Bruce Springsteen, who is joining other musicians in a series of concerts aimed at raising money to defeat President Bush in the November election, spoke to Nightline's Ted Koppel about politics, music, and when the two intersect. Following are excerpts from the interview, conducted at the singer's home in New Jersey.
For the full interview, watch Nightline tonight at 11:35 p.m. ET.
TED KOPPEL: Bruce, let me put it very bluntly ... Who the hell is Bruce Springsteen to tell anybody how to vote?
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: This is my favorite question.
KOPPEL: I thought it would be.
SPRINGSTEEN: First of all, I don't even tell anybody anything. You know, you ask people to think about things together, you know.
Second of all, it's an interesting question that seems to only be asked of musicians and artists, for some reason, you know. If you're a lobbyist in Washington, you're a business guy. Well, shut up and do business. Stay out of public policy, you know. Nobody complains about that. These big corporations, right, you influence the government your way, right? Labor unions influence the government their way. Farmers influence the government their way, right?
Artists write, and sing, and think, and this is how we get to put our two cents in, and we do it right in front of people, not in secret meetings behind closed doors. We let people know what we think….
I don't know if people go to musicians for their politics. I doubt that they do, you know, but you can rally people to think on serious issues together, and that's what we're trying to do.
KOPPEL: This is clearly not the way you felt most of your professional life. Most of your professional life you have very carefully — you've spoken out about a lot of issues …. But you've never gone partisan on us, at least not that, not that I was aware of.
SPRINGSTEEN: Well, I've always felt I was partisan to a set of ideals, and that was my job, you know, whether it was economic justice, transparent government, how do we treat our weakest citizens, say, in foreign policy, when did we decide that it's all right to risk the lives of our very bravest young men and women? You know, I've written about these things for 25 years.
I stayed a step away from partisan politics because I felt it was always important to have an independent voice. I wanted my fans to feel like they could trust that ….
You build up credibility, and you build it up for a reason, you know, over a long period of time, and hopefully we've built up that credibility with our audience. And I have an audience that's Democrats, Republicans and everything else, you know. And I think there comes a time when you feel, all right, I've built this up, and it's time to spend some of this.
And I think it's one of the most critical elections of my adult life, certainly. Very basic questions of American identity are at issue: who we are, what do we stand for, when do we fight ....
I want to say basically I feel that, as a nation over the past four years, we've drifted away from I think very mainstream American values. I think that in the question having large tax cuts for the richest one percent. Hey, that's great, you know [for] corporate bigwigs, wealthy, well-to-do guitar players, but we've also watched services get cut, after-school programs for people that need it the most, we've watched rollback on environmental regulations, and a foreign policy that I think put at risk the lives of the very bravest young men and women under what ended up to be discredited circumstances.
What I do believe is I believe that John Kerry and John Edwards — I don't think they have all the answers, but right now for the problems we have, I haven't seen anybody who does ….
KOPPEL: I want to know whether you think this is going to hurt you …. It's a lot of concerts, a lot of cities. And to put it bluntly — it's a late night broadcast — you're going to piss a lot of people off.
SPRINGSTEEN: Oh, yeah.
SPRINGSTEEN: That's for sure. We who are about to be lambasted, salute you, you know?
KOPPEL: Is it going to hit you hard? ...
SPRINGSTEEN: ... I think you have a bond with your audience, and it's very particular because you've put your fingerprints on their imagination. It's really intimate. We've done it for a long time ….
I think for a percentage of my audience, this may feel like a severance of that bond, you know. But basically I feel like the relationship is more complicated than that, you know, that we're one, but we're not the same, you know ….
Basically, I would hope that I'm going to clarify some of the things that I stand for, and that clarification enriches my relationship with all parts of my life. I welcome everybody to our show, and I would always want everybody to feel, you know, to always feel welcome.