He will forever remembered for that famous sentence: “I saw the future of rock ‘n’ roll...”. But Jon Landau is much more than the one who took Bruce Springsteen’s career out of a jam, producing his third album, “Born to run”. He’s much more than his manager – a position he’s been holding for 40 years. He’s much more than a friend. He’s all that, of course.
“So what it is that you do for Bruce?”, we ask him. His contagious laughter erupts over the phone – we reached him in his house a few days before the European leg of Springsteen’s tour. And he simply explains: “I’m the executor of Bruce’s vision”.
He's the evangelist of Bruce Springsteen's word: just listen to him and you'll surely go to listen to some of Springsteen's music... or find yourself longing for a concert. Even if you never liked him or his music.
Here’s our interview, mainly focused on the backstage of the current tour. But Landau also confirmed that, sooner or later, reissues of old records will be out. And he told us about that time, not so long ago, when he was fired by his Boss…
Bruce Springsteen is a touring machine. But this time it looks that the “Wrecking ball” tour will be his most successful ever. Is it a correct guess?
By the time we’ll be done, it will be Bruce’s most successful tour, yes. We expected to have great success especially in Europe. The shows that we did last summer were so terrific and successful that we decided for an unusual comeback for the second time this summer. The idea was that, except for a few classic Bruce cities like Milan, we tried to play cities we had not played in a while, al through the continent. We wanted to play in fresh places.
How has the show evolved from last year, from your point of view?
It’s always a question of the songs. Bruce, as you all know, keeps moving the setlists, getting in different version of the songs. The way he keeps changing the setlists keeps the show very fresh and moving forward. In Australia he started to do a song called “High hopes” that he didn’t write himself. It came to his mind, he worked it up in a reharsal and suddenly it became... boom! I’m sure he’ll be doing it in Europe as well. I don’t think I can generalize and say it’s a totally different thing, but it’s very fresh. If you were a fan who saw the tour last summer and were to come this summer, you’ll feel something you’ve seen something different.
We are used to think that a Springsteen show is a straightforward, in-your-face experience. But there’s a lot of work to give the audience that experience…
There’s a world underneath the stage. That’s our stage, we bring it working with local promoters, such as Italy’s Claudio Trotta. Underneath the stage there’s a world of carpenters, roadies, technical people working there. There’s Bruce’s guitar tech, Kevin Buell, who’s right at the bottom of the stairs: there are twelve steps to enter the stage, and he’s watching Bruce all the time, he has the next guitar ready to go, he’s the fella Bruce throws his guitar to during the shows and he has to catch it. .
What is Bruce’s input in designing the stage?
Everything you see on at a Bruce show, on and underneath the stage, was helped in design and approved by him. It’s the way he wants him to be. We have a lighting director, a sound director a production director: they all work together under Bruce’s supervision to bring what he wants. When you look at the stage, that’s exactly the way he wants it.
What ideas did you all focus on, in designing this tour’s stage?
Our tour director, George Travis - who’s been with us since 1977 - is the great creator. Our approach to light, video, sound and stage is this: everything we do, we want to make it so that you can see and hear Bruce better. Our screens are the better ones around. Some people use them to show video material and special effects. On our shows you see Bruce and the band. We feel people came to see Bruce and we want to use the so that people can feel right in touch with him.
So what is it that you do for him?
I’m the manager! (laughs). I’m the executor of Bruce’s vision. Whatever Bruce tells me that he wants, I make sure our team gets it together. I’m consulting with him, giving him my ideas, having a dialogue with him about all things creative: the songs, the shows, and so on... I have great work.
We once interviewed another rock manager, who told us he has to be there so that his artists feel at ease: someone’s taking care of everything, and they can focus on the music. Is that same for you and Bruce?
Well, I’m not at every show... we worked together for forty years, I worked as record producer, as a manager. We’re very close friends. I thinks he counts on me to make sure that everything is the way it should be so that he can do his job, which is doing the greatest concert he can do. My Job is to assist him in that mission.
Somewhere, around the end of the ‘90s, Bruce shifted gear, passing from a slow pace of tour and releases to a much intense one. Did you see it coming?
I didn’t see it coming. We put the band back together in 1999 for what people called the reunion tour - we never called it that way. What happened is we had a great time, Bruce loved that tour. The ten years without the E Street Band... they stayed friends over the years, but when they reconnected, everything was better, more relaxed. And everybody, including me and Bruce, was serious and focused on the music. We had “Tracks”, the boxset with unreleased material. Then we had “The rising”, one of Bruce’s greatest albums, and of course we toured it. Then we had “Devils and Dust” and he did an acoustic tour, and then "Magic"... the creativity has been there and everybody had the energy to go forward. He’s just loving playing for his audience, at this point. .
A part of Bruce’s work has been devoted to important reissues, such as the “Born tor run” and the “Darkness on the edge of town”/”The promise” one. Do you see something like that coming for “The river” and “Nebraska”?
Bruce was totally into those project, especially in “The Promise”. We were very proud of the product, thanks to the collaboration with such great guys as director Thom Zimny. I think each one has to have a different approach and we work on this things when we have time. I think eventually, yes, there will be something, but we don’t have a timetable. We’re not close to ready to put out anything like that out. We'll do it when we'll do it and when they’re ready to go we put them out. .
At a certain point, some years ago, you began joining the band, playing guitar in encores. Will we see you again on the stage with Bruce?
Here’s what happened. After I did that, Bruce said: ‘Jon, when you feel like, come up on the stage anytime during the encores’ So I was doing that from time to time. One night Bruce called me aside and said: ‘Jon why don’t we give that a rest?’ ‘You mean I’m fired from the stage’ He smiled at me and said ‘Yeah’. ‘But can I keep my regular job as a manager?’ he said ‘Definitely’. ‘Ok that’s fine’.
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