A good portion of the second episode of Renegades: Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen’s American-born new podcast is dedicated to the late Clarence Clemons (1942-2011), a historic African-American saxophonist who had been part of the E Street Band for nearly 40 years , the group that always followed “Boss”. “There was an idealism in our partnership that I always felt like the public was looking at us and seeing the America they wanted … the America they wanted to see, the America they wanted to believe in,” says Springsteen . “I’ve never written a song that tells a bigger story than the one I lived side by side with Clarence on the thousand and one nights we played together.”
Renegades premiered this Monday and is available exclusively on Spotify. This is the result of the contract between the streaming platform and Higher Ground, the production company founded by Barack and Michelle Obama in 2018. Renegades speaks at length about racism and integration, as well as inequalities in the US today and forever. “At first glance it seems that Bruce and I don’t have much in common,” says Barack at the beginning of the first episode, titled “An Unlikely Friendship”. “He’s a white man from a small town in New Jersey. I am a mixed race black man born in Hawaii with a childhood that took me around the world. He’s a rock icon. I’m a lawyer and a politician – it’s not that cool. “The son of an American mother of European descent and a Kenyan father makes good observations. But the truth is, few will know how to think and debate the United States as the first African American president in the country’s history and the top chronicler of the working class.
“How did we get here?” Asks Obama in the very first section of the podcast after criticizing the mandate of a “presidential successor” who is diametrically opposed to the Democrat. Barack does not mention Trump’s name in this introduction, but blames him for the climate of heightened division and violence the country is currently facing condemns the carelessness with which it has responded to a pandemic that has already seen more than 500,000 people were killed. “How could we find the way back to a more unified American history?” This was the question that guided the talks with Bruce Springsteen. Between July and December, everyone at Springsteen’s New Jersey farm – a property “with a couple of horses, lots of dogs, and a thousand guitars,” Obama describes – talked about what they had learned as teenagers about racism and important lessons that marked the country his professional career. “We found that we still have a fundamental belief in the American ideal. Not as cheap fiction or nostalgia that ignores all the ways in which we have missed this ideal, but as a compass for the hard work awaiting all citizens who want to make the world a fairer and freer place. “
Memories of the youth
Despite their differences, the hosts say they both grew up as outsiders. Obama, who was born in Honolulu, said he was not “easily identified”: “There was visible evidence that he was not like the rest of the people,” he says. Springsteen grew up in Freehold, which he describes as “a typical small, provincial, racist town from the 1950s”. “But those were the people I loved. With all its limits, all its virtues, all its dreams, all its nightmares. “
The musician wrote about Freehold, My Hometown, a song from the album Born in the USA (1984). A theme about the memories of the youth, written in a time of crampedness and difficulty, when abandoned factories and shops that were closed in the community began to multiply. “My old man tousled my hair and said, ‘Son, take a good look around, this is your hometown,'” he sings while playing an acoustic guitar. “People always follow me in this verse, and I feel like I know the city they are talking about is not freehold. It’s not Matawan, it’s not Marlboro, it’s not Washington, it’s not Seattle. And everything. It’s all America you know “” It’s a beautiful song, “says Obama.
The duo witness the racist unrest that raged across the country in the 1960s, before Obama alluded to the African American influence that shaped rock music, citing a scene from Não Des Bronca (1989), Spike Lee’s film. “One of the protagonists is called Mookie and works for an Italian who owns a pizzeria. One of the chef’s children is a friendly boy, he loves the African American community that serves in this neighborhood. But the older brother is more cynical and obviously more racist. Then Mookie starts asking him some questions, “Who’s your favorite basketball player?” “Magic Johnson.” ‘Who’s your favorite actor? Eddie Murphy.’ “Who’s your favorite rock star?” ‘Prince.’ “Why do you always use n-word? You always say you love these guys and you always use n-word.” “
“I always thought that this scene captures this idea so simply and brilliantly that blacks are ‘the others’,” says the former president. “They are downgraded, they are discriminated against, they are despised … And yet the culture constantly adapts to the style that comes from outsiders.”
The question of skin tone
Obama, who mentions the impact and influence of former Congressman John Lewis – the leader of civil rights in the United States who died in July 2020 at the age of 80 – then turns to the sport and recalls a racist comment, which he heard from the school’s tennis team coach when he was 12 and suggested that basketball was an escape in his youth. “Sport has become a place where black and white children can meet at eye level,” he emphasizes. It’s not that the skin tone problem didn’t come up, he points out, “but after all, it was about who knew how to play”.
In the second episode of Renegades – the podcast premiered with two episodes and will have a total of eight episodes – the presenters reflect on the death of George Floyd, quote Get Out (2017) – the film in which Bradley Whitford’s character says he would ” for Obama vote for a third term if he could “- and talk about protest songs. Bruce talks about Fight the Power, Public Enemy and the most popular topics from the Sex Pistols, Anarchy in the UK and God Save the Queen. Barack mentions – and sings – Bob Dylan’s Maggies Farm, Sam Cooke’s A change, Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit, and Aretha Franklin’s song Respect, which “people don’t normally see as protest music.” “RESPECT!” Sings the former president. “That’s a protest song, isn’t it? She said to all the men: “See if you stand up.”
The list ends with American Skin (41 shots), a song Springsteen wrote about the murder of Amadou Diallo, a Guinean immigrant with no criminal record who was shot dead by four plainclothes police officers in February 1999. “After that incident, I started to think,” OK, skin … skin is fate, “says the musician. “What a privilege it is to be able to forget that you live in a certain body. White people can afford this luxury. Blacks don’t. “