“Did Jersey make you,” Tom Hanks asked Bruce Springsteen at the Beacon Theatre, “or did you make Jersey?”
Of course, to the largely Garden State faithful assembled for the Tribeca Talks: Storytellers event, the answer was simple, and required no more than yet another chorus of “Bruuuuuuuuuuuce.”
“It’s a shame they’re booing you,” Hanks joked, as the actor and musician took the stage.
The conversation, wide-ranging, expansive and enlightening for its hour runtime, continually circled back to the state of Jersey, as any including Bruce Springsteen must. But it began with a different state, in a tribute to late director Jonathan Demme. The filmmaker’s Philadelphia netted both Hanks and Springsteen an Oscar in 1994; the actor for his portrayal of HIV victim Andrew Beckett, the musician for the title song, ‘Streets of Philadelphia.’ “[Demme] was such an inspirational guy,” Springsteen said. “If there’s no Jonathan Demme, there’s no Philadelphia, no ‘Streets of Philadelphia.'”
Demme was so inspiring, in fact, that Springsteen’s title track was forumulated in just two days, the songwriter said, after the director sent him Philadelphia‘s opening footage. “If you ever want to have a great moment in a motion picture,” Hanks said, “walk out a door and make sure they just put up a Bruce Springsteen song.”
The talk covered decades of early-Springsteen, culminating in the E Street Band’s most successful record, Born in the USA, an album that not only does Springsteen still have “mixed feelings” over, but almost didn’t include the song “No Surrender” because the songwriter founds it “too glib.” If you’re a fan of the song thank Steven Van Zandt, who convinced Springsteen to leave it on the track-list.
The most interesting portion of the conversation, ironically, came when Hanks brought up perhaps the world’s least interesting practice, paying your taxes, something that Springsteen admittedly did not do for several decades. “I had never met anyone who was paying taxes — especially not anyone under 25,” the musician said. “So it was the whole state that wasn’t paying taxes.”
A Time Magazine cover and one IRS visit later and Springsteen found himself working to pay off lost time; it took him until 1980, seven years after Greetings From Asbury Park, to be all squared away. “I think I had about $20,000 to my name in 1980,” he said. “Which seemed like a lot of money in my 20’s. But in my 30’s…not so much.”
Hanks and Springsteen ended the evening by going deep on art, what it means, and what it means to make it your living. “You tell a story to save your life,” Springsteen said. He went on to list the emotions art, and music, and film can stir, the excitement a rock song can arouse in just 3 minutes, but concluded that art “can’t give you a life. Life awaits you outside your art. It took me a long time to realize that.”
“Thank you, Patty,” he added for his wife, Patty Scialfa, who was sitting front row.