Oh, yeah. I think there’s going to be a process before people are comfortable rubbing up against one another again. But if somebody told me, “That’s never going to happen again” — that would be a big life change for me. That act of playing has been one of the only consistent things in my life since I was 16 years old. I’ve depended a lot on it not just for my livelihood, but for my emotional well-being. So if somebody said, “Five years from now, maybe” — that’s a long time. Particularly at my age. I’m 71, and I’m thinking, “Well I know one thing. I’m in the mood right now to burn the house down for as long as I can.”
I take it you saw the people playing “Born in the U.S.A.” outside Walter Reed when President Trump was there earlier this month. How did that make you feel? Decades after Reagan, people still seem to be misunderstanding that song.
That is my lot in life. [Laughs] That is my lot in life and I have learned to live with it with a smile. I mean, I do believe that as much as it is the writer’s job to write well, it is the listener’s job to listen well. And yet still, on occasion, I’m going to hear something like that.
I still believe it’s one of my best songs, and when we play it, it just has a cumulative power that remains with it. The pride that people feel as a part of that music is true. But to understand that piece of music you need to do what adults are capable of doing, which is to hold two contradictory ideas of one thing in your mind at one time. How something can be prideful and at the same time call to account the nation that you’re writing about. That was just a part of that piece of music. It’s a song that’s not necessarily what it appears to be.
You got the band back together for “Letter to You.” At what point did you realize it needed to be an E Street Band record?
I knew I wanted to make a record with the band, and I knew I wanted it to be the pure instrumentation of the band: two keyboards, the guitars, the bass, drums and saxophone, and I didn’t want anything else. I didn’t want to demo or have preconceptions of the music, so I didn’t touch the songs until I taught them to the band. My blueprint for what I was doing was basically the two songs that we’d done in the past that were cut completely live, “Darkness on the Edge of Town” and “Born in the U.S.A.,” which is like two takes. So we cut about a song every three hours, we did two a day, and we were done in four days. And on the fifth day, we rested.