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Sunday, May 9, 2021

Springsteen: ‘I live in the present moment.’

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Bruce Springsteen has a theory about people who live too much in the past: They lose their respect for it.

Mr. Springsteen, 67, is not one of those people. “I live in the present moment,” he said.

The interview took place before he launched an hourlong solo acoustic tour through Texas this week, an event capped off by a 6 p.m. performance on Thursday at the Dallas Convention Center. There was no set list, just Mr. Springsteen’s iconic concert album, “Born to Run,” and the performance itself, a full-on edition of his music-making process. As his faithful flock slowly filed out of the venue to catch the last of the intimate shows across the Lone Star State, Mr. Springsteen came onstage, stared down the rows of head-bobbing fans, and calmly looked into their faces. He gave them a kiss and then commented, “I don’t know who gave you this box of tissues.”

“It’s nice to come out and just connect on our own terms,” he said.

The concert comes on the heels of his new autobiography, “Born to Run,” and the 2017 movie, “Springsteen on Broadway.” Both of which chronicled his work as a bandleader, his love life, and his fight with substance abuse.

What is that “impossible balance” Mr. Springsteen has been trying to achieve for decades — both in the music business and in life? “Can’t get too far in the past, and can’t get too far in the future,” he said.

Mr. Springsteen has a reputation for being talkative, but he was all business as he paced the stage during the show’s two breaks. After playing three tunes from his 1992 album, “The River,” he said, “Well, I don’t think anyone has any problem with that.” (By the end of the show, he’d slyly referenced the album when he called for “Exile on Main Street”; the crowd gave him a round of applause.)

Mr. Springsteen’s musical legacy is built on the virtuosity and restraint he used in the 1980s and early 1990s, when, despite being in one of the world’s top-selling acts, he turned away from mass success and focused on playing to his diehard fans. It was then that he focused on songs that were able to last, songs that one could play over and over, songs like “Hungry Heart” and “Dancing in the Dark,” written in the wake of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

It’s not like Mr. Springsteen — a Grammy Award-winning master of patience and nuance — never had a hit. He penned some of the most popular songs of his generation, including “Streets of Philadelphia,” “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” and “Thunder Road.” But in 1995, after “The River” album peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, he headed into one of the least commercial years of his career, during which he recorded few of his classic works, and he recorded a series of track-for-track compilations, often stripped down to only acoustic guitar and vocals.

“I think he is kind of stalling,” Mark Bitterman, vice president and country music editor of Rolling Stone, told Billboard. “His attempt at doing something that has longevity, and what he is known for — top 40 commercial hits — is not going to cut it now.”

It is also hard to tell what that Top 40 commercial success might look like. Because these days, it’s hard to tell what, exactly, a Bruce Springsteen hit would be anymore.

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