My issues weren’t as obvious as drugs, Mine were different, they were quieter—just as problematic, but quieter. With all artists, because of the undertow of history and self-loathing, there is a tremendous push toward self-obliteration that occurs onstage. It’s both things: there’s a tremendous finding of the self while also an abandonment of the self at the same time. You are free of yourself for those hours; all the voices in your head are gone. Just gone. There’s no room for them. There’s one voice, the voice you’re speaking in.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.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.