Saturday, March 19, 2016

Paul Williams Talks To Bruce Springsteen

Paul Williams, Bruce Springsteen 1975

This excerpt is from The Map or Rediscovering Rock and Roll
published 1988, by Paul Williams:

I taped an interview with Bruce Springsteen in 1974, at a time when CBS wanted to drop him from the label because he wasn't selling enough records, and we talked about a performer's ability to decide his own destiny.

Paul: "I sometimes wonder if the way that the record business is now can actually stop things from happening, just in the sense of stopping them from happening on the radio, or..."
Bruce: "Yes. I mean, it's like- First of all, only to a certain degree. I don't really want to get into the specifics, because I know some things that have been done to me, you know (laughs) and I don't want to sound like, I don't want to whine. But they could stop it to a degree. They can't stop you going out there and playing every night. they can't stop you from being good. They can keep it off the radio. They can make sure it gets low airplay, or no airplay, or what er, which, it hurts, yeah. But they can't well gosh, like, Ive been playing, we've been going for two years, and the second records the biggest, its sold what, 70,000? That's nothing. That's zero. And I don't know, I don't think they can--
   "It depends on who they're dealing with, who they're messing with. It depends on the person, its like anything. Some people can be stopped, and other people can't be stopped, you know? It depends, if you're dealing with people who can stop, or not. Like me, you know, I can't stop, they can't make me stop, ever. Its like once you stop, that's it. You might as well....I don't know what I'd do.
   "But its like that. If you're dealing with people who can say, 'well, hell, Im going to go back to , you know, hanging wallpaper (laughs), that was easier than this.' them you can stop. Those people who are going, 'Oh man, Im gonna go back to college, forget this stuff,' those people can be stopped. People say, 'Hey, what should I do? Gee, I don't know if I want to play or if I want to get married to my girl, Im having a real hard time deciding...' Well, if you have to decide, the answer is right there: don't do it! If you have a choice, then the answer's no.
   "Its only the ones who, some people really don't have a choice, and those are the people who--The record company, I don't like to use the term 'the record company', cause they always get painted as the bad guys--its like the pressures of the business, or whatever, are powerless in the face of what is real. (Laughs) You just can't stop somebody with things like that. I don't think."
Paul: "Something that bothers me, but that you seem to have been able to get around pretty steadily, it the tendency for there to be nowhere to play except big arenas. "
Bruce: "Well, its simple. What you gotta do--Like, I did the Chicago tour, right? I did that tour because I had never played big places, and I said, 'Well, I aint gonna say nothing, because I don't know what they're like.' So we went and played them. About fourteen nights in a row. Went crazy. I went insane during that tour, the worst state of mind Ive ever been in, I think. And just because of the playing conditions for our band. The best part of the tour was the guys in Chicago, great guys, it was nice. But I couldn't play those big places, it had nothing to do with anything that meant anything to me, at all.
   "Those big arenas. So I told Mike, 'Im never going to play those places again.' And that was it. So he knows that usually we don't play any place over three thousand, that's the highest I like to go. I don't like to go any bigger than that. And thats even too big."
Paul: "The challenge comes when you get more popular, which is inevitable."
Bruce: "Right, you know, but--It's like, theres no way! Im always disappointed in acts that play those places. I don't know how The Band can go out and play like that. I don't know how Joni Mitchell can do it. I don't know how you can play there. You can't. You can't effectively do it, I don't think. "
Paul: "I guess its because somebody--like the Who, you'd expect them to do different, but I guess what they'd have to do, really would be to have somebody come in and book a concert hall in New York City--"
Bruce: "For a week."
Paul: "For at least a week. They're doing four shows in Madison Square Garden and it sold out in an hour. So it would have to be at least a week of two shows a night, or maybe more. "
Bruce: "Yeah, you gotta do that, and you also gotta realize that if you get that big, some people who want to see ya, aint gonna see ya. See, I don't know, Im not in that position. All I know is, those big coliseums aint where its supposed to be, you know, it just aint where its supposed to be. Its just too big."
Paul: "It's always a drag, especially if you're not sitting in the front row."
Bruce: "Like I said, its something else going on all over the room. You go to the back row, you can't see the stage, talk about see whats on it. All you see is a blot of light. You better bring your binocs, you know. "
Paul: "I guess people go just for the event..."
Bruce: "See, it turns into-- what happens is you go to those places and it turns into something else that it aint. It becomes an event, rather than, I don't know, whatever else it is. Its just hard to play. But that's where everybody's playing, any more."
Paul: "It's the biggest part of the entertainment business, I mean bigger than movies, bigger than television, much bigger than records. Arenas....that's the biggest, in total dollar gross...."
Bruce: "I don't know how they do it, I don't know how you can even expect to do it in a place like that. Especially like, especially our band, it would be impossible to reach out there the way that we try to do. "
Paul: "Oh yeah, I think so. What happens is you end up playing an imitation of yourself, that the best that--"
Bruce: "It's like, forget it, you know. That's what happens. So you start being somebody you read about. "

And of course it came to pass that in 1985 Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band played show after show in baseball stadiums, in front of 50, 60, or 80 thousand people at a clip, and still lots of people who wanted to see them, didn't get to see them. And thats' just how the wheel turns, one week your a punk, the next week your a cultural icon, next week maybe you're an old geezer talking about glory days. It doesn't matter. Fred Goodman said in Billboard of a Giants Stadium Springsteen show, "It was tough to shake the feeling that one was watching MTV with a live adjunct rather than a concert But criticism on this level pales next to the stamina and energy offered by Springsteen and company. In performance, he is clearly setting the standard for everyone else to meet, and he is probably the only person who can best it."
So the man had the freedom not to be imprisoned by last years vows. And on the other hand, who could begrudge any punk today for holding the attitude Bruce himself expressed so earnestly in 1974?

(Paul's son Alexander, 14 years old, read this aloud to us this week as we drove up to see Springsteen and meet with Jon Laundau, and while listening to The River all the way there -ed. encinitas 2016)


  1. springsteen lost some of himself along the way, somewhere around the early 80s. maybe he just got too happy. artists are not suppose to be happy it steals your creativity. of course we all deserve to be happy. everybody but springsteen ...just kiddin'.

  2. Going to see Springsteen and the E Street Band has evolved for me. 1977 Boston was the very first time, it was electric. Now after nearly 40 years the shows have become a caricature of that very first one, with a creepy power over the "Place To Be". When Bruce leads with his fist high in the air, and the audience just follows I get creeped out.
    To Bruce's credit, he never abuses that power, giving every last ounce of himself every night, and also potentially motivating people that listen to his lyrics to do good in the world. A bar that is very high indeed.
    This is Interesting interview with years of perspective on down the line. The power to get played, get spins, and exposure are still in the hands of the fragmented industry and their publicity tools. Today as always they will use that power, sometimes in a nasty evil way.
    I have experienced that first handed as a partner of a great singer songwriter who climbed over that wall after 31 years of grinding it out, because she "Had To".. and the adventure continues. It will make a great movie someday