Springsteen's appearance at the New Yorker Festival on Friday (Oct. 7) comes hot on the heels after the release of his No. 1 best-selling autobiography, Born to Run. He is in the midst of a brief book tour, which began in his hometown of Freehold, N.J., in September.'
Remnick covered a wide range of topics in the talk in front of a crowd that included Patti Smith (who raved about the event outside of the theater, praising Springsteen's honesty and heartfelt answers), Elliott Murphy, manager Jon Landau and Springsteen's wife, Patti Scialfa. The 90-minute talk shed light on Springsteen's early days as a young musician in Asbury Park, his childhood in Freehold, his relationship with his father and, of course, Trump.
“When he was just a big sort of bloviating New York billionaire, he could be highly entertaining and funny,” Springsteen said. “But he’s not funny as a presidential candidate.”
That said, Springsteen continued that Trump has "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," he said. " 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.”
Remnick continued the line of questioning, adding that working class towns depicted in Springsteen's songs -- Youngstown, Ohio, in particular -- now lean toward Trump. Springsteen said it was not surprising, as both parties dropped the ball in those areas.
“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," he said. "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.”
Asked if he was going to participate in the present election, Springsteen was mum, but did say he was still a "fan" of President Barack Obama, despite the fact that he "would've liked to have seen a lot of things go further," such as a public option in healthcare.
“I think he’s going to be remembered as a good president," he said.
Throughout the evening, Springsteen was charming, even donning a pair of reading glasses to read passages from his book, including the entire "Lord's Prayer."
Before discussing his first band, the Castiles, Remnick played a snippet of the group's first single, "Baby, I," which Springsteen admitted never made it to vinyl, but acetate. When the crowd applauded the record, Springsteen quipped, "That's not necessary, folks." He did admit that he called the band's singer, George Theiss, to jog his memory about a few things.
"I didn't want to forget anything," he said. "I wanted to get dates and chronology right."
Asked if there were any stories he "couldn't talk about," Springsteen joked that if he had wanted to talk about it, he would have written about it.
He did share a few morsels, including the fact that his sister, Virginia, married a "bull rider."
"We do have bull riders in New Jersey," he said. "There's Cowtown, in South Jersey, which is a big rodeo."
For the music minded, there was plenty of insight into Springsteen's growth as a musician without lessons at the Juilliard School, as Remnick pointed out.
Springsteen said that when he was a teenager, he would watch bands at the Osprey in Manasquan (outside the club, as he was too young to get in) and study the guitar players. He would then go home, grab his guitar and practice what he has seen in his bedroom. His musical apprenticeship continued in Asbury Park at clubs like the Upstage Club, he said, meeting musicians who took the time to mentor him with some lessons here and there.
"It was a natural gathering place for musicians," he said of the Upstage, which remained open until 5 a.m., long after the bars closed. "It sold no booze so even younger people could play. There was a lot of jamming there."
In the early days, Springsteen played many strange venues, including a gig at Marlboro Psychiatric Hospital booked by then-manager Mike Appel. Things got weird when someone got on stage and went "on and on," eventually being pulled from the stage.
He also re-told the story about his historic audition in front of Columbia Records A&R man John Hammond and joked that in those days record executives listened to any "idiot" off the street. He said Appel's relentlessness getting them both in the door was the "single greatest thing he ever did."
Other tidbits: the decision to play all early material at his four-hour show at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., was inspired by a suggestion from Scialfa; he goes on stage to basically "lose himself"; Jimmy Iovine forced him to listen to Born to Run in a stereo store in Virginia (as there were only vinyl records then, and no streaming websites); Clarence Clemons' famous saxophone solo in "Jungleland" was first meant for the guitar; and he sees no end in sight for his playing life.
"I also will have no problem whatsoever sitting in a nice little chair, playing acoustic guitar, knocking out songs from Nebraska," he said.