Chris Christie: The Basement Tapes

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To mark the occasion of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's keynote address at the Republican National Convention tonight, I thought I would post a long but edited transcript of one of our several talks about politics, the economy, Republican priorities, and Bruce Springsteen (the story I wrote about Christie's Springsteen obsession can be found here).


I would say that this conversation, below, will be mainly of interest to people who are trying to understand Christie and his role in the party, and especially to people who know the lyrics to most, or all, Springsteen songs. Much of the discussion has to do with how Christie squares his fiscal conservatism with Springsteen's much more expansive view of the role government should play in the economy.

One favorite moment, which I'm lifting out of the transcript: How everything Christie does, or doesn't do -- including deciding not to run for president -- can be related to a Springsteen lyric. This is what he told me about that: "The reason I couldn't pull the trigger was that it didn't feel right. It would have been wrong to leave. I made a commitment to being governor. It felt to me like you asked some woman to marry you, and she did, and then a really great woman walked by and said, 'Come with me.' And if I would have run that have been me saying yes to that woman, and saying to the woman I was married to, 'Sorry, I didn't know she was available when I married you.'"

I responded: "You had a 'Hungry Heart'-type situation there. To which Christie replied, "Yes, but I didn't go down to Kingstown. I didn't make a wrong turn and never come back."

Anyway, here's the conversation. This discussion took place in his office in Trenton, in the presence of Maria Comella, his communications guru, who is not the hugest Springsteen fan:

Christie: Did you know that Maria was born when 'The River' came out?
 
Goldberg: She's probably a big Bon Jovi fan. When 'Slippery When Wet' came out she was probably in kindergarten.

Christie: He's from Sayerville. Bon Jovi's from Sayerville.
 
Goldberg: You a fan?

Christie: I don't like dislike Bon Jovi. He is what he is.

Goldberg: Why does Springsteen resonate with you?

Christie: He makes me understand in a vivid way of how lucky I am. Hearing stories of desperation creates gratitude. He helps create sympathy - it's not empathy, it can't be empathy in the sense that I'm not experiencing it - but sympathy for those people who don't have what I have. And there's the shared experience - when I was at the Stone Pony (in Asbury Park) recently and here's this guy, 62, running through the audience, climbing on top of the bar, singing on the bar, hugging people, kissing people, his concerts have always been this shared experience.

Goldberg: Is there a religious component for you?

Christie: I wouldn't say religious, I would say spiritual. No question about it.  "It ain't no sin to be glad you're alive." That just jumps out at you. You think about the fact that here's a guy who wasn't quite 30 years old, and to have the insight he had, the insight into human nature, to understand what people are going through, it's unbelievable.
 
Goldberg: You've identified 'Thunder Road' as your favorite Bruce song. Why?

Christie: It is the most lyrically descriptive of his songs. I can close my eyes and often do and listen to this song, and I can just see it. I can see the whole thing. I  don't know if I'm right. But what I see is what I see, cute brunette in a sundress coming out through the door and Bruce sitting in that convertible seat, beat-up old convertible she hops and and off they go. I mean, I close my eyes and I see it. The other part is, the stage of life when you're at when these songs come out is important to you. I'm coming of age at this, I'm 14 when this comes out, when you're starting to become aware of yourself, stating to thinking about dating. It's all happening, and you listen to him, and he gets it.

Goldberg: Most politicians don't have a relationship with art, or artists. You haven't shed your fascination with this music, and he is the most interesting writer, along with Dylan -

Christie: -- And the most prolific.

Goldberg: And the most prolific.  When did you first take notice?

Christie: I was 13 years old and I bought Born To Run. The first two had come and gone without my noticing, I was ten or 11 and finally getting an allowance, I had some money and I wanted to buy "Born to Run," I had heard it on the radio, and I said to my mother I want to go buy that album and I went to the record store at the Livingston Mall, and you know what, you walk into the record store and there it was, the big display picture, and that picture, jumping right at you, and for me, I remember the moment of buying it, buying the album, it jumped at me, really. I took it home and I played it until it wore out. And to me it's still my favorite album and the best album as a single piece of work.

Goldberg: At that age, you weren't growing up in the sort of pinched, economically straitened situation he's writing about, though. It wasn't recognition like that.

Christie: At 13, what spoke to me was simple - I recognized the places that he was writing about. He was writing about the places I knew and lived, I went to vacation to the Jersey Shore, I knew about the places he was talking about in those songs. So to me, that was the first thing that grabbed me about.  Bruce is one of the greatest gifts to New Jersey. You can say what you want about us, we got Bruce. That's why we were so angry when he moved to California. Malibu? Stop being stupid. Get back here. You're ours. As a teenager, he made Jersey cool.

Goldberg: Long Islanders like me have Dee Snider and Billy Joel.
 
Christie: Not in that order. Listen, New Jersey has a lot of image problems, and having Bruce wasn't one of those image problems.

Goldberg: Was 'Thunder Road' your favorite song right away?

Christie: "Jungleland" was my favorite song when I first listened to it, and I remember thinking, how could he have written that, all those feelings contained in that seven-and-a-half, eight minutes? Where does it come from? And so the first thing that fascinated me, how could he write something like that, how does something like that happen? To sit down and actually do it, I loved the song and I loved the sax solo, and then the rest of the album I just played until my entire family  --  I lived in a pretty small house and I like to listen to music loud and so I wore my family out with Bruce. It took my brother years to become a Springsteen fan because I killed him with it.
 
Goldberg: What was your first show?

Presented by

Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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