Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen Break Down What Sparked Their Friendship

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Photo credit: Elaine Chung
Photo credit: Elaine Chung

When President Barack Obama first approached Bruce Springsteen about starting a podcast together, Springsteen thought to himself, “I’m a high school graduate from Freehold, New Jersey, who plays the guitar… What’s wrong with this picture?”

At the encouragement of his wife, a starstruck Springsteen agreed to host the former president in his New Jersey recording studio for a few days, and the rest is history. Their afternoons in the studio became Renegades, a Spotify podcast consisting of freewheeling conversations about everything from marriage to masculinity to the state of the American experiment. Though the podcast aired just last spring, Obama and Springsteen have now packaged their conversations into a new book called Renegades: Born in the USA. In the oversized book, readers will find transcripts of the podcast, as well as supplemental material, like a selection of Obama’s annotated speeches, Springsteen’s handwritten lyrics, and exclusive photos from their decades-long personal archives. But amid this wealth of material, it’s the brand new introductions to the book and its eight chapters (one for each episode of the podcast) that offer the clearest glimpse into Springsteen and Obama’s enduring bond.

If you’re wondering how an American president and a rock star came to be acquainted, Obama admits that their friendship is an unlikely one. “On the surface, Bruce and I don’t have a lot in common,” Obama writes. “He’s a white guy from a small town in Jersey. I’m a Black guy of mixed race born in Hawaii with a childhood that took me around the world. He’s a rock ‘n roll icon. I’m… not as cool.”

But Obama and Springsteen have more in common than it may seem. “We've got a shared sensibility—about work, about family and about America,” Obama writes. “In our own ways, Bruce and I have been on parallel journeys trying to understand this country that’s given us both so much. Trying to chronicle the stories of its people. Looking for a way to connect our own individual searches for meaning and truth and community with the larger story of America.”

The conversations that went into Renegades: Born in the USA weren’t Obama and Springsteen’s first foray into these hefty subjects. In fact, they go way back to before Obama became the president of the United States. Tracing their relationship back to its beginnings, Springsteen writes, “The president and I had spent some time together since we met on the campaign trail in ‘08. That time included some long, telling conversations. These were the kind of talks where you speak from the heart and walk away with a real understanding of the way your friend thinks and feels. You have a picture of the way he sees himself and his world.”

The sparks flew in both directions. With a nod to The Boss, whom he describes as “a bard of the American experience,” Obama compares their conversations to a song, writing, “Good conversations don’t follow a script. Like a song, they’re full of surprises, improvisations, detours… but the best conversations also have a timeless quality, taking you back into the realm of memory, propelling you forward toward your hopes and dreams. Sharing stories reminds you that you’re not alone—and maybe helps you understand yourself a little bit better.”

If you’d be intimidated to sit down with The Boss and the 44th president, even Springsteen can empathize. He admitted to feeling out of his depth with Obama, but added, “The president is a funny and an easy guy to be around. He’ll go out of his way to make you comfortable, as he did for me so that I might have the confidence to sit across the table from him.”

Luckily, Springsteen was on his home turf. Obama describes the backdrop of their conversations as Springsteen’s 400-acre horse farm in Colts Neck, New Jersey, writing, “Over the course of a few days at the converted farmhouse and property that Bruce shares with his amazing wife, Patti, along with a few horses, a whole bunch of dogs, and a thousand guitars—all just a few miles from where he grew up—we talked.”

Do you dream of scoring an invitation to Springsteen’s Colts Neck compound? Maybe strumming on those guitars, riding horses, riffing on the American experiment in the recording studio? Unless you’re an American president, you’re going to have to get in line. But in between daydreams, pick up Renegades. It’s the closest thing to being a fly on the wall of an incredible friendship.

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