Thousands of words have been used to describe Bruce Springsteen‘s unrivaled five-decade career, but in many ways it can be summed up in three: Born to Run.
It’s the title of his crucial 1975 breakthrough album, which bore the classic track of the same name. In Vanity Fair‘s October cover story, The Boss reflected on why the song continues to mean so much to so many – including himself.
“It’s still at the center of my work, that song,” he told writer David Kamp. “When it comes up every night, within the show, it’s monumental.” Even after four decades, the tune remains the climax of his epic, multi-hour sets. “A good song gathers the years in. It’s why you can sing it with such conviction 40 years after it’s been written. A good song takes on more meaning as the years pass by.”
The song lends its title to his upcoming memoir, due out Sept. 27. The 500-page tome sees Springsteen, 66, touch not only on his storied musical history, but personal demons that have manifested over the years as depression. “I knew I was gonna ‘go there’ in the book,” he says. “I had to find the roots of my own troubles and issues – and the joyful things that have allowed me to put on the kind of shows that we put on.”
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In the book, he elaborates on his rocky relationship with his father, who suffered from mental illness and was a distant figure for much of his adolescence. The uneasy contact provided the seeds to songs like “Adam Raised a Cain,” “My Father’s House” and “Independence Day,” but now he speaks with much more candor.
When asked if he ever heard the words “I love you” from his father, Springsteen answered Kamp with a pained no. “The best you could get was ‘Love you, Pops.’ [Switching to his father’s gruff voice.] ‘Eh, me , too.’ Even after he had a stroke and he’d be crying, he’d still go, ‘Me, too.’ You’d hear his voice breaking up, but he couldn’t get out the words.”
Springsteen, who has openly battled depression for years, calls performing “the trustiest form of self-medication.” He also admits to seeking help through therapy and antidepressants. While some of the depression is certainly clinical, it’s compounded by fears that he’ll suffer the same mental problems that plagued his dad. “You don’t know the illness’s parameters. Can I get sick enough to where I become a lot more like my father than I thought I might?”
He says he has good periods and bad periods, with years spent plunged in a deep depression, and others where he feels relatively sunny. Through it all, he remains productive and performing, staying true to the words he sang in his cornerstone hit by living with the sadness and madness in his soul.
“One of the points I’m making in the book is that, whoever you’ve been and wherever you’ve been, it never leaves you,” he says. “I always picture it as a car. All your selves are in it. And a new self can get in, but the old selves can’t ever get out. The important thing is, who’s got their hands on the wheel at any given moment?”