In addition to being America’s only rock ’n’ roll magazine, CREEM happens to be the world’s best rock ’n’ roll magazine—and, it could be argued, the world’s most masturbatory. Because we like ourselves a little too much, every now and again, we’re going to review past CREEM pieces in a series called CREEMAINS. Expect the most deliciously spoiled CREEM, like our take on Lester Bangs’ 1972 review of the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St., or here, in our conversation with Robert Duncan about his Springsteen profile. Lap it up! And check out more from the CREEM archive, here.
It’s 1975. CREEM writer and managing editor Robert Duncan is sitting with a very green Bruce Springsteen in a dusty Detroit dive bar, fresh from the release of Born to Run and on the eve of superstardom. Duncan loves Springsteen. He wants to believe the songwriter’s rough and tumble exterior isn’t some hokey schtick, but he’s not so sure yet. Ultimately, in his January 1976 CREEM feature “Bruce Springsteen is Not God (And Doesn’t Want to Be),” Duncan makes the assessment that the guy is the real deal. They develop a warm friendship and mutual respect. But a lot has changed.
In the decades since, Springsteen’s working class hero image has had to move and shake parallel to business dealings that have made him exorbitantly successful, most recently a $550 million deal with Sony Music for his entire catalog and the now infamous Ticketmaster debacle that had platinum Springsteen tickets go for $5,000 a pop. In light of this, a CREEM writer of a new generation (me) wrestles with her own suspicions about Springsteen’s image of authenticity.
What do you do when your adoring public now worships you as the deity you purportedly never wanted to be? And moreover, what do you do when they can't afford the price of admission? Duncan graciously sat down with (new) CREEM to unpack what it means to be a rock ‘n’ roll king, artistic authenticity, and his belief that Bruce is, and always was, a righteous man. Because in the end, faith is the true marker of divinity. Desired or otherwise.
CREEM: What made you want to profile Springsteen?
ROBERT DUNCAN: The headline, as I recall, “Bruce Springsteen is Not God (And Doesn’t Want to Be),” was just a riff on the Lester [Bangs] piece, the cover story, “John Denver is God.” Lester had a piece laying around for a long time. People would talk about it in the office and I said, “Look Lester, give me that piece. Let me see what it is.” It was unreadable and unpublishable, and it was also, you know, like 80 pages long. Probably took him like a day and a half to write. But when I looked at it, I thought, “Oh, forget them. If you just took out these 40 pages, you could have a long but pretty cogent piece.” And then I had this Bruce Springsteen piece. Why did I decide to write it? I think just the opportunity came up. I had met him on his Born to Run tour, I guess it was, and we had met in Detroit and had a good time. I think their management cooked it up. They're pretty tight—like, you don't call up and throw out an idea, “Hey, I want to play bocce ball with Bruce Springsteen.” They do what they want to do. I was managing editor at the time. And at the time, I really liked to drink a lot. I still like to drink, but Bruce is not a drinker. So half the time I was just shit-faced and and carrying on, and I had a much readier companion in [Springsteen’s E Street Band saxophonist] Clarence Clemons. I remember spending a whole night raising hell in Detroit with Clarence after Bruce had gone off to bed.
I was a pretty young writer; I was maybe 22. I hadn't written a lot of stuff and in the end, I thought, “Wow, this is the best thing I ever wrote,” you know? And he was a great interview. I’ve interviewed a million people at this point, but you know, so many of them were so fucked up on drugs that it was just wasn't fun. It was just boring. Now I say that after talking about me and myself drinking, I'm not judging them. It was just like, when you're talking to, you know, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, and they can barely keep their eyes open. You’re like, “Okay, this sucks.” I used to throw away interviews because it was so boring. But he was really thoughtful and had some funny anecdotes.
The interview took place in a weird liminal space, right before he was on the cover of Newsweek and Time, but after Born to Run had come out. He hadn't completely become a superstar yet, but he was right on the precipice.
I remember. The night ended with me leaving the hotel where Clarence was; the hotel manager came up because Clarence and I were playing football in his room. He used to be a football player and we were, you know, fighting and carrying on in his room, and the guy came and knocked on the door, like, “Fuck you guys, it's five in the morning.” I remember leaving the hotel, and trying to find my car in downtown Detroit [that I had] parked on the street somewhere. I remember walking around a really long time trying to find my car, which is probably a good thing.