Former President Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen collaborate on new Spotify podcast

The title cover for Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteens podcast, Renegades: Born In The USA. (Photo Courtesy of Spotify Studios)

The title cover for Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen’s podcast, “Renegades: Born In The USA.” (Photo Courtesy of Spotify Studios)

by Trinity Bland, Opinion Editor

Former President Barack Obama and legendary rock musician Bruce Springsteen have a podcast together on Spotify. “Renegades: Born in the USA” was launched in late February and will span over the course of eight weeks with eight episodes. 

In “Renegades,” Obama and Springsteen, who first met in 2008 on the presidential campaign trail and struck up an unlikely friendship, discuss race, fatherhood, marriage and the future of America.

“On the surface, Bruce and I don’t have a lot in common. He’s a white guy from a small town in Jersey. I’m a black guy of mixed race born in Hawaii. He’s a rock and roll icon. I’m not as cool,” Obama said in a video promoting the podcast. “In our own ways, Bruce and I have been on parallel journeys.”

Following The Michelle Obama Podcast, the new series is the second podcast project available exclusively on Spotify from Higher Ground, the production company launched by Obama alongside wife and Former First Lady Michelle Obama after leaving the White House. 

Spotify revealed the plan for “Renegades” at its Stream On virtual presentation on Feb. 22, announcing that the first two episodes are available to both its paid and free users.

The former President and classic rock icon bonded over what Obama describes in the podcast’s first episode as “a shared sensibility” about life, including work, family and America. Obama, in the introduction to the first episode, mentions both he and Springsteen have been “trying to chronicle the stories of its people” in the way they each have attempted to look for a way to “connect their own individual searches for meaning and truth and community with the larger story of America.”

Fans will be in for a treat as they recorded the eight-episode podcast over a few days holed up in a converted farmhouse-studio stocked with dozens of guitars and at least one bottle of whiskey, on the grounds of Springsteen’s home in Colts Neck, New Jersey.

In a bit of off-the-cuff exchange at the beginning of the first episode, Springsteen asked Obama how he wanted to be addressed during the podcast recording.

Barack, man. C’mon, dude,” The former president answered. 

The goal of “Renegades” is to establish the world’s new access to such intimate and unfiltered dialogue — just a couple of buddies, sitting around and enjoying each other’s company. Obama speaks in a casual timbre and occasionally, Springsteen picks up a guitar to strum some chords or sing a song. With this, there is a special and specific natural ambiance that welcomes people from all walks of life to feel right at home listening.  

After four years of the nauseating Trump administration, in the middle of a global pandemic, in the aftermath of George Floyd, it is difficult to imagine who exactly the audience is. Why was this podcast made? Why was it made now? There are those who were disappointed by Obama’s low profile during the Trump era and perhaps perplexed as to why “Renegades” is premiering now rather than in 2017 when its comfort food might have been more welcome. 

From the first episode in which Obama and Springsteen both discuss why they felt like outsiders as kids in their own respective right to how their views on finances have changed over the years, the show has its charms. These two are undoubtedly likable guys, who can be exciting to listen to if the conversation is relevant to a rainbow of people, which “Renegades” wholeheartedly is. 

In an effort to foster healthy dialogue about race, Springsteen talks about his decades-long partnership with his integrated E Street Band and the central importance of late saxophone colossus Clarence Clemons while Obama reflects upon his friendship with John Lewis. Many experiences shared between the two run parallel in the different themes discussed in “Renegades.”

“Barack Obama in Onawa” by is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

By the third episode, Springsteen shares he knew he wanted to be a musician at the age of 15, but to purchase his first guitar, he first needed to save up $18 and worked odd jobs like mowing lawns and painting houses to do so. This was all before he even learned how to play guitar from his cousin, Frank.

 “For about a month or so I was strumming my way through folk music classics. You know, ‘Greensleeves,’ and ‘If I Had a Hammer.’ And shortly after that, somebody taught me to play ‘Honky Tonk.’” Springsteen said. 

