Bruce Springsteen Reveals How Scorsese, Obama Inspired Broadway Show

Bruce Springsteen and Martin Scorsese-Getty-H 2019
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The legendary musician and filmmaker kicked off the opening night of Netflix's FYSee event with a wide-ranging conversation about everything from filmmaking to Catholic school.

Much like another Broadway blockbuster, Springsteen on Broadway — Bruce Springsteen's one-man show that featured the legendary singer telling his life story through spoken-word pieces and his own music — has its origins in the Obama White House.

Lin-Manuel Miranda famously delivered an early version of what would become the opening number to Hamilton during a night featuring poets and musicians at the White House in 2009, and it was a performance for President Barack Obama during the final weeks of his presidency that served as the inspiration for Springsteen on Broadway.

"I had written a memoir. And I said, 'Well, maybe I'll read from the book a little bit, and I'll play a few songs,'" Springsteen on Sunday night told the crowd at Netflix's first FYSee event of Emmy season, which was moderated by none other than Martin Scorsese. "And so then when I went to read from the book, I realized that reading something is different than the way you speak it. So I rewrote what I was going to say as a spoken-word piece. I went down and I played about 90 minutes of what became the Broadway show in the East Room. And [there was] just some alchemy there that felt really right. We did the Broadway play, then when we went to do the film, it was a little bit like, 'Oh, the play was good. So let's try and not fuck it up."

Sunday's event was the first of more than 30 panels and conversations the streamer will host over the next month as Emmy season kicks into full gear. Springsteen has won Grammys, Golden Globes, an Oscar and a Tony (for Springsteen on Broadway) and is looking to nab an "E" to complete his EGOT.

Scorsese and Springsteen — who, incidentally, released their respective critically acclaimed works Mean Streets and Greetings Grom Asbury Park, N.J. in the same year, 1973 — bonded over their Catholic upbringings, artistic challenges and how the Netflix film, which was released worldwide on the Broadway show's closing night, came about.

Initially, Springsteen and director Thom Zimny weren't sure the Springsteen on Broadway film should be shot with an audience, but the singer-songwriter pushed for at least "half an audience" so there would at least be people there to laugh at his jokes.

"We had the audience, but we didn't want to telegraph to the viewer what you're supposed to feel," said Springsteen.

In a way, he said, that approach to the audience was similar to Scorsese's The Last Waltz, in which the filmmaker documented the last concert by rock group The Band in 1976.

"Last Waltz was started as kind of an experiment in a way," the filmmaker said. "I said, if I do this, we have seen enough of the audience in Woodstock. I was there. You know? We have seen enough of the audience responding to Carlos Santana, which, you know, was very nice, but seen enough. ... What if we just stay on the stage? What's it like to be part of the band was the idea, and how do they work together and create one thing out of the band? What's that language that they speak?"

Speaking of bands, Springsteen revealed that he has written a new album for his longtime collaborators The E Street Band — and he plans to tour again with them.

"About a month or so ago, I wrote almost an hour's worth of material for the band," he confirmed. "And it came out of just — I mean, I know where it came from. But at the same time, it just came out of almost nowhere. And it was good. I had about two weeks of those little daily visitations and it was so nice. It makes you so happy you go, 'I'm not fucked! All right! There'll be another tour.'"

Springsteen is never shy in speaking to his audiences while on tour, but in the Broadway show, he wrote monologues to deliver so that audiences could see the songs they're so familiar with in a new light. The monologues are central to Springsteen on Broadway, he said.

"It's like, comedians talk about rhythm. Good monologue is you got to have rhythmic speech. And you've got to have some sense of inner rhythm that, once again, allows your audience in, makes your thoughts and your emotions available," said Springsteen. "And so the monologue sections in the film ... they were the essential part of the show. I use the songs to punctuate the story I just told you."

He continued, "People have heard these songs before, so how am I going to give them renewed meaning? And I said, 'Well, if I contextualize them through the stories I'm telling so that people have a renewed vision into how they were written and what they were about—' And hopefully, each story brought you to the beginning of the song, and suddenly you're able to hear that song. ... When you get that right, it's meditative. It's a meditative experience."

Springsteen closed the panel with a performance for the crowd — the small room mimicking the intimate atmosphere of the Broadway show, complete with standing ovations and a few "Bruuuce" chants — of "Dancing in the Dark" and "Land of Hope and Dreams."

Following the panel, the crowd was able to visit the FYSee exhibition space, which Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos called a "living, breathing, Instagram museum" and featured photo-ready installments for all of Netflix's Emmy contenders — from critically acclaimed new series (Russian Doll, Bodyguard) and returning favorites (Ozark, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) to unscripted hits (Queer Eye, Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes).