Frank Stefanko Interview
Frank Stefanko calls
Bruce Springsteen his friend. Frank's photographs appear on the cover of Springsteen's
albums "Darkness On The Edge Of Town" and "The River", as well as in the packages
of "Springsteen's Greatest Hits Live 1975-1985". Frank is the author of the book
Days Of Hope And Dreams, An Intimate Portrait of Bruce Springsteen. Frank talked
with us about his book and friendship with Bruce Springsteen.
Q - Frank, I found the title of your book to be rather interesting
and revealing. I'll explain. You title the book "Days Of Hope And Dreams".
By 1978, when you started photographing Bruce, he was already an established
recording and touring musician, which is probably what his hope and dream
was. Would you agree?
A - Yes.
Q - So, he achieved his dream. Would the title then be more
descriptive of how you felt about the time? And what your hopes and dreams
A - Yeah, well, it was not just me. As I said in the book, it was both of us.
At the time, several years ago when the book was released, we were looking
for a title. There was a wonderful Bruce Springsteen song called "Land Of Hope
And Dreams", which is kind of one of the better, more contemporary songs that
Bruce has done since the early days, in which he says in the song, "This train
carries saints and sinners." In other words, this train will take anybody that
wants to come along and wants to go ahead. You don't have to worry about the
past. You just have to come on this train and the future will be there for
you. So, it's kind of a redemption song. I just happened to like that song
a lot. I asked Bruce for permission, if I could use a version of that song
title for the title of my book, because the way I felt about it in 1978 when
we were doing the book, although Bruce had had some success, it was post Time
and Newsweek. It was post litigation with his former manager. He was just pretty
much hooking up with Jon Landau at that point. He hadn't recorded anything
in quite awhile. The "Darkness On The Edge Of Town" album that we worked on
back in 1978, and did that album cover, was kind of like his re-emergence.
He had been kind of out of the loop for a few years and was coming back and
coming back with a vengeance. But, he was a little concerned on how he was
going to be received after all these years and so forth. At the time, we were
both a lot younger. The shoots were meaningful. The pictures were images he
was looking for to portray the characters in "Darkness On The Edge Of Town".
For me, it was a great opportunity to work with someone who was my musical
idol and somebody I looked up to. So, where would Bruce go? Did we have any
idea back then at the magnitude of success that he's had, how prolific he's
been and how much of an American icon he's become? I had a great opportunity
to do pictures of this guy and other people...Patti Smith. When I look back
in retrospect when we were putting these images from 1978 through 1982 together,
I said my God, these were the Days Of Hope And Dreams for both of us. That's
why I asked Bruce if I could use that for the title, even though I was borrowing
from his great song "Land Of Hope And Dreams". Opportunities are there. If
you can just make it happen. Just do it, then the opportunities can take care
Q - What do people say when they see these photos?
A - Well, ironically there were two gallery shows, September of 2003 and March,
2004. The first show was at Govinda Gallery in Washington, D.C. in Georgetown.
And the second gallery show from these photographs, which we call "The Days
Of Hope And Dreams Show" was at the Earl McGrath Gallery on West 57th St.
in Manhattan. They were received very well. We did very, very well in the
galleries. Some of the photos were also included in the traveling museum
show called "Bruce Springsteen: Troubadour Of The Highway" that originated
quite a few years ago at the Fredrick Wiseman Museum in Minneapolis and then
went to the Cranbrook Museum outside of Detroit and then went to the Experience
Music Project in Seattle, and then last summer it had a very successful run
at the Newark Museum in Newark, New Jersey, which is very close to Springsteen
country. It was a very, very popular show. As a matter of fact, they told
me the attendance was up, like 300 percent at the museum while that show
was in place. (laughs) So, that's amazing. Where were at right now is, those
photos are gonna be shown again along with some Patti Smith photos in a brand
new show that's gonna open up May 26th, 2005 at the Morrison Hotel Gallery
in Soho, on Prince Street in New York City. Then it will re-open June 18th,
2005 at the Morrison Hotel Gallery on Prospect Street in LaJolla, California.
