Bruce Springsteen at Sixty-Two: at one point in the early eighties, Springsteen was feeling suicidal

From the New Yorker:

In the July 30, 2012, issue of The New Yorker, in “We Are Alive” (p. 38), David Remnick profiles the “multimillionaire populist rock star” Bruce Springsteen as he embarks on the global tour for his latest album, “Wrecking Ball.” Remnick talks to Springsteen’s band mates, wife, manager, and others about the musician’s early years, his evolution as an artist, and the depression that he struggled with. Springsteen, who had a volatile relationship with his unstable father, was “deeply affected by his father’s paralyzing depressions, and worried that he would not escape the thread of mental instability that ran through his family.” That fear, Springsteen tells Remnick, is why he never did drugs: “My issues weren’t as obvious as drugs,” Springsteen says. “Mine were different, they were quieter—just as problematic, but quieter.” His parents’ struggles, Springsteen tells Remnick, are “the subject of my life. It’s the thing that eats at me and always will. My life took a very different course, but my life is an anomaly. Those wounds stay with you, and you turn them into a language and a purpose.” Springsteen’s friend and biographer Dave Marsh tells Remnick that, at one point in the early eighties, Springsteen was feeling suicidal: “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,” Remnick writes. “And he could not let go of the past, either—a sense that he had inherited his father’s depressive self-isolation.” In 1982, Springsteen began psychotherapy, an endeavor that Patty Scialfa, his wife and a singer in the E-Street Band, credits as the impetus for their marriage: “Bruce is very smart. He wanted a family, he wanted a relationship, and he worked really, really, really hard at it––as hard as he works at his music.” Through therapy, and music, she tells Remnick, “he was able to look at himself and battle it out.” With all artists, Springsteen tells Remnick, “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.” Springsteen tells Remnick that “you cannot underestimate the fine power of self-loathing in all of this. You think, I don’t like anything I’m seeing, I don’t like anything I’m doing, but I need to change myself, I need to transform myself. I do not know a single artist who does not run on that fuel. If you are extremely pleased with yourself, nobody would be fucking doing it!”

After decades in the business, “what makes Springsteen an economic power at this point is his status as a live performer,” Remnick writes. Remnick joins Springsteen as he prepares for the upcoming tour, and notes that “Springsteen rehearses deliberately, working out all the spontaneous-seeming moves and postures: the solemn lowered head and raised fist, the hoisted talismanic Fender, the between-songs patter, the look of exultation in a single spotlight that he will enact in front of an audience.” Springsteen tells Remnick that his performances are theatre. “I’m a theatrical performer,” he says. “I’m whispering in your ear, and you’re dreaming my dreams, and then I’m getting a feeling for yours. I’ve been doing that for forty years.” He explains to Remnick the escapist appeal of his music, and his performances, to fans and concertgoers: “For an adult, the world is constantly trying to clamp down on itself,” he tells Remnick. “Routine, responsibility, decay of institutions, corruption: this is all the world closing in. Music, when it’s really great, pries that shit back open and lets people back in, it lets light in, and air in, and energy in, and sends people home with that and sends me back to the hotel with it. People carry that with them sometimes for a very long period of time.” After the loss of his saxophonist Clarence Clemons in June of 2011, “the most vivid theme on this tour was to be time passing, age, death, and, if Springsteen could manage it, a sense of renewal,” Remnick writes. “How do we continue? I think we discussed this more than anything in our history,” longtime guitar player Steve Van Zandt tells Remnick of Clemons’s death. “The basic concept was, we need to reinvent ourselves here a little bit. You can’t just replace the guy.” But one thing that has not changed since he began performing is that Springsteen gives his all each night, creating complex set lists and performing with a physicality onstage that belies his age: “That ticket is me promising you that it’s gonna be all the way every chance I get,” Springsteen tells Remnick. “That’s my contract. And ever since I was a young guy I took that seriously.”

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