Springsteen then played a bit of “Honky Tonk,” as well as The Beatles’ “Twist and Shout,” with Obama providing a bit of percussion accompaniment with his hands.

The same episode featured a segment in which Obama recalls the story behind his famous “Amazing Grace” speech, where he gave an impromptu performance of the hymn while delivering the eulogy at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, following the 2015 shooting there.

Throughout the show where episodes are uploaded weekly, Springsteen and Obama swap stories about their childhoods, their families, their struggles with emotionally distant (in Obama’s case, absent) fathers. They speak candidly about ambition and ego — the belief, shared by rock stars and politicians alike, that, as Springsteen puts it, “you have a voice and a point of view that is worth being heard by the whole world.” 

“You’ve got to have the egotism—” Springsteen says. “The megalomania,” Obama interjects. 

This all makes Obama and Springsteen sound more out-to-lunch than they can possibly be. 

“Renegades” is an elevated version of the bro-ing down heard on countless podcasts aimed at men. 

This photo by Uhlemann, Thomas is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Springsteen talks about his experience crying his eyes out in a therapist’s office, demonstrating how comfortable they are with sharing their feelings on record and the breadth of their emotional intelligence. 

Without a shadow of a doubt, the podcast is a primer on non-toxic masculinity as both Obama and Springsteen are alert and self-aware. They poke fun at themselves from time to time, but in that special rhetoric that comes naturally to wildly successful people. 

Often, the discussion turns philosophical. The fourth episode of “Renegades” begins with Obama and Springsteen taking a joy ride in the vintage Corvette that Bruce keeps in his barn, giving the former President an opportunity to “ditch the Secret Service”. Reflecting on the siren call of the open road, they begin hauling out literary allusions. 

“You go on the road to discover, like Ulysses,” Obama said. 

“[It’s] your Hegira,” Springsteen adds. “It’s a trip to discover your soul.” 

“You are finding out what you are made of,” Obama said. 

Is it surprising that the podcast would incline in this direction? Absolutely not. It is a personal, in-depth discussion exploring their pasts, their beliefs and the country that they love – as it was, as it is, and as it should be moving forward.

For years, Obama’s speeches and Springsteen’s songs have captured the quintessence of America, leaning heavily on the metaphor of America as the “Promised Land”. In “Renegades,” they hold steadfast to progressive patriotism, deep love, and adoration for their country, robust enough to withstand an honest reckoning with historical sins and ongoing injustices, namely racism.

“Renegades” wants us to believe in its political prominence, insisting that “difficult conversations” between “a white guy from a small town in Jersey” and “a Black guy of mixed race born in Hawaii” are a model for the broader reconciliation required to move America forward.

However, pointing out there is a lot of racism in the United States isn’t exactly a revelation. The same can be said for other themes upon which Obama and Springsteen earnestly emote: The Civil Rights Movement had a significant impact, the Vietnam War tore the country apart along generational lines and America has a rich musical heritage. The remedial nature of these history lessons causes clichés to accumulate.

The feeling of déjà vu is present all throughout the show. Anyone who has read Springsteen’s bestselling memoirBorn to Run,” or attended “Springsteen on Broadway— or, for that matter, watched the Netflix adaptation of the Broadway show — will recognize many of the anecdotes and performance snippets showcased by Springsteen in “Renegades.” 

The same is true for listeners who have read any of Obama’s three bestselling books, including his latest 768-page memoir,Promised Land,” released in Nov. 2020. 

“Renegades” comes on high-minded, but collectively, it’s a rehash – a greatest hits package – in which Obama and Springsteen engage in familiar and familial-style conversations that invite anyone and everyone into their space. 

With each episode, you can practically feel the warmth emanating from both the figurative crackling fireplace and from Obama and Springsteen, creating an unrivaled aura that anyone and everyone can fall in love with.