Obama and Springsteen: partners in podcast find common ground

Good friends former President Barack Obama and musician Bruce Springsteen, recorded a podcast about growing up in America. PHOTO COURTESY OF ROB DEMARTIN

Zoe Binder

Staff Writer

After a year of immense division, physical isolation, and social strife, a reminder of our shared humanity is a breath of fresh air. In their new podcast, “Renegades: Born in the USA,” former President Barack Obama and musician Bruce Springsteen talk about defining moments in their lives and in the country. The podcast is set to have six weekly episodes documenting conversations recorded at Springsteen’s home studio in Colts Neck, New Jersey.

“In our own ways, Bruce and I have been on parallel journeys,” Obama said as he introduced the podcast. The first two episodes established the connection between Obama and Springsteen, both before and after they met. “The reason you have so desperately pursued your work and your language and your voice is because you haven’t had one,” Springsteen said on becoming a musician. He was born and raised in the small town of Freehold, New Jersey by his mother, who was the main breadwinner in the family. His father had schizophrenia, and his conservative Irish grandparents were his opposites. “It wasn’t until I discovered music and found a way to process my own identity … that I began to feel at home where I lived,” Springsteen said.

Obama, in contrast, was brought up in Honolulu, Hawaii by his mother, a Kansas native, and his Kenyan father. “There was visible proof that I wasn’t like anybody else,” Obama said. He said he was surrounded by people who looked nothing like him growing up and that the only reassurance he had about his identity was from his mother. “She infused me with a basic sense of who I was and why I was blessed to have this beautiful brown skin that I have,” he said.

Springsteen and Obama met on the former president’s 2008 campaign trail and slowly developed an admiring friendship connected by their sense of displacement in their hometowns, and their visions for America. “We still share a fundamental belief in the American ideal,” Obama said of that connection. 

Because of Springsteen’s presence, the podcast contains music to go along with its conversations. In the first episode, Springsteen plays a segment of his song, “My Hometown,” while comparing the racial tensions he experienced in Freehold in the late 60s and what he sees today. “You couldn’t be a teenager in the 60s and not be aware that race was the fundamental issue of the day,” he said. “I don’t think it’s ever been more essential a subject as it is at this very moment.”

“You are tied historically to the good and the bad things that have happened not just in our little town but in our country,” Springsteen said on the meaning behind the song. 

Obama weighed in on that notion. “That kind of reckoning can be uncomfortable, even. Or maybe especially when it’s with the people we love,” he said. “What’s hardest is not dealing with a Klansman … what cuts is people who you know aren’t bad people.”

As their discussion unfolds in the coming four episodes of the podcast, Obama and Springsteen are set to uncover more about the future of the U.S. “I believe in the upward forward trajectory of humankind … but I do not believe that it is a straight and steady line,” Obama said. 

The New York Times called the podcast “a searching, high-minded discussion of life in the United States from two masters of the form.” As icons of American culture, Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen both represent patriotic hope for the progressive future of the country.

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