Bruce Springsteen: black dog of depression 'still jumps up and bites me'

Bruce Springsteen on Stage

Bruce Springsteen’s struggle with depression has taken him to the brink of despair, the singer will tell Kirsty Young before she leaves him to fend for himself with only eight records for company on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs.

“It is something that has been a part of my life,” Springsteen told Young for the show to be broadcast on Sunday. “It is usually OK, but like Churchill’s ‘black dog’, it still jumps up and bites you in the arse sometimes.”

The 67-year-old, who has won 20 Grammy awards over his 50-year career, said that among the useful skills he had developed to handle his crippling bouts of depression, acknowledging, or “naming”, the feelings helped him most. By recognising he was experiencing a temporary “chemical imbalance”, he could avoid blaming something else, he said.

His wife, the singer Patti Scialfa, also helped him, Springsteen said, as did the right dose of medication.

In a candid interview which celebrated the singer’s victory over sporadic mental illness and the power of music in his life, the “bard of blue-collar America”, as Young called him, also made his selection of eight discs that have influenced his life.

Choosing the 1964 Beatles single I Want to Hold Your Hand, Springsteen said that hearing the harmonies in this otherwise raucous hit in his youth prompted him to go back to learning the guitar.

The other tracks he chose were, by his own admission, “not an unusual grouping of songs”, but simply the music that electrified him. The Rolling Stones It’s All Over Now was among the selection.

Springsteen told Young about the central part the Roman Catholic church had played in his New Jersey childhood and of the “endless optimism” of his mother, Adele, and her three Italian-American sisters.

His relationship with his “gruff” father, he said, was much more difficult. “The qualities he had on the inside were the things I had on the outside, so I reminded him of his frailty,” said Springsteen, trying to describe the “terrible cross-current of emotion” between them.

He told Young that he still metaphorically “puts on his father’s clothes” to perform, in search of a certain kind of transcendence on stage. “The performers who we think are wrestling with something significant are the ones that hold our attention,” he said.

Picking out a single book for his desert island stay was difficult, Springsteen said. He was a fan of John Cheever, Philip Roth and “all the Russian guys”. In the end he plumped for Joe Klein’s Woody Guthrie: a Life, the biography that changed his attitude to what it was possible to do with music.

Springsteen’s luxury for the trip was his guitar and he selected Bob Dylan’s “ageless” song Like a Rolling Stone as his favourite track.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Vanessa Thorpe Arts and media correspondent, for theguardian.com on Sunday 18th December 2016 00.01 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010