- 12 Jul 13
It’ll be a dream come true on July 27 for Glen Hansard as he gets to open for one of his heroes, Bruce Springsteen, who in recent years has also become a close musical confidante. From a hotel room in North Carolina, he tells Olaf Tyaransen what makes The Boss so special...
American rock legend Bruce Springsteen was at the absolute zenith of his commercial success when Glen Hansard first laid eyes on him in the flesh. Even so, the distinctively red-haired Dubliner barely recognised him at the time.
“I bumped into him when I was about 15,” the now 43-year-old Hansard recalls. “I’d just started busking and was coming into town. The Ballymun bus pulls up in Parnell Square, and I was walking past the Gresham with my guitar on my back when I saw this big Cadillac parked outside.
“I bumped into this man, and I’d no idea who it was at first. But I’d been watching MT USA and so I soon realised. It was around the Born In The USA period, and I was just a kid, but it gave me a real kick. You know, it was a moment where I was like, ‘Hey, is that your man from the TV?’ I had no real idea who he was at that time.”
Although they exchanged a few friendly words on the street, it’s unlikely that The Boss realised that they’d actually met before when he invited the Oscar-winning Dubliner backstage at a 2007 show in the RDS. In the two-and-a-bit decades since their brief encounter outside the Gresham, the plucky young busker had gone on to release a string of albums with The Frames and The Swell Season, and enjoy an international music career of his own.
“Yeah, the next time I met him was years later in Dublin,” Hansard recalls. “We’d just won the Oscar. We were at his show at the RDS and we got word from someone in his camp who came out into the crowd and said, ‘Hey look, do you want to come back and say ‘hello’? Bruce would like to congratulate you’. Which was really special of him to do right before he went onstage. So I went back and I shook his hand.”
He was immediately impressed with Springsteen’s easy-going charm and down to earth manner.
“What a normal, straight ahead, fuckin’ legend of a dude! Forget about a genuine rock star, he’s also one of the most genuine human beings I’ve ever met. Regardless of what he’s done in music. He invited us back for a drink afterwards at the hotel, so we went back and we talked. He was incredibly gracious and generous with his time and his advice. I was lucky to get the chance to spend some hours with such a master and ask him simple things like, ‘How do you keep your voice in shape?’
“It’s one of those things, like, if you had an hour with your hero, what would you ask them?” he continues. “There’s so much, so I thought I’d remain practical because there’d be no point in asking him ‘How’d you write this song?’ or ‘How did you write that?’ More just, ‘What do you do when you’re in the mid-west in arid dry heat and you’ve got three shows in a row, how do you keep yourself from burning out? And if you take a drink after a gig, how do you weigh that up?’ Just simple questions about getting through what it is we all do.”
As he speaks to Hot Press, Hansard is holed up in a hotel room in Rowley, North Carolina, midway through a string of American dates to promote his solo album, Rhythm And Repose. So how’s the tour going?
“It’s been wonderful,” he enthuses. “We’re playing at a museum tonight as part of a summer series. Most of the gigs we’re doing on this run are festivals of some description. We just came from Bonnaroo. We started out in Chicago’s Millennium Park. After that we were in Pittsburgh, then here tonight and Washington tomorrow. Then I’m off up to Toronto because it’s Joni Mitchell’s 70th birthday. They’ve invited some of us to sing her songs in Massey Hall, which is the great seat of music there. It’s people like Herbie Hancock, all basically the original band she would have played with through the years.”
Needless to say, evidence of Glen’s involvement is all over YouTube. Hansard and Marketa Irglova won the ‘Best Original Song’ Oscar in 2007 for ‘Falling Slowly’ from the John Carney-directed indie movie Once (in which they also starred). Had Springsteen seen the movie?
“I don’t know about the movie, but he showed up at the musical about three months ago in New York, and went back and said ‘hello’ to all of the actors, and everyone was very happy. We would’ve got him tickets, of course, but he just showed up and, according to the people who work for him, it’s very like him to do that. He wouldn’t be like ‘will you get me in?’ or ‘get me tickets’ or any of that nonsense.
“But when I met him that time in the RDS, he was very gracious. To be honest, I feel weird even talking about him because I know this is something that he’ll probably read. You know they say in the world of Dylan, anybody who knows anything about Dylan doesn’t talk about Dylan. They say that’s how you remain in the Dylan camp: you just don’t talk about him.”
The same night as that meeting happened, another serious connection was made when Glen got talking to Jake Clemons, nephew of the late and legendary E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons. Jake wound up touring sporadically with Glen, and has since joined The E Street Band for the Wrecking Ball tour.
