Bruce Springsteen suffered from depression, according to a new, lengthy article in the latest edition of The New Yorker. While previously he’s disclosed his on-again, off-again battle with depression to biographer and friend, Dave Marsh, this is the first time it’s been discussed at some length.
Writer David Remnick interviews many Bruce Springsteen confidantes for the article, including his wife Patti Scialfa. In the article, we learn more about Springsteen’s battle with depression — even to the point of having some suicidal thoughts 30 years ago.
It’s an interesting interview, but you need a good 30 or 40 minutes to read the entire thing. Not being a particular Springsteen fan, I learned a lot about him. It turned him from being “Oh, he’s just one of those rock superstars” to “Oh, he’s a guy who really had to fight, scratch and battle his way up not only in his career, but in his life too.”
I have a lot more respect for him now — and am glad he was successful in battling his depression.
The first mention of Springsteen’s depression is about three-quarters of the way into the article:
Springsteen was also experiencing intervals of depression that were far more serious than the occasional guilt trip about being “a rich man in a poor man’s shirt,” as he sings in “Better Days.” A cloud of crisis hovered as Springsteen was finishing his acoustic masterpiece “Nebraska,” in 1982. He drove from the East Coast to California and then drove straight back.
“He was feeling suicidal,” Springsteen’s friend and biographer Dave Marsh said. “The depression wasn’t shocking, per se. He was on a rocket ride, from nothing to something, and now you are getting your ass kissed day and night. You might start to have some inner conflicts about your real self-worth.”
He was haunted by his own success, but also by the history of his father’s own battle with depression and self-isolating behavior. He didn’t want to be like his dad:
Springsteen began questioning why his relationships were a series of drive-bys. And he could not let go of the past, either—a sense that he had inherited his father’s depressive self-isolation.
For years, he would drive at night past his parents’ old house in Freehold, sometimes three or four times a week.
In 1982, he started seeing a psychotherapist. At a concert years later, Springsteen introduced his song “My Father’s House” by recalling what the therapist had told him about those nighttime trips to Freehold: “He said, ‘What you’re doing is that something bad happened, and you’re going back, thinking that you can make it right again. Something went wrong, and you keep going back to see if you can fix it or somehow make it right.’
And I sat there and I said, ‘That is what I’m doing.’ And he said, ‘Well, you can’t.’ ”
Extreme wealth may have satisfied every pink-Cadillac dream, but it did little to chase off the black dog. Springsteen was playing concerts that went nearly four hours, driven, he has said, by “pure fear and self-loathing and self-hatred.” He played that long not just to thrill the audience but also to burn himself out. Onstage, he held real life at bay.
That an amazing way to try and cope with those feelings. It sounds as if Springsteen didn’t want to get off the stage because he was using his performance as a coping mechanism, just as surely as an alcoholic turns to booze. Springsteen appears to have turned to the “high” of performing in front of tens of thousands — and all the energy such a performance requires.
Luckily, Springsteen found a way through the darkness:
I asked Patti how he finally succeeded. “Obviously, therapy,” she said. “He was able to look at himself and battle it out.” And yet none of this has allowed Springsteen to pronounce himself free and clear.
“That didn’t scare me,” Scialfa said. “I suffered from depression myself, so I knew what that was about. Clinical depression—I knew what that was about. I felt very akin to him.”
I was glad to read he received treatment for his depression and that it was successful. But just as you can successfully battle and win over the flu or cancer, it can also always return. The same is true with most mental health concerns.
It’s a wise reminder that even when we’re victorious, we should always be on the lookout for a potential relapse. Even the Boss isn’t immune.
Read the full nearly 16,000 word article: Bruce Springsteen at Sixty-Two
Photo: TonyTheTiger at en.wikipedia