music was either for a new project or for a project that never became an album, I put that aside. I only wanted music that related to a record that I had released, so if you were a fan of "The River," there's a whole album of music from the "River" period. There's an album of music from the "Born in the U.S.A." period, four songs from "Tunnel of Love," and so on.

Q: Let's talk about a couple of songs, . . . how they came about and why they didn't get onto an album. What about the acoustic version of "Born in the U.S.A." that was recorded during the "Nebraska" sessions?

A: I recorded this acoustic version, but then I started on "Born in the U.S.A." almost as soon as I finished "Nebraska," so that before either record was released I had an electric version of the song and the acoustic one. In the end, the electric one just seemed to make more sense. I think I was unsure if I had completely gotten it acoustically.

Q: "TV Movie" is a song about how the media turns people into caricatures. There's some humor in it, but there also seems to be a bit of commentary. How did you mean it?

A: The way it came about was we were in the studio and someone was talking about some episode that had happened to them, and someone else said, "Look out man, they are going to make a TV movie out of you." And that became kind of a running gag whenever anyone came in with a story. "Hey, you are going to be a TV movie next week." Then when I went to write about it, it became a mixture of things. . . . That idea that your entire identity can be co-opted and twisted around and reinterpreted and then accepted as fact because it is the most visible presentation of yourself at a particular moment. It was a joke, but it had some ironic undertones.

Q: To me, the most moving song is "The Wish," which is about telling your mom that you're going to get married. How close is it to your own story?

A: That's a song I wrote for "Tunnel of Love," and it's probably as directly autobiographical as I've ever gotten. That may be why it didn't get on the record. It was a combination of having recently gotten married and thinking about my mom. I wrote a lot about my dad at particular times, but she was also very central in my life. . . . Her attitude, the pride with which she always carried herself, the incredible sense of resiliency during extremely difficult situations: never having money, having to borrow to make it to the next month and then having to borrow again.

I think at the time the album had taken a slightly different turn and there wasn't a place for it. . . .

Q: Does the set signal that you are about ready to get back together with the E Street Band for a tour?

A: I've kept a pretty open mind about the whole thing, but I don't have any concrete plans at the moment.

Q: Does that mean you will at some point, but are not sure when that point is?

A: I don't know. I don't want to put myself in a situation of saying something and then being [stuck with it].

Q: How about your personal life? You said a few years ago that you had learned to balance your time between your music and your personal life. Is that still true?

A: Yeah, absolutely. When I was younger, I think I tended to try to use my job to fill the holes in my life, and I learned there's another way to live. I think that maintaining a balance between your internal life and your external life makes for a fuller experience. In the end, I think it even helps your music.

Q: Is that one reason you are a Jersey guy again?

A: Well, I love California, and we wanted to get [to our house] out there last year more, but we just didn't have the opportunity. The thing is, I have a big family back here. That's how I grew up, . . . with aunts, uncles, grandmothers all around me. I think it's [healthy] for kids to be around people who do something different. That way you're not growing up within the music business or the entertainment business. It's just a more realistic perspective.

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