He’s 62 years old, sexy, grizzled, a ball of fire, even though there have been rumours about his struggle with suicidal bouts of depression through the years. Bruce Springsteen has ruled the rock concert circuit for more than 30 years, right from Born to Run in 1975.
“You’re the shaman, a little bit, you’re leading the congregation,” he told me. “But you are the same as everybody else in the sense that your troubles are the same, your problems are the same, you’ve got your blessings, you’ve got your sins, you’ve got the things you can do well, you’ve got the things you fuck up all the time. And so you’re a conduit. There was a series of elements in your life—some that were blessings, and some that were just chaotic curses—that set fire to you in a certain way.”
In the latest New Yorker David Remick takes the lid off what was happening behind the scenes, what Springsteen was going through. It’s a brilliant/compassionate/ironic and go-read-it-at-once article
Springsteen was also experiencing intervals of depression that were far more serious than the occasional guilt trip about being “a rich man in a poor man’s shirt,” as he sings in “Better Days.” A cloud of crisis hovered as Springsteen was finishing his acoustic masterpiece “Nebraska,” in 1982. He drove from the East Coast to California and then drove straight back. “He was feeling suicidal,” Springsteen’s friend and biographer Dave Marsh said. “The depression wasn’t shocking, per se. He was on a rocket ride, from nothing to something, and now you are getting your ass kissed day and night. You might start to have some inner conflicts about your real self-worth.”
Springsteen began questioning why his relationships were a series of drive-bys. And he could not let go of the past, either—a sense that he had inherited his father’s depressive self-isolation. For years, he would drive at night past his parents’ old house in Freehold, sometimes three or four times a week. In 1982, he started seeing a psychotherapist. At a concert years later, Springsteen introduced his song “My Father’s House” by recalling what the therapist had told him about those nighttime trips to Freehold: “He said, ‘What you’re doing is that something bad happened, and you’re going back, thinking that you can make it right again. Something went wrong, and you keep going back to see if you can fix it or somehow make it right.’ And I sat there and I said, ‘That is what I’m doing.’ And he said, ‘Well, you can’t.’ ”
Extreme wealth may have satisfied every pink-Cadillac dream, but it did little to chase off the black dog. Springsteen was playing concerts that went nearly four hours, driven, he has said, by “pure fear and self-loathing and self-hatred.” He played that long not just to thrill the audience but also to burn himself out. Onstage, he held real life at bay.
“My issues weren’t as obvious as drugs,” Springsteen said. “Mine were different, they were quieter—just as problematic, but quieter. With all artists, because of the undertow of history and self-loathing, there is a tremendous push toward self-obliteration that occurs onstage. It’s both things: there’s a tremendous finding of the self while also an abandonment of the self at the same time. You are free of yourself for those hours; all the voices in your head are gone. Just gone. There’s no room for them. There’s one voice, the voice you’re speaking in.”