Musician Bruce Springsteen and former President Barack Obama team up in a new, moving episode of the “Renegades: Born in USA” podcast called “Amazing Grace: American Music.”
I know what everybody is thinking: why in the world would Obama and Springsteen team up to make a podcast? How do they know one another? What are their ties? From this episode, it is clear that they both have a love for music, America and how the mixture of the two can bring unity in some of the darkest of times.
This podcast was so wholesome and casual. It was as if Springsteen and Obama went out to lunch together and reminisced on their lives.
They began with talking about their early music influences. Both figures had very different tastes. Obama’s first record he bought was “Talking Book” by Stevie Wonder, while Springsteen’s early influences had been folk music and honky tonk. However, there was some intersectionality between the two.
In fact, Obama wanted to emphasize that American music is so diverse because it represents those in America. He said, “our music has often been a mirror into the fault lines of our American society.”
During Obama’s presidency, he would do different music series evenings including Motown, country, Broadway tunes, fiesta Latina and gospel. “Part of what we would do is draw musicians from various traditions to be a part of something that wasn't traditionally something they played. [This is to] emphasize and underscore how all these traditions, in fact, do blend together once you start breaking down categories that we carry around in our heads,” Obama said.
For Springsteen, it took him longer to realize the important relationship between music and society. He needed to get his feet on the ground before anything. “For me it was both simple and complicated. One, [music] was the only thing I deeply desired to do. Two, it was an essential element in building an identity as a man, as an American, as a human being,” Springsteen said.
However, he felt a void that rock and roll failed to fill. He said to himself, “Where is a music of hope?” He was able to draw inspiration from artists like Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, who “were spelling out the hard world that you lived in, but they were also providing, somehow, with some transcendence and some actionable solutions to societal and your own personal problems. I was interested in giving a voice to both myself and folks of my community,” Springsteen said.
In 1980, he started playing “This Land is Your Land” and “Born in the USA,” and he felt that a purpose was being fulfilled. “That’s how I put all my pieces together,” Springsteen said.
In the duration of the podcast, there were many accompanying audios of the music they were talking about. Springsteen’s version of “This Land is Your Land” was really good, and the only version I’ve heard where the song could stand apart from elementary school choir concerts.
Obama has even taken a crack at singing. “I am unembarrassed about singing. I have been known to be scolded by my staff for doing some air guitar stuff,” Obama said.
It was news for me to hear that Obama sanf at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, imitating Al Green after Al Green left the stage. In all fun and games, Obama is able to unapologetically spread the joy of song, but he is also able to address difficult situations with music. “The closest I ever came to losing hope for this country was probably after efforts for modest gun safety laws were defeated, after 20 children [from Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown] had been slaughtered,” Obama said.
When he got word that the families told the shooter that they forgave the guy who took their family members away, Obama was inspired. In his eulogy he said, “If we can tap that grace, everything can change. Amazing Grace. Amazing Grace.” Then he began to sing “Amazing Grace.”
“It met the moment because not only is it a beautiful song, but it also captures this unifying element in America represented in its music,” Obama said. “Even in a tragedy like this, there is something that is there for all of us. Something that we share.”
This episode was important because it highlights that although are differences are many, there is still a way for all Americans to come together. That’s what America is supposed to be about after all, right?
“Renegades” is available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.