Tribeca: Bruce Springsteen, Tom Hanks Salute 'Philadelphia' Director Jonathan Demme
The rock legend also shed light on how Jon Landau influenced 'The River' and why "Born in the U.S.A." almost didn't make his seventh album.
Tom Hanks spoke with Bruce Springsteen at a Tribeca Film Festival panel on Friday night. The two worked together on the 1993 film Philadelphia, directed by Jonathan Demme, for which Hanks won the Academy Award for best actor in a leading role and Springsteen also won the best original song Oscar (for the movie-opening "Streets of Philadelphia"). Their reunion happened to take place just two days after Demme's sudden passing, which Hanks acknowledged right away.
"I think the strongest union of our two names is probably Philadelphia — God bless Jonathan Demme," the actor said before beginning the hourlong conversation. Springsteen added, "We just lost him. He was such an inspirational guy. No Jonathan Demme, no Philadelphia, no 'Streets of Philadelphia.'"
During the talk, the two also discussed stories behind some of the rock legend's biggest hits and why he's so proud to call New Jersey home. Billboard recounts some of Springsteen's most notable parts of the conversation below.
On working on "The Streets of Philadelphia" with Demme:
He had Neil Young working first, so Neil came up with "Philadelphia," which ended the film. He wanted a rock song for the beginning, so I said I'd give it a shot. I hooked up my little studio and I tried for a day or so to come up with something and I hadn't come up with anything. I had some lyrics. Eventually I just came up with that tiny little beat and a track and I figured it wasn't what he wanted, but I sent it to him anyway. And he sent me that opening piece of film where the camera moves slowly through Philly — I sent it to him and said, "What do you think?" and he said, "Great!" and that was it. It took about two days.
How Jon Landau influenced The River:
It was a classic title, and I'd kind of run through a lot of my rock influences — at that point, I was deep into the working-class blues. But I was also beginning ... through one of my greatest mentors was Mr. Jon Landau, who was a film critic and began to get me to watch films. And the first thing I remember is John Ford's The Grapes of Wrath. The humanism in it was something that touched me deeply, deeply, deeply, and I said, '"Yeah, I want some of that in my music." So then comes 'Promised Land,' 'Racing in the Street.' And then I got hooked into the noir writers, James M. Cain. ... Then that sort of hooked me into The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity and all the great noir films.
Why New Jersey is so important to his image:
We were in San Francisco, and ended up playing in this little club for hot dogs and toll fare across the bridge called The Matrix. I'm in the bathroom and I'm pissin' next to this guy, and he says, "You guys are pretty good, where you from?" and I said, "Jersey." ... He said, "What's that?" That was it. After that, I knew. Also, when I made my first record, they were trying to tie me to New York. I felt like I wasn't really a New York artist. I wandered down the boardwalk and picked out the postcard "Greetings From Asbury Park," and it was Jersey all the way ever since.
The story behind Greetings From Asbury Park:
I didn't think I had a story, but you know, I was kind of living one at the time. I'm in Asbury Park, living in an abandoned beauty salon. I'm there with all these assorted street characters who were in Asbury at the time, and the record got mixed up with all of those people and that setting, and basically it was semi-autobiographical. The lyrics came out of carnival life and boardwalk life, so it comes to you. It just kind of came to me.
Why Greetings From Asbury Park didn't have guitar:
[Auditioning for a record deal] I had a guitar, I played "Saint in the City," one song and John Hammond said, "You gotta be on Columbia Records." He said, "But you gotta play for Clive Davis next week." So I went in and I auditioned for him and they signed me. But there was no guitar because initially they wanted me to be purely a folk singer, which is what I looked like I was when I came up to John Hammond's office. And John Hammond wanted it to be a completely solo record with just me and the guitar, but we wanted to make more of a rock record and so we sort of settled in the middle with sort of a rhythm section with acoustic music. I like the way it came out.
Why "Born in the U.S.A." almost didn't even make his seventh album:
At the time I was thinking, "It's too grim." I think I still think that. But at the same time, Stevie said, "No, no, no, man, it's about the band, the brotherhood of your band and your fans." And at that time, I gave him the benefit of the doubt and I said, "Okay, let's put it on [the record]." We play it a lot, we've played it an awful lot ever since. But I was always a little frightened. The whole record, I always have mixed feelings about.
What he wants his live performances to achieve:
I think the writer tells a story to save his life, to experience his life in the fullest. A good rock song is three minutes of bliss and compressed living — that's why you can get so excited in such a short period of time. But also, your motivation is to keep yourself afloat. It's that life-or-death hunger, that was what I wanted my characters to be about. I wanted them to be chasing, it's what I wanted to communicate to my audience — that life awaits you, but taking it is a rough-and-tumble business.
This article originally appeared on Billboard.com.