The excitement in the room was contagious as fans filled the Beacon Theatre in New York City on Friday evening to watch legendary actor Tom Hanks interview legendary singer-songwriter Bruce Springsteen for Tribeca Talks: Storytellers.
The crowd, made up of mostly middle-aged men and women, sipped on some cold beers and took photos of the empty stage, capturing the seats in which Tom and Bruce would soon to be sitting. A few minutes before showtime, former first daughter Malia Obama, alongside a friend, found her seat in the orchestra section. Then, Hanks’ wife, Rita Wilson, and Springsteen’s wife and bandmate, Patti Scialfa, walked in together with people screaming, “Patti! Woo, Patti!” She waved to the crowd as she found her seat while Wilson and Gayle King stopped to say hello and check in on Malia.
Showtime was fast approaching.
And, soon enough, Hanks and Springsteen were introduced to stage and the crowd went wild. “BRUUUUUCCCEEE,” fans chanted, as they do at every one of his shows. Of course, Hanks made a joke about how he doesn’t understand why we “boo” The Boss, before leaping into a discussion on director Jonathan Demme and his recent death to cancer.
“The strongest union of our two names is from the motion picture ‘Philadelphia,’ Hanks, who won a Best Actor Oscar for his role in the Demme-directed 1993 film about a man with AIDS, said. “God bless Jonathan Demme. We just lost him.”
Springsteen also won an Academy Award for the movie for his work on the song “Streets of Philadelphia.”
“I had some lyrics and, eventually, I just came up with that tiny little beat and the track. I figured it wasn’t what [Demme] wanted, [but] I sent it to him anyway. He sent me that opening piece of film where the camera moves slowly through Philly and I said, ‘What do you think?’ And he says, ‘Great.’ And that was it,” Springsteen explained. “Took about two days.”
Hanks chimed in, “If you ever want to have a great moment in a motion picture, walk out the door and make sure they put on a Bruce Springsteen song.” The audience cheered yet again.
Throughout the conversation, Hanks would weave in Springsteen lyrics ― like “My machine, she’s a dud / out stuck in the mud” ― and then request the crowd play a game of “call and response” to finish the phrase ― like “Somewhere in the swamps of Jersey.” Let’s just say true, hardcore Springsteeners were in the building.
Hanks spent the next 50 minutes or so chatting with Springsteen about a lot of what was mentioned in his recent memoir ― everything from his humble beginnings to meeting with Clive Davis and the success of the “cinematic” “Born to Run.” But what really struck a chord was Springsteen’s take on living your life and not letting it pass you by.
We make our own little worlds. They can change the way you approach your own life, but they can’t give you a life. Bruce Springsteen to Tom Hanks
“All artists at some point believe they can live within their art. What you learn, either quickly or painfully and slowly — what you learn is it’s just your job,” he said. “You get outside of those things in music. We make our own little worlds. They can change the way you approach your own life, but they can’t give you a life. That took me a long time to learn that lesson. Thanks Patti,” he added of his wife, “It was a tremendous struggle to me.”
Springsteen spoke about making his “own little worlds” within his music, explaining that writing lyrics is all about storytelling.
“Basically, you tell a story to save your life,” he said. “When I was very young, I felt like I was drowning. You are not living. A writer tells a story to save his life. Three minutes of bliss and compressed living, that’s why you can get so excited in such a short period of time. It was that life or death hunger. That is what I wanted my characters to be about. Life awaits you, but taking it is a rough and tumble business.”
As for Hanks' interpretation of all this, the actor put it simply when describing what Bruce, and his concerts, mean to his fans.
“We will follow you into hell, sir.”