Steven Van Zandt reflects on the making of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘The River’

As Bruce’s co-producer on The River, how did you deal with telling him “No” or “You should change this”?
It’s about having the right conversation at the right time. In the end, you accept the fact that you’re there to help him realize his vision. Every single outtake was a lost argument. He was getting 10, 12 great songs very quickly at that point. I would be like, “OK, let’s put that out. You want to do 12 more? That will be the next album.” But you can’t stop that flow when it happens. Chuck Berry had that flow for five or six years. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones — the great ones have a run where they’re in touch with something a little bit mystical, a little bit beyond logic.

It’s not something you plan, that you aspire to. You have this stuff built up inside, wanting to come out, and you tap into that faucet. Born to Run was eight songs. He went from that to a hundred [over Darkness and The River]. It was some of divine … [pauses] It’s something you can’t take for granted. That’s what made me mad sometimes. I’d get angry with him. Here I am, struggling to write a good song; every fucking one of them is war. And I’d be like, “Hey, man, you’re annoying me here. You’re taking this shit a little bit for granted. [Laughs] What do you mean you’re throwing out this song other people would have a career with?” “Restless Nights,” that’s a career. “Loose Ends,” that’s a career. But you can’t stop it. Once it’s happening, you go with it.

We had a wonderful recording method by then. We’d found the right studio [the Power Station in New York City]; we’d found the right engineers. We figured all that stuff out. It felt so good to go to work every day, after three years of torture. Suddenly, recording is fun. That alone is good for 40 fucking songs.