Book excerpt: “Renegades: Born in the USA” by Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen
In a podcast that debuted earlier this year, former President Barack Obama and Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Bruce Springsteen – each an icon in their own right – came together to discuss friendship, their public and private travels, and personal stories – stories each has shared through politics and popular music – this can help tell the story of an America striving to become a more united fair and fairer.
Their conversations formed the basis of a book, “Renegades: Born in the United States”, to be released Tuesday October 26 by Crown.
Read an excerpt below and Don’t miss Anthony Mason’s two-part interview with President Obama and Springsteen, starting October 24 on “CBS Sunday Morning” and continuing on “CBS Mornings” on October 25!
President Obama: Like many people, the year 2020 has stirred up a lot of emotions in me. For three years, I had witnessed a country that seemed more and more angry and more and more divided with each passing day. Then came a historic pandemic, accompanied by a hesitant government response that rained hardship and loss on millions of people and forced us all to consider what is really important in life. How did we get here? How to find the path to a more unifying American history?
This topic has dominated so many of my conversations over the past year – with Michelle, with my daughters, and with friends. And one of the friends was Mr. Bruce Springsteen. Apparently Bruce and I don’t have much in common. He’s a white man from a small town in Jersey. I am a mixed race black man born in Hawaii with a childhood that took me around the world. He’s a rock’n’roll icon. I’m … not that cool. And, as I like to remind Bruce whenever I get the chance, he’s over ten years older than me. Even though he looks damn good. But over the years, what we’ve discovered is that we have a common sensibility. About work, family and America. In our own way, Bruce and I have taken side trips to try and understand this country that has given so much to both of us. Trying to tell the stories of its inhabitants. You are looking for a way to connect our own individual searches for meaning, truth, and community with the larger history of America.
And what we discovered during these conversations is that we still share a core belief in the American ideal. Not as cheap and airbrushed fiction or as an act of nostalgia that ignores all the ways in which we have failed to achieve that ideal, but as a compass for the hard work that awaits us as citizens to do so. this place and the world more equal, more just and more free. Plus, Bruce just had some great stories. So we added a participant to our conversations: a microphone. And over the course of a few days at the converted farmhouse and property that Bruce shares with his amazing wife, Patti, with a few horses, a whole bunch of dogs and a thousand guitars, all just a few miles from where he’s got. grown up. up – we talked.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: It’s good to see you, my friend. What brings us here today are the conversations we have had over the years. We both had to be storytellers. We had tell our own stories, and they have become part of a larger American narrative. The story we told resonated. I was trying to remember the first time we met, and it was probably in 2008. During the campaign.
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: That’s right.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: You came to do a concert with us in Ohio. Your family was with you and I remember thinking, “He’s very quiet, maybe even a little shy. And I liked that about you. So I thought, “I hope I get a chance to talk to her at some point.” But as it was in the middle of the countryside, we rushed. So, you know, we had a great conversation, but it wasn’t like we had a deep conversation.
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: No.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: There was also the time in New York where you and Billy Joel took the stage and did quite a gig. It was the first time I saw how well you train in the middle of your shows. You were jumping up and down on a piano. You were soaked, man. You were soaked. And I thought, “That man, he might get hurt over there.” But I was a fan from afar for a long time. And we had started playing some of your music at our gatherings. And then we just reached out and said, “Hey, would you be up to something?”
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: I have had wonderful experiences playing these rallies and appearances with you. Because you gave me something that I could never give myself. And it was the diversity that was in the audience. I played in front of white faces and black faces, old people and young people. And that’s the audience I’ve always dreamed of for my band. One of the most beautiful events I have ever played was when Jay-Z and I played in Columbus. I think I played “Promised Land”. It was a fabulous audience. All kinds of people – working class people, old and young. Lots of people who didn’t know me from the man on the moon were probably hearing me for the first time.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: But it was the same for Jay-Z. I guarantee you there was a bunch of white elderly people in that crowd who hadn’t heard a Jay-Z song in their life. And I had to say to him, “Change a few words here, brother.” We need the family version of some of his stuff.
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: It was the first time I met him. . . good guy. I only played three or four songs, but it was a deeply exciting performance. This is the audience of my dreams, the audience I imagined playing for. Plus, there is so much of my scripture language that comes from the Christian faith, the gospel, the Bible. There was a language community that filtered through cultural lines.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Right, people are feeling it. That’s why when you do something like “The Rising” – with a chorus in the back – or “Promised Land” … you might have been a preacher, Bruce. You might have missed your call.
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: It was a gift to be able to be there. I have a lot of good memories of these rallies. I watched you since you were a senator. You came to my screen and I thought, “Yeah, that’s the language I wanna speak, that I am trying speak. ”I felt a huge internal similarity to your view of the country.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: It was like we were fighting for the same thing. In our own mediums in our different ways. So when you talk about this overlap between these two places – “This is where I want the country to be and this is where it is.” I must be rooted where it is. But I want to push and push people where it could be.
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: Yeah. In our little corner of what we do, we are working on the same building.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: That’s absolutely correct. And we’ve had a number of these interactions over the years: you performed at the inaugural concert, which came through the White House; I’m running for re-election, you do more stuff.
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: We had a nice dinner or two.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: We had a great dinner at the White House where we sang—
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: I played the piano and you sang.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I don’t know about that. But we all sang Broadway tunes. And a few Motowns. And some classics.
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: That’s right.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: And there were libations involved. And then I said, “Well, he’s not as shy as I thought he was, he just needs to relax a bit.”
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: I don’t know if I would say that’s true for most people in my business, but shyness isn’t unusual. If you weren’t silent, you wouldn’t have been looking so desperately for a way to speak. The reason you have so desperately pursued your work, your language and your voice is because you haven’t had any. And once you realize it, you feel the pain of being a little speechless.
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: It becomes the mechanism by which you express your whole life – your whole philosophy and your code of life – and that’s how it came to me. And I felt, before that, that I was pretty invisible, and there was a lot of pain in that invisibility.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: And see, the kind of thing you just said here is how we became friends. Because after a few drinks, and maybe between songs, you’d say something like that, and I’d say, “Aw, that makes sense to me.” These are deep waters. And I think we started to trust each other and have these kinds of conversations on an ongoing basis, and once I left the White House, we were able to spend more time together. And it turns out that we are just a little simpatico.
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: I felt really comfortable around you.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: And the other party was Michelle and Patti hit it off. And Michelle was very happy with the ideas you had about your failures as a man. After we left a dinner party or party or conversation she would say, “You see how Bruce understands his flaws and has come to terms with them—”
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: Ah! Sorry about that.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: “… in a way that you didn’t? You should spend some more time with Bruce. Because he got down to work. And so, there was also a bit of a feeling that I needed to be coached on how to be a good husband.
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: It was a pleasure.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I tried to explain, “Look, he’s ten years older than me. He went through some of these things. I am still in training mode. But despite the fact that we came from such different places and obviously had different career paths, the same issues that you struggle with are issues that I have faced. The same joys and doubts. There is a lot of overlap.
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: Well, the policy comes from the staff.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: If a musician is looking for a way to channel and overcome pain, demons, personal issues, so too does a politician when entering public life.
Excerpt from “Renegades: Born in the USA” by Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen. Copyright © 2021 by Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen. Extracted with permission from the Crown. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without the written permission of the publisher.
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