Our 44th president, Barack Obama, has teamed up with Bruce Springsteen for “Renegades,” which is the second original podcast produced by Obama’s production company, Higher Ground Productions, and Spotify. It’s an eight-episode podcast that launched in February where 44 and the rock legend submerge themselves in intimate conversation “exploring a wide array of topics including race, fatherhood, marriage and the state of America.”
Post-presidency is tough, y’all. There is just so much going on. We rarely hear too much of a voice from former presidents. I’m confident the majority of Americans really don’t have any clue how these individuals who were voted into the highest office in our land spend their days post-presidency.
Sure, they’re available for televised funerals at the National Cathedral or symposiums. But beyond that, the only time you hear from them is through either their foundation, statements made in the news or when they hit the campaign trail. Them coming directly to the people like this is unprecedented – and deeply intriguing. Can you imagine if other former presidents or leaders had podcasts? Think if President Andrew Johnson had a podcast. I’d love to see what companies would’ve flocked to sponsor that content.
With Bill Clinton recently entering into a partnership deal with iHeartMedia to distribute “Why Am I Telling You This?”, a podcast of the same name he started with daughter Chelsea through his foundation, I feel like we’re going to see more of this. Part of me thinks it’s perfect timing because Trump was extremely media-savvy, revolutionarily so, and I think there needs to be a proper balance. It’s not like Trump will stop connecting with an audience.
That brings us to President Obama and New Jersey’s “prodigal son” Bruce Springsteen swapping stories while mic’d up. I hadn’t been aware of their relationship, nor was I familiar with Springsteen’s story. I found myself slightly fascinated by Springsteen and Obama’s relationship. Who texted who first? Obama seems like someone you’d have to play mind games with via text to keep engaged.
In the first episode, it was interesting to hear Obama say what binds he and the musician together is that, “We still share a fundamental belief in the American ideal.”
And through conversation, they unravel that ball of yarn. At times, it can come off as cheesy and basic: Obama, the first Black president sitting down with a literal white star as if from the American flag. Bruce’s voice sounds older than he looks as he tells tales of small town New Jersey and what set of values he built through that process. It just all seemed like a recipe for some shit I’m not trying to hear.
But there are moments that poke through via powerful observations that make putting up with the annoying acoustic guitar underneath (there’s an acoustic guitar that just loiters in these episodes) and the painful transitions worth it.
Regarding some of the foundations of racism, Obama said the following: “What it comes down to is an assertion of status over the other. A claim is made no matter what I am. I may be poor, I may be ignorant, I may be mean, I may be ugly, I may not like myself, I may be unhappy. But you know what I’m not? I’m not you. And that basic psychology that then gets institutionalized is used to justify dehumanizing somebody, taking advantage of them, cheating ‘em, stealing from ‘em, killing ‘em, raping ‘em….”
We haven’t moved past this. So much of the conflict we experience can just be shoveled into Obama’s quote. The consequences of this basic psychology often manifest themselves in awful ways, as Obama mentioned. We do not have the answer to this in 2021. Folks are out here searching for an answer every day, though.
There are several moments of vulnerability in these episodes. Both Springsteen and Obama seem very self-aware of ego and that delicate walk.
“You start off with an ego but then at some point, you empty out and become a vessel for the hopes and dreams and stories that you’ve heard from others, and you just become a conduit for them,” Obama said, reflecting on his journey while Springsteen grunted in agreement.
In further comparisons of himself to Springsteen, Obama stated, “In the same way that a musician is looking for a way to channel and work through pain, demons [and] personal questions, that was certainly true for me in terms of getting into public life.”
Many of us are rightfully curious about what it looks like when you pull back the curtain on the thoughts of someone like Obama or Springsteen. We’re constantly eager to know more about how these people did certain things, handled certain situations and grappled with God knows what. The more we know, the more capable we are to address certain situations when they are encountered again. You know – understanding history.
There’s one gem in these episodes: Obama casually mentions that he broke his friend’s nose in high school for calling him a “coon” on the basketball court. I remember hearing that and thinking, “Yeah, he definitely waited until after the presidency to drop this story.” Smart move.
To listen to “Renegades” on Spotify, click here.