Bruce Springsteen Battled Depression, Suicidal Thoughts in Early 1980s
The new issue of the New Yorker has a whopping 15,000-word Bruce Springsteen feature by David Remnick. The piece shadows Springsteen from the earliest rehearsals for this year’s Wrecking Ball tour to his home in Colts Neck, New Jersey, all the way to the ongoing European leg of the tour. Over the months Remnick spoke to Springsteen at great length about his life, and also to most of the E Street Band, including new saxophonist Jake Clemons and former drummer Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez. The result is one of the most thorough profiles of Springsteen ever published.
Among the revelatory moments:
• Springsteen has been seeing a therapist ever since 1982. “He was feeling suicidal,” said Springsteen’s longtime friend and biographer, Dave Marsh. “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’s manager, Jon Landau, recently underwent major brain surgery to remove a growth near his optic nerves. He recovered, but he lost vision in that eye. Springsteen was by often Landau’s side during this difficult time. “He knew I was going through something, and I thought I was going to die,” Landau said. “It wasn’t rational, but the fear was there . . . We shared a lot of deep talk.”
• Steve Van Zandt and Springsteen had an epic fight over lyrics to 1987’s “Ain’t Got You,” a rare personal song in which Springsteen addresses his own wealth. “I’m, like, ‘What the fuck is this?'” recalls Van Zandt. “And he’s, like, ‘Well, what do you mean, it’s the truth. It’s just who I am, it’s my life.’ And I’m like, ‘This is bullshit. People don’t need you talking about your life. Nobody gives a shit about your life. They need you for their lives. That’s your thing. Giving some logic and reason and sympathy and passion to this cold, fragmented, confusing world – that’s your gift. Explaining their lives to them. Their lives, not yours.’ And we fought and fought and fought and fought. He says ‘Fuck you,’ I say ‘Fuck you.’ I think something in what I said probably resonated.”
• New saxophonist Jake Clemons (nephew of the late Clarence Clemons) first talked to Springsteen about joining the band in January. “But you have to understand,” Springsteen told him. “When you blow that sax onstage with us, people won’t compare you to Clarence on the last tour. They’ll compare you to their memory of Clarence, to their idea of Clarence.” The pressure weighed on Jake. “I don’t know if anyone can perform in the shadow of a legend,” Jake said. “To me, Clarence is still on that stage, and I don’t want to step on his toes.”
• Patti Scialfa is sometimes frustrated with her role in the E Street Band. “I have to say that my place in the band is more figurative than it is musical,” she says. “Sometimes my frustration comes when I would like to bring something to the table that is more unique. But the band, in the context of the band, has no room for that.”