The new podcast from Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen is Renegades: Born in the USA. It’s available on Spotify and is sponsored in this country by Starbucks. So much for renegades and sticking it to the man.
The eight-part series from two “long-time friends” is a sit-down at Springsteen’s home studio on the grounds of his New Jersey ranch. Topics to be covered include race, fatherhood, marriage and the “state of America.” The first two episodes are now available.
Perhaps the “Renegades” title scored well among focus groups, but that’s not what these guys really are. Politician Obama is a Harvard-educated Democrat who wouldn’t be counted as a progressive compared with others in his party today. Springsteen is a major-label rock star who just made a Super Bowl television commercial for Jeep – a church-y ad quickly pulled after news of the singer’s recent DWI arrest surfaced.
The first episode is titled “Outsiders: An Unlikely Friendship,” and that’s what Obama and Springsteen were growing up: outsiders. Over the course of a compelling enough 55 minutes, a case is made that America is a nation of outsiders – misfits, pioneers, strivers and crusaders of different origins.
As a team, the Boss and the former president work well. Obama keeps the outsider narrative moving, with the chat dwelling on their upbringings and race. Springsteen laughs a lot, but gets serious when the discussion turns to the racial strife described in his anti-nostalgia song My Hometown, with the lyrics, “In ’65, tension was running high, at my high school.”
Springsteen: “There’s a generational element to the song. The song is set with a boy sitting on his father’s lap and his father is saying, ‘This is your hometown, and everything in it.’ "
Obama: “Good and bad.”
Springsteen: “That’s right. You are a part of the general flow of history and, as such, what is happening and what has happened is partly your responsibility. You are tied in history to the good and the bad things that have happened, not just in our little town but to our country, as an active player in this moment in time. You have some power to accumulate these things and perhaps do something about them in some small way. I still love to sing the song today.”
He softly sings it on the podcast with an acoustic guitar, his narration threading in and out as he plays. Springsteen is deep into the monologue mode of his memoir, his one-man Broadway play, his recent music documentaries and his Jeep commercial.
Staying with race relations, the former president uses a passage from Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing to illustrate the dichotomy involved in the way Black people are simultaneously humiliated and celebrated in the United States. “There’s this notion that Black folks are the other,” Obama explains. “They are demeaned, they are discriminated against, looked down upon. And yet, the [white] culture is constantly appropriating and regurgitating and processing the style that arises out of being an outsider, and knowing the blues and having suffered these scars.”
The episode closes with Obama revisiting the 2015 speech he gave as president in Selma, Ala., in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery marches. “We’re the inventors of gospel and jazz and blues, bluegrass and country, and hip-hop and rock and roll, and our very own sound with all the sweet sorrow and reckless joy of freedom,” he reads.
It’s an intriguing conversation – part speechifying, part shooting the breeze. When Obama finishes talking about everything America owes to Black arts and culture, Springsteen, perhaps feeling more like an outsider at the end of the episode than he did at the beginning, can only say one thing: “Amen.”
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