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Hillary Atkin

Faith, Family, Creativity and the E Street Band: A Conversation Between Bruce Springsteen and Martin Scorsese

May 6, 2019

E Street Band fans will rejoice in the news Bruce Springsteen broke in a candid conversation with Martin Scorsese Sunday night that kicked off Netflix’s series of Emmy FYC events on a soundstage at Hollywood’s Raleigh Studios.

The two men, who most would agree remain at the top of their respective fields of music and movies after decades in the public eye, spoke after a screening of “Springsteen on Broadway.”

The special was shot during two performances of the run of 236 shows last year. During his one-man show, termed at the time a “concert residency,” Springsteen famously remarked that it was the first job he’d ever had in his life where he had to be at the same place at the same time five days a week. (The show ran from October 2017 through December 2018 at the Walter Kerr Theatre.)

Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos introduced the 45-minute clip of the two-and-a-half-hour performance. It included emotional moments with Springsteen talking about his dearly departed saxophonist, “The Big Man” Clarence Clemons, who played his last note in 2011.

Just when the sniffles subsided, Springsteen changed the tune by introducing another member of the E Street Band, Patti Scialfa, before the pair performed a duet of “Brilliant Disguise.”

As the married couple of 28 years looked into each other’s eyes, they sang verses with quintessential Springsteen lyrics including these:

Now look at me baby

Struggling to do everything right

And then it all falls apart

When out go the lights I’m just a lonely pilgrim

I walk this world in wealth

I want to know if it’s you I don’t trust

‘Cause I damn sure don’t trust myself

The tears welled up again when Springsteen talked about reconciling with his father, Douglas — an anecdote he first revealed in his memoir, “Born to Run,” published in 2016.

He said his dad drove 500 miles unannounced to see him, showing up for morning beers with his son as he was about to become a father for the first time. “Bruce, you’ve been very good to us,” his father told Springsteen, who at that point had amassed millions and millions of record sales and countless sold-out world tours. “But I wasn’t very good to you.”

Although Netflix famously does not release ratings, undoubtedly millions of viewers have already streamed “Springsteen on Broadway,” and huge numbers are also expected to view Scorsese’s upcoming film, “The Irishman” after it gets a theatrical run at an unspecified date later this year.

Separated in age by just about seven years, Springsteen and Scorsese have much in common, including their Italian Catholic East Coast roots. The two have been friends since 1975, when they met at Sunset Strip nightclub The Roxy.

Their wide-ranging conversation touched on musical influences, Catholic school, classic films — mostly Scorsese’s — creativity and faith.

“As a 13-year-old, I loved Elvis and girl groups like the Marvelettes. That provided the soundtrack for ‘Mean Streets,’” Scorsese said, before segueing into a lengthy discussion with Springsteen about the influence of Catholicism and attending Catholic school.

“You think you’re getting away from it but it’s never over,” said Springsteen, who attended Catholic school up until ninth grade, when he went to a public high school in Freehold, N.J. “I realized that faith was fear-based. All my work has been informed by Catholic school. As you get older, you realize that faith is trust. It’s mysteries and answers you can never come up with. I’ve stopped fighting it as there is no greater wealth to draw from — redemption, damnation, death — and sexual torture.”

Scorsese echoed those themes, saying they will come out in “The Irishman,” a biographical crime drama starring one of Scorsese’s frequent collaborators over the years, Robert De Niro.

“It’s about trust, loyalty, betrayal and faith,” said the director, who grew up in Lower Manhattan and in Queens.

“I’m always interested in things that didn’t go right. I still go back to my hometown. I wanted to base the heart of my work in darkness — and then earn the light,” Springsteen said about his inspirations. “As an artist I’m interested in ‘What bothers that guy?’ That’s what keeps us watching De Niro’s face for two hours. He never gives up and that brings you closer to truth, closer to the best that you can do.”

As a surrogate for the audience, which was made up mainly of TV Academy members and media, Scorsese asked Springsteen about the genesis of his Broadway show.

The Boss talked about how it all started when Barack Obama, in the waning days of his presidency, asked him to come to the White House for a spoken word performance based on his autobiography — and how that became a 90-minute show in the East Room.

When plotting out the production, Springsteen said at first the directors did not want to have the audience in it at all until he prodded them, “Who would laugh at my jokes?” The decision was made to not show the audience until the very end of the Netflix special.

“You did it in ‘The Last Waltz,’” Springsteen reminded Scorsese, who talked about how the audience had been seen enough in rock music concert films like “Woodstock” and “Monterey Pop.”

Springsteen divulged more of his feelings about being on Broadway. “The monologue was a central portion of it and a meditative experience. I found a rhythm and joined the audience in that meditative experience. It creates an emotional depth.”

“When you create, it really is prayer — organic and real,” Scorsese said.

“If you’re good, you can capture a small piece of the divine. That’s why the creative process can never be explained,” Springsteen replied. “When the audience walks out of a film or hears music, I have to bring that [reaction] into my experience. Whenever I’ve written something that someone feels has some quality, it’s a trick every time. The factor that can’t be explained.”

Springsteen then proceeded to drop some bombshell news. “A month ago, I wrote about an hour’s worth of material for the band. It came out of nowhere. But I knew I had to capture a piece of the divine.” For those who might’ve thought the E Street Band’s touring days were over, it was welcome worldwide news.

The two men concluded their talk on the uplifting note of complimenting each other’s talents.

“I’m one guy with an acoustic guitar and then I tell five other guys about it. It’s easy to tell that vision. For you, it’s much more complicated,” Springsteen said to Scorsese.

“Much of my inspiration comes from 78s and 45s in my collection. It becomes a film that sounds like the music,” Scorsese said.

“If I could play music, I wouldn’t have to do all this.”

The memorable night with two icons concluded with the other one doing just that. Springsteen came out and dedicated a performance of “Dancing in the Dark” to his 93-year old mother, who he said — despite her Alzheimer’s — still loves to dance.

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