Friends Obama and Springsteen Talk Music & Politics: 'Willing to Recognize Our Own Faults'

The former president and the music icon spoke about how they bonded over a shared feeling of being outsiders while growing up

Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen talk "Renegades"
Bruce Springsteen (left), Barack Obama. Photo: CBS Sunday Morning

As professionally successful as former President Barack Obama and rock icon Bruce Springsteen have been, they aren't immune from discussing their flaws.

In fact, they say, that's what first sparked their friendship.

Appearing in their first joint interview together in a wide-ranging conversation with CBS News, 60-year-old Obama said the duo's bond began at the urging of his wife, Michelle Obama.

"When we were first getting to know each other and the first time I think the four of us got together ... Michelle says, You know, you need to spend more time with Bruce.' And I said, 'Well why's that?' She said, '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,' " President Obama said on Monday.

He and Springsteen, 72, first met when the musician performed at a campaign rally for the then-senator during Obama's first run for the presidency.

The duo's friendship has since been chronicled in a joint podcast and, soon, a book. RENEGADES: Born in the USA (out Tuesday) chronicles a collection of intimate and candid conversations between the two and is modeled after a Spotify podcast of the same name.

It was President Obama's idea to create the podcast, with the former president telling CBS News that the two had "a bunch of long conversations together" and he thought "this might be something that would be useful for folks to hear."

Springsteen said he thought Obama had "gotten the wrong number" when Obama first contacted him about the podcast: "I said, 'Okay let me figure this out. I am a guitar-playing high school graduate from Freehold, New Jersey — and you want me to do what?' "

While the two had starkly different upbringings — Springsteen's in New Jersey, Obama's in Hawaii — they both felt like outsiders.

"When I was young, I felt voiceless, I felt invisible," Springsteen said on CBS, adding that this feeling is one that he feels has contributed to the divisiveness in modern politics.

"I think a lot of people do feel very voiceless and Donald Trump had the cynicism and the carney ability to play on that part of our weakness," Springsteen said. "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 ..."

Obama concurred, saying: "Bruce is right. 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 going to keep having to defer this dream? And I think that part of what we tried to do in the podcast is get everybody to feel a little more willing to recognize our own faults."

In their interview, Springsteen drew an allusion from his own feelings toward politics to his most famous song: "Born in the U.S.A," which he described as a work of "critical patriotism."

"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," Springsteen said.

In recent years, the former president has made a sizable impact on Springsteen's career, inspiring the musician to launch his 2017-2021 Broadway residency.

After Springsteen gave a private White House performance for some 300 staffers in 2017, Obama told him he should do it again — for the public.

"I said, 'You can't just share that with us. I mean I appreciate that you did this with us. You gotta share this with the world,' " Obama recalled.

As Springsteen noted on CBS, "It just turned into the show, so I have to credit my man here for [that]."

Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen talk "Renegades"
Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen on CBS. CBS Sunday Morning

The two also spoke about life after immense success, with Springsteen saying he is still content to tour the country and play music.

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

Obama, meanwhile, equated his post-presidency to the transition an athlete makes from being a player to a coach.

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

As for reentering politics in an elected role — well, that's off the table. Obama said as much in a speech delivered Saturday in support of former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe's campaign against Republican businessman Glenn Youngkin.

McAuliffe previously served as the state's governor from 2014 to 2018. Under state law, Virginia governors are prohibited from serving consecutive terms but can run for reelection later.

"Let me tell you, if I told Michelle I wanted to run for the same office after a few years away, she would have said something I cannot repeat," Obama joked to the crowd on Saturday. "The rough translation would have been, 'No.' "

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