So, we're very excited about that 'cause we're taking a good bit of the photographs
from the original "Hope And Dreams" show that opened in Washington at Govinda,
and we're adding 15 vintage Patti Smith photographs to the show and one or
two Southside Johnny photographs that I did during the Southside Johnny "Hearts
Of Stone" album cover that I did. We're just adding a few out-takes from
that shoot. It's gonna be kind of a Swamps of Jersey show of New Jersey artists,
but it'll be keying on Bruce and Patti Smith.
Q - The Hard Rock Cafe brought a traveling Rock 'n Roll
Museum to the New York State Fair a few years ago. Would you ever consider
doing something like that? Have you been approached?
A - No, I haven't been approached. I am considering contacting the Rock and
Roll Hall Of Fame. I've been told recently that the curator there does purchase
for permanent collection, rock 'n roll vintage photographs. I have a lot of
stuff besides Bruce that I've done over the years. The bulk of that work was
done in the 60s, 70s and 80s. I did a new shoot with Bruce just in November
of last year (2004). But that was for a project we're not talking about right
Q - When is the last time you spoke with Bruce?
A - I spoke with Bruce in January, 2005. And I saw him the Monday before Thanksgiving
(2004). We worked together for the better part of the day.
Q - Has he seen this book of yours and what does he think
A - Yes, he has seen the book. There's a deluxe edition of the book which he
also owns, which I gave to him. He is very happy with the group. He told me
that I should be proud of it, that it's a wonderful book. He's very, very happy
with it. Of course, you know he wrote an introduction for me in the book, himself.
Q - You write "When I started working with Bruce in 1978,
I knew I was in the presence of something great."
A - Yeah, even prior to that. In the book I mentioned what had happened prior
to working with Bruce in 1978, probably closer to 1972 or 1973... I'm not even
sure. Originally, prior to Bruce releasing "Greetings From Asbury Park", Bruce
did a lot of radio broadcasts from the Main Point Cabaret in Bryn Mawr, Pa.
The late Ed Sciaky, who was a local Philadelphia disc jockey, was actually
hosting that concert. I heard it on the radio. I think it was on WMMR, a local
FM radio station. I heard this band and the music was just unbelievable. Then
he was telling these stories. These far-fetched stories, these wild stories
about life in New Jersey and leaning out his window at Duckie Slattery's gas
station and watching the guys working on their cars in the summer nights. I
just related. I said, my God, nobody's ever done this stuff before. This is
Jersey. This is rock 'n roll. The band was fabulous with the saxophone and
the tightness of it. I hear a lot of music, but I never quite heard anything
like that. He kind of nailed it all down for me. I think at the same time I
was telling my friend Patti Smith, and we went to college together, you know
this guy Springsteen is gonna be somebody. He's got what it takes. He's gonna
be a star. That was way back then. Then when I was working with him, I just
felt that he had all the components...the drive, the ambition, a tremendous
grasp of what he wanted to do, a great work ethic, all the charisma, he was
very brilliant in terms of how he paints pictures with words. He creates this
character and these different situations. I'm a fan besides being one of his
Q - Where does that talent of Bruce's come from? He didn't
study music in college. Is it a God given gift?
A - It's definitely from within. I think it started out with his family. We
had talked a lot about family. We both have Italian mothers and non-Italian
fathers. Bruce's father has since passed on. But, there was a lot of emotion,
a lot of passion in these kind of families. We had siblings that we could interface
with. But, there's something inside. There's a burning desire to accomplish
what he wanted to accomplish. He started playing in these pick-up bands, in
garage bands. There was a whole evolution and no money and yet he kept at it.
The desire was there. The passion was there. He wrote these unbelievably complicated
songs in the beginning with all these different references to the city scenes
and Spanish Johnny, the barefoot girl on the hood of a Dodge drinking warm
beer in the soft summer sun...soft summer rain I mean. These images were just
unbelievable. You just don't come along and read a book and say OK, I'm gonna
write this stuff. You gotta feel it. You gotta live it. You gotta be walking
through those streets of New York City. You gotta be out there in the heartland
and feel the feelings that people have. Just the people. The people of the
land. You can't be removed from it and know so much about it. You've got to
be able to feel it. In order to relate that, to evolve in such a wonderful
way, culminating right up to "The Rising" and how powerful and emotional that
album was...it takes somebody special to put that kind of music out. I've heard
other people refer to 9-11, but I've never heard it put in such a personal
and soulful manner as he did in "The Rising".
