Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
  2. TV & Radio
10 March 2021

Bored in the USA: Bruce Springsteen and Barack Obama’s new podcast is hair-tearingly dull

By Kate Mossman

Barack Obama, one volume into his epic memoir, is busy trying to shape his legacy. Bruce Springsteen has been spinning away at his own with increasing intensity for half a decade: recent music videos set him against a wild American landscape, like a cowboy (sometimes he even rides a horse). The pair met in 2008, during Obama’s presidential campaign, when Springsteen played a show for him in Ohio, and they recorded this podcast in a barn on the musician’s ranch in New Jersey last year. Obama’s sing-song voice would lull your baby to sleep; Springsteen’s is wildly old and croaky these days, like Pa Joad from a Grapes of Wrath audiobook.

“On the face of it, Bruce and I don’t have much in common,” lilts Obama. But they do, and that’s the problem: Renegades – what a title – is basically two blokes in awe of each other agreeing about everything. It is fascinating on paper, but hair-tearingly dull in practice: a bland value amalgamation exercise centred on discussion of the American ideal. No texture or friction at all. How good it could have been!

[see also: A new podcast promises to provide insight into ­Gen Z life – but proves an infuriating, outdated listen]

Three episodes in, the subjects are music, race and outsiderdom. Springsteen and Obama are both outsiders, they say, and seem to compete to be the biggest: Barack with his lineage, Bruce with his “emotional displacement”. Though he’s generally seen as a mouthpiece for the US white working class, Springsteen has a lot to say about race relations, too: his high school was “a microcosm of the 1968 race riots”. He has lived through every American experience ever, it seems, and he sends them out in bubbles of poetic self-reflection. He wins the podcast, while Obama basically interviews him.

It is strange hearing the former president’s language fall flat: at one point, he calls music “a mirror into the fault lines of American society”. He is arrestingly eloquent when describing the time he sang “Amazing Grace” at the funeral of the Reverend Clementa Pinckney, killed in the 2015 Charleston Church shootings, and the failed gun reforms that nearly made him lose faith in the US. But that’s because he’s talking as a statesman for a moment, and not as a fan of Bruce Springsteen.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. Your new guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture each weekend - from the New Statesman. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

Renegades: Bruce Springsteen and Barack Obama 

Content from our partners
How to navigate the modern cyber-threat landscape
Supporting customers through the cost of living crisis
Data on cloud will change the way you interact with the government

Topics in this article :

This article appears in the 10 Mar 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Grief nation