Weinberg drums up support for Kerry in Hanover

by Lindsay Barnes | 1/26/04 6:00am

Most senior members of a successful organization are known to their bosses by titles like "executive vice president," "assistant general manager" or "deputy to the chairman." Max Weinberg's boss, "The Boss," calls him by the name of "Minister of the Big Beat and Star of Late Night Telly-vision, The Mighty, Mighty Max Weinberg!" Of course, when he's not on the road with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, he has another boss: late night television host Conan O'Brien.

But recently, Weinberg has found himself working for yet another big name, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. He took a break from campaigning Sunday to talk to The Dartmouth.

The Dartmouth: What's brought you out to support John Kerry?

Max Weinberg: Through the years, as our group, the E Street Band, got involved in issues that were facing Vietnam veterans, his name always kind of popped up. And I'd be curious as to what his thoughts were. He was very involved in a group that he founded, Vietnam Veterans of America, and he was really the first person who had served over there who spoke out against the war. So I was very impressed with that. When he got to Congress, we had the "Born in the U.S.A." record. Not that our paths would cross in actuality, but our sensibilities crossed. So we always took notice of John Kerry and what he believed in. My wife and I used to say during the '70s and '80s, "Gee, why doesn't this guy John Kerry run for president?" And low and behold, here he is running for president, and I'm doing everything I can to explain to people why I support him.

TD: You're working for John Kerry today, but can you draw any parallels between John Kerry and Bruce Springsteen?

MW: Well, I can draw a parallel between John Kerry and Bruce Springsteen in that they're both populists, that they care about people. People who are interested in Bruce Springsteen's music and the subjects about which he writes, you know that the concept of "the people versus the powers that be" is a theme that runs through all of his music. And I can remember Bruce talking on the "Born in the U.S.A." tour about questioning the authority of the status quo administration, and that it's our duty as citizens to look to our leaders and hold them accountable for the decisions they make. So we say that, "In America, nobody wins unless everybody wins." I think that's a statement by Bruce that John Kerry would certainly agree with.

TD: You mentioned the "Born in the U.S.A." tour. Do you remember what your reaction was when you heard that President Reagan had been invoking Bruce's name and that song in the 1984 campaign?

MW: Well, I remember many years later meeting Ron Reagan, President Reagan's son, and we were talking about that. He said, "You know, my father gave that speech and he wouldn't know Bruce Springsteen from Frank Sinatra." Obviously someone had said, "Look, when you're in New Jersey, this guy's hot, use this reference." It was clear that whoever wrote the speech didn't understand the song. They just sort of got the image of what they perceived that song to be about.

TD: Bruce is famous for throwing his band, and specifically you, curveballs in the middle of a song. How long did it take you to adapt that style and that spontaneity?

MW: That's a good question; it didn't take me long after I messed up a few times. I got the idea of what to do onstage, particularly, and Bruce had a saying that, "You gotta watch out for the curveballs." It's funny you should use that term because that's Bruce's term. And that's a good life lesson, not just on how to perform onstage with Bruce Springsteen, but generally how to deal with the curveballs in life.

TD: Bruce let the E Street Band go in the late '80s. But when he called you all back in the mid-'90s, all of you came back. Why are you so loyal to Bruce?

MW: Well, Bruce is loyal to us. We have a band, all of us, including Bruce, that is very special. It's a very special place to be and to perform. These are relationships that have been built up over 30 or 40 years, and they're very deep and very meaningful to all of us. Though we didn't play together in the early '90s, there was never any sense of disenfranchisement from each other. We just all went our separate directions. And as jarring as that was, it did lead to new opportunities. After all, I would have never met Conan O'Brien had I been in the E Street Band. So it worked out for me. The relationship we all enjoy is very deep and they're lifelong sorts of experiences that you make that keep you together.

TD: Just how did you land that gig with Conan O'Brien?

MW: I actually met him walking down the street in New York, shortly after he'd gotten the job, and one thing led to another. I put a band together that he and the producers liked and we hit the air on Sept. 13, 1993.

TD: So you were just walking down the street and you recognized him?

MW: Correct. He was on "The Tonight Show" about a week before that with Jay Leno being introduced as the host of "Late Night" on NBC. So I saw that and I recognized him- he was standing on the corner. I went over to say hello to him and we got to talking, we put a band together and a couple of months later we pulled it out.

TD: Is there a favorite song of yours to play either with the E Street Band or with The Max Weinberg Seven?

MW: Well my favorite songs change all the time, but it's always fun for me to play "Candy's Room," which is on "Darkness [on the Edge of Town]." It always gets a reaction from the crowd when I start it, and that's fun. But I love playing "Ramrod" and really any song. Bruce's songs are so deep, I enjoy playing them all.

TD: Is there anyone you haven't played with yet that you'd like to play with?

MW: Yeah, I never got a chance to play with John Lennon. I would have liked to have done that. I've played with all the other Beatles at various times. But I never got to play with him and I would have loved to have done that.

TD: Anybody living?

MW: [long pause] I've pretty much played with everybody I've wanted to who is still around and playing. I've been very fortunate in that regard.