Off Stage And Inside The Life Of 'The Boss' Battling With Depression

Sep 25, 2016
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN SONG, "BORN IN THE U.S.A.")

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now it's time for our segment called Words You'll Hear. And that's where we take a word or a phrase that we think will be in the news in the coming days and let you know what it's all about. And this week, our words are the boss.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BORN IN THE U.S.A.")

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Born down in a dead man's town. The first kick I took was when I hit the ground. End up like a dog...

MARTIN: Yes, none other than Bruce Springsteen, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, the beloved son of New Jersey has sold more than 120 million albums worldwide. But this week, he's expressing himself in a different way. His 500-page memoir called - what else? - "Born To Run" is published this week. Springsteen is on the cover of Vanity Fair's October issue, and I'm joined now by David Kamp, who wrote the piece about Springsteen's book for the magazine.

David, thanks so much for speaking with us.

DAVID KAMP: Good to be with you, Michel.

MARTIN: Now, just to be clear, your piece with Vanity Fair is not a book review. But you read the book. You know, just a couple of questions. First of all, why now? Why is this the time for him to write this work?

KAMP: Well, it isn't exactly now. It began in 2009. He'd done the Super Bowl halftime show with the E Street Band, and that experience, even for someone as seasoned a performer as him, through him for a loop. And he thought, wow, this is a funny experience that warrants some writing. So he actually wrote a little blog post for his springsteen.net website, and he said, I discovered a good voice to write in. Just from that exercise, that's 2009. And then he starts writing a little bit more, and in drips and drabs over the next few years, he says, hey, I've got a memoir.

MARTIN: Now, the news about the book that's surfaced so far - you know, you've read it, most of us have not - is that he's very open about his history with mental illness. Can you talk a little bit about that?

KAMP: Of course. And, yeah, that's the natural headline because for anyone in public to speak of clinical depression, that's really a big deal when someone like that opens up not just about depression, Michel, but ongoing clinical depression, meaning he's not just talking about, oh, I had a bad spell back in the early '80s. He talks about how, you know, the ages - age 60 to 62 was rough, then it was good for a year. Then from 63 to 64 I had another bad period. And I think he made this choice to talk about this in the book both out of his innate honesty, but also I think to show that depression is a real thing that can be talked about and it doesn't need to be a stigma.

MARTIN: You say in your piece that his wife, who's also a member of the band, Patti Scialpha, says she wasn't altogether comfortable with him disclosing this. I was really curious about that, the fact that she was honest enough to tell you that. Why do you think she was uncomfortable with it?

KAMP: Well, Patti said the very exercise of Bruce doing this book is uncharacteristic. I said what do you mean? She said, he's not a gabber, meaning he's not someone who would be at a cocktail party schmoozing and being effervescent. He's a brooder.

But when he sets his mind to doing something, whether it's writing a group of songs or writing this book, she respects his artistic integrity. So she said, you know, it's just like writing songs. You're not going to get in the way of that process. You find yourself through writing. And she said this applies to her, too. She herself has experienced some clinical depression. And so she said while I'm Bruce's rock, I also understand the need to acknowledge this.

MARTIN: You know, you interviewed Springsteen also in person at length for the piece in Sweden, I take it - right? - while they were on tour?

KAMP: Right, because the - he and the E Street Band were touring all summer in Europe, so I went to Gothenburg, Sweden.

MARTIN: I'm tempted to ask you a fake, pretend smart question about it. But really, my only question is how cool was that, and how come I can't have your life?

KAMP: (Laughter) Well, I love your eloquence in asking that question - how cool was that? That's good interviewing technique - no, but it is because of course it was cool. And what was even cooler was to have this perch stage-side in a big soccer stadium so you can actually see a bit of what he sees, which is 60,000 people waving their arms in unison, singing the lyrics of "Born To Run," singing it back to you onstage. That was cool.

MARTIN: David Kamp wrote about the boss, Bruce Springsteen, in the October issue of Vanity Fair. Bruce Springsteen's new book "Born To Run" comes out this week. David, thanks so much for speaking with us.

KAMP: My pleasure, Michel.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BORN TO RUN")

SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Oh, baby, this town rips the bones from your back. It's a death trap. It's a suicide wrap. We got to get out while we're young 'cause tramps like us, baby, we were born to run. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.