Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen on feeling like outsiders

·5 min read

When former president Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama were first getting to know singer-songwriter Bruce Springsteen, Michelle told her husband, "you need to spend more time with Bruce."

"I said, 'Well, why is that?'" Mr. Obama recalled asking her. "She says, 'You know, he understands all his failings and flaws as a man, and you don't seem to understand as well just exactly how messed up you are."

Mr. Obama replied, "You're right. No doubt."

It was Mr. Obama's idea to team up to make the podcast "Renegades: Born in the USA."

"We did have a bunch of long conversations together," Mr. Obama told CBS News correspondent Anthony Mason. "And I thought this might be something that would be useful for folks to hear."

Springsteen said he initially thought Mr. Obama had gotten a wrong number when he called.

"And I said, 'Okay, let me figure this out. I am a guitar-playing high school graduate from Freehold, New Jersey. And — OK — you want me to do what?" he recalled.

But over a few days last year at Springsteen's New Jersey farm, they talked about their different experiences.

Springsteen's growing up in New Jersey: "I always kept one foot in sort of the blue collar world and one foot in the counter culture world. And I never truly belonged completely in either of them, you know?" 

And Mr. Obama's, growing up in Hawaii: "And I'm experiencing my share of day-to-day ignorance and slights. … You get in an elevator, and suddenly folks are looking nervous. Or you walk by a car and the locks go down." 

Those conversations became a podcast and now the book, "Renegades: Born in the USA."

Both Springsteen and Mr. Obama say they see themselves as outsiders.

"That's the American story, you know?" said Springsteen. "When I was young, I felt voiceless. You know, I felt invisible, and I think we're in trouble and that a lot of people do feel very voiceless. 

"And Donald Trump was, you know, he had the cynicism and the carny ability to play on that part of our weakness, you know? I think we're going to be in a lot of trouble if you can't find a way to engage a lot of people who feel disaffected. Whether it's by technological change, whether it's by the post-industrialization."

"Bruce is right," Mr. Obama said. "You end up having, on the one hand, change happening very rapidly, too rapidly for a big portion of the population. For another portion of the population, it's like, 'You know, how long are we gonna keep having to defer this dream?' 

"And I think that part of what we tried to do in the podcast was get everybody to feel a little more willing to recognize, you know, our own faults."

Springsteen said the idea of "critical patriotism" is essential to the country moving forward. 

"I had 'Born in the U.S.A.,' which — a song I wrote. And that was misinterpreted on a variety of different levels because it basically put forth the idea that you can love and feel a part of the same country that you can be deeply critical of, and feel has disappointed you on a variety of different levels."

The two also discuss lighter topics — like Springsteen's Broadway show, which Mr. Obama takes "full credit" for.

"So here's what happens," Mr. Obama said. "Last month of my last term. And I talked to Michelle. And I said, 'You know, I'd love to do something for the staff that have been there all this time."

Springsteen wasn't sure exactly what to do for the audience of about 300.

"So I stood right here in this studio and spent about an afternoon or two just, you know, okay, if I sing this song and this little segment of the book, and this song and this little segment of the book. And so I went down. And that's what I did basically."

When he was done, Mr. Obama told him it was "a fantastic show." 

"The audience was in tears at certain points," Mr. Obama said. "And I said, 'You can't just share that with us. I mean, I appreciate that you did this for us. But you gotta share this with the world.'"

"And it just turned into the show. So I have to credit my man here," Springsteen said.

Mr. Obama didn't get a producer's credit. "But that's all right," he said. 

Springsteen says he expects to be back on the road in the coming year and wants to keep creating. 

"I'm gonna make a better record and play better tour, play better shows. So that's always there for me," he said. 

For Mr. Obama, "it's a little bit like figuring out how to make a transition from a player to a coach.

"You know, you're not gonna get the same, maybe highs that you got when you were on the court," he said.

Springsteen is still living for his next gig.

"That's what I do. I'm an old man, but I can still do what I do," he said. 

"Yeah. You know, he's got bills to pay," Mr. Obama said, laughing. "He's a working musician, you know."

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