“Yeah, I met him that night and Jake has toured with us since then. He’s a sweetheart. I remember at that Bruce show in Dublin, Clarence was in rough shape at the time so Jake was there just in case he needed to stand in. He was actually on tour with us in Ireland when he got the call that Clarence had passed, and he basically went home and dealt with all of that. Then we heard that he and Bruce had been playing the songs and, eventually, Jake found himself in the job of filling Clarence’s boots, literally.
“It’s wonderful for him and at the same time I felt for him. I hoped that he would be alright because he’s a young guy, Jake, and suddenly becoming a member of the E Street Band can be a lot of weight on your shoulders.”
Nobody was oblivious to that fact, least of all Springsteen himself.
“Jake told me a lovely thing that Bruce said to him. He said, ‘You know, this job that you’re gonna take on, it’s not enough to be as good as Clarence, you gotta be as good as people’s memory of Clarence’. Which is a huge thing and huge wisdom for Bruce to impart on Jake, and it makes a lot of sense. I’ve seen him a bunch with Bruce. We’re all traveling a lot, and I saw Bruce a few times in Australia recently. We were down in March when the Wrecking Ball Tour was going through so we made sure we’d get down and see a few of the shows. Jake is holding his end up really well, doing great. So I’m delighted for him.”
Seriously sprightly for a 63-year-old, Springsteen is famously health-conscious, eschewing drugs, red meat and strong liquor. Keeping in stage-shape was also on the agenda during their conversation that night in Dublin after the RDS show.
“We talked about how you’ve got to take care of your body,” Glen recalls. “Your throat is the most significant instrument on the stage, it’s what the whole thing is framing. The older I’ve gotten the more I’ve become conscious of that. The most important thing is to not go fucking crazy in a bar after the show. Once you get off that stage people almost have you in a headlock to put drink down your neck, 1) Because you’re a Paddy and 2) They want to show their appreciation and how better to show your appreciation to an Irish person than buying them a whiskey? That’s a very slippery and attractive slope; there’s definitely been times when you come off a tour and you realise you’re dealing with mild alcoholism. You’ve spent as much or more time in the pub as you have onstage. That stuff will ruin your voice. It’s not so much the shows, it’s the hours of hanging out and talking after that are crushing for me. Not in terms of my social ability because I can hang out with people all night, but just in terms of the throat.”
In recent times, Hansard’s own live shows have been getting noticeably longer, with his last Vicar St. gig clocking in at just over three hours. Springsteen is renowned for playing marathon sets, so was he the inspiration for that?
“I guess he would be, but not directly,” he muses. “The Frames have always played long gigs. And it’s either generosity or some kind of stupidity on our behalf. Because every time you play a gig you wanna leave people feeling like they’ve paid in and seen something that was worth their money. We come from a country that is culturally so closely related to the English, the English culture and that. I remember seeing bands like The Jesus And Mary Chain in ’89 or something, and they played for 15 or 20 minutes. And I thought, ‘Come on!’
“As a street musician, those sessions went on for hours and you only really get into your stride after a certain amount of time. Maybe it’s a lacking on my behalf that I don’t actually feel like I’m in the gig for a good hour or hour-and-a-half into it. Then you kind of bring it up to a different gear.”
One of the main lyrical themes of Wrecking Ball is the ravages of the recession. Interestingly enough, for probably the very first time in his life, finances aren’t a major worry for Hansard.
“Yeah, I seem to be one of the few people in Ireland who’s making some money at the moment, so it’s a crazy one,” he admits, with an almost embarrassed laugh. “It doesn’t go unnoticed by me, but I don’t feel any shame about it. I’ve been working for 25 years. If I get paid, I’ll take it now. During the boom, I couldn’t afford to buy a house, I couldn’t afford to do a lot of stuff, and it didn’t bother me. Now things have gone in the opposite direction.”
Glen will be returning to Ireland at the end of July to support Springsteen and the E Street Band at Nowlan Park in Kilkenny, alongside Damien Dempsey, Josh Ritter, Imelda May and various others.
“I’m grateful to get the opportunity to stand on that stage with people like Damien Dempsey and to watch The Boss,” he beams. “It’s wonderful that he’s bringing on openers, and giving us the opportunity to see his gig from another perspective. I’ve seen him a bunch over the past few years and I’ve always loved it. I love what the man does. So the best way to honour that is to get out and do your work as best you can"