The Most Fascinating Things We Learned From Howard Stern’s Interview With Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen Howard Stern

Getty Images

Finally, “The Boss” meets the king of talk radio.

After decades on the air, Howard Stern has come to be appreciated as one of the greatest interviewers of our time (and Howard Stern Comes Again, a printed collection of his best conversations, is proof), but one person he’s never spoken to is The Boss.

That is, until Monday, when Bruce Springsteen himself finally appeared on Stern’s show for a long-awaited conversation. And it totally delivered. The chat was not just juicy, but emotional — in fact, Stern said that Springsteen’s live acoustic performance of “Thunder Road” was the first time in his career that he’d ever cried while on the air. (It was also notable because Stern returned to his SiriusXM studio for the first time in more than two years in order to do it, after broadcasting exclusively from his basement since the Covid-19 pandemic set in.)

There’s lots to unpack from the conversation, but let’s start with one piece of very good news for Springsteen fans: The music legend said there’s no end in sight for his nearly six-decade career.

“I can’t imagine it,” Springsteen said about the idea of retiring. “I mean, if I got to a point where I was incapacitated or something…” But he cited iconic performers like Johnny Cash and Pete Seeger as examples that creativity (and greatness) doesn’t have an expiration date.

“I played with Pete Seeger in Washington, at Obama’s inauguration. Pete was 91 or 92, and he came out and sang ‘This Land Is Your Land.’ So I look at those guys. I don’t know if I’ll be doing three-hour shows [as I get older], but I have so many different kinds of music that I can play and do. The Broadway show, I can do the rest of my life, in one form or another, if I wanted to.”

The show he’s referencing is Springsteen on Broadway, which was a smash hit to live audiences in New York City and is now available to stream on Netflix. On the streaming service, it’s running time is two hours, 33 minutes, but as Springsteen fans know, seeing him live on one of his world tours can provide three hours or more of incredible music. Springsteen explained to Stern why those super-sized concerts became a signature of his.

“Part of it is just a work ethic of the way you came up: We used to do five sets a night. We used to play five hours a night. Now, if I play two [hours], people are gonna be disappointed. I gotta play at least three,” he said. Springsteen added that it also came partly from a desire to fix any mistakes from a show: “My problem would be, I’d play three hours, and then something wouldn’t go right on one of the songs toward the end of the show, and I’d kill myself for the rest of the night. Just beat the hell out of myself. I’d get in the bus, on the way to the next town, and that’s all I could think about.”

But he said he’s come to realize (with the help of seeing a therapist) that the impulse was connected to his Catholic upbringing, which led him to see the long shows as a kind of “purification ritual.” But now, he’s “learned to get a handle on it” and still play robust sets without going overboard.

One of the hallmark of Springsteen’s live shows (and career at large) was Clarence Clemons, the E-Street Band’s superstar saxophonist, who passed away in 2011 after suffering a stroke. In the conversation with Stern, Springsteen shared emotional details about being at Clemons’s side in his final moments.

“I had a feeling [Clemons] could hear me because he could squeeze your hand. When I first went to see him, there was some response to your voice and to you being in the room, it felt like,” he said. “I knew that he was going to die, and so I just brought the guitar in and I strummed a song called ‘Land of Hope and Dreams.’ … It’s about passing over to the other side. It’s about life and death … It was a song we were playing at the end of the night [on tour], and it was one of the last songs that Clarence and I worked on a sax solo together on.”

On a lighter note, Stern asked Springsteen what he thinks of the musician whose name on everyone’s lips these last couple of weeks. That is, of course, Taylor Swift, who just released her latest album, Midnights, and also achieved the incredible feat of having 11 No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200 chart. (That ties her with Springsteen himself, along with Barbra Streisand and Drake, for the chart’s third-best showing of all time. The only acts ahead of them are the Beatles in the top spot, followed by Jay Z at No. 2).

So what did Springsteen make of the latest work from the hyper-successful up-and-comer? “It was good,” he told Stern of Midnights. “She’s super talented — a tremendous writer.”