Q - As relaxed as Bruce looked in those photos, he worked
very hard to get that look, didn't he?
A - Well, there's two Bruces, you know. (laughs) There's Bruce off-stage and
there's Bruce on-stage. What I've found is, a lot of the times off-stage, he
is in a relaxed state. His mind is always working. He's always thinking. He
looks around. He'll see something and store that away in his mind and it'll
be used somewhere in a song. He's a sponge in terms of absorbing life around
him. Yet in a relaxed way, he keeps things in perspective and keeps pace. But
once he hits that stage, he's just a dynamo. He's the burning sun. He's all
over that place. He's just energy. Pure energy. So, in that sense, there's
Q - You write "Bruce lives through every part of what he
produces, whether it's his own lyrics and music or the graphics and text
designed for his album or CD." Is Bruce a control freak? It sort of sounds
A - (sighs) A control freak is a funny word. Is it important to him to make
sure that everything is done properly, the way he sees it? Yes. If indeed that's
your definition of a control freak. But, he also has the ability to co-operate
and to get ideas. If something makes sense, he'll adopt those ideas as well.
He's not a total dictator. But, he does have a very strong sense of how he
sees the package to be, from the music on how it's laid down, on how it's arranged,
on how it sounds to the graphic, to what the package looks like and to the
concert, on how it's choreographed and how it's going to affect his audience.
That's not being a control freak. You know what that is? That's being an artist.
An artist wants things to be laid down the way he or she sees it.
Q - Bruce liked Elvis. He told you stories about going down
to Graceland and trying to get in to see Elvis. You mean Elvis wouldn't
see Bruce Springsteen?
A - At the time that this happened, Elvis was famous and Bruce was not yet
famous. From what I understand, he actually tried to sneak onto the property
and see if he could get to meet Elvis, but he was not successful at doing that.
Q - What year would that have been?
A - He told me that story in 1978. It happened probably five or six years prior
to that I would think.
Q - On page 104 of your book, Bruce talks about how lucky
you are to have a front porch. Where was Bruce living at the time?
A - In 1978 he was living in a suite of rooms at the Navarro Hotel in Central
Park South, while he was working on "Darkness On The Edge Of Town", in New
York City. He did not have a home at that time.
Q - So, the front porch meant a lot.
A - Yeah. Yes it did. He's got a front porch now. (laughs)
Q - A big front porch. Now, you got to sing "Lodi" (Creedence
Clearwater Revival) with Bruce. I take it Bruce is a Creedence fan?
A - Well, let's just say at that time in 1982, when we were riding through
the Jersey pine barrens, singing "Lodi", that was one of Creedence Clearwater's
songs on an album he was listening to at that time. Then, he's also done in
concert "Who'll Stop The Rain". He's also done some things with John Fogerty,
including the Vote For Change tour.
Q - You said, "I have often said it's not what you take
with you in this life, it's what you leave behind." That's a pretty profound
statement isn't it?
A - Yeah, I think it's kind of profound. You know...what's it all about? Think
about it. Do we want to collect a lot of material things and put 'em in a closet
and you leave the earth and they're in that closet? It's not the old adage; "you
size up the boys by the size of their toys." It's not that. It's "what have
you accomplished? What is substantial? What have left behind in this life?" Not
what you take with you. That's meaningless. What you leave behind is very important.
With Bruce, he's leaving behind wonderful, wonderful music...great, great stage
shows. A lot of memories for a lot of people who have gone to those shows.
A lot of information about being aware of yourself in the modern world. Doing
a lot of charity, which you don't hear too much about. He's done a lot in his
life. With me, I'm able to leave behind a book and some photographs of Bruce
and some other artists. Patti Smith, Southside Johnny, Janis Joplin, Bette
Midler...the people I photographed over the years. What I'm saying is, it's
something to leave behind for people to enjoy and study and maybe get some
insights into some things of their own.
© Gary James All Rights Reserved