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Podcast odd couple: Obama, Springsteen in Spotify series

UPDATED: Mon., Feb. 22, 2021

Bruce Springsteen, left, appears with former President Barack Obama during their podcast of conversations recorded at Springsteen's home studio in New Jersey. The eight-episode series covers their upbringings, racism, fatherhood and even recall a White House singalong around a piano.  (Rob DeMartin)
Bruce Springsteen, left, appears with former President Barack Obama during their podcast of conversations recorded at Springsteen's home studio in New Jersey. The eight-episode series covers their upbringings, racism, fatherhood and even recall a White House singalong around a piano. (Rob DeMartin)
By David Bauder Associated Press

NEW YORK — Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen are teaming up for an eight-episode Spotify podcast series, swapping stories about their upbringings and even a White House singalong around a piano.

The first two episodes of “Renegades: Born in the USA,” a conversation recorded in Springsteen’s guitar-filled home studio in New Jersey, were made available on Monday.

Spotify has moved aggressively in podcasts over the past three years, and made other programming announcements Monday. The audio streaming service has already worked with Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground production company, and the former first lady’s podcast is the service’s most popular original.

The seemingly offbeat relationship between the former president and rock star began when Springsteen performed benefits for Obama during his presidential campaigns. But it has blossomed into deeper conversations since he left office, Obama said in the first episode.

“He’s a rock ‘n’ roll icon,” he said. “I’m a lawyer and politician. Not as cool. And as I like to remind Bruce every chance I get, he’s more than a decade older than me.”

The men recalled a White House visit, which included Springsteen playing the piano as Broadway and Motown tunes were sung.

“There were libations involved,” Obama said.

Springsteen uses a few of those guitars during the course of the podcast. In that first episode, both men recalled feeling like outsiders growing up and turning to their fields as a way of finding their voices, with a little “megalomania” involved. In later episodes, they talk about racism, fatherhood and marriage.

Their wives, Michelle Obama and Patti Scialfa, also bonded, sealing their friendship.

“We still have a fundamental belief in the American ideal,” Obama said. “Not as nostalgia. But as a compass.”

The “Renegades: Born in the USA” series title references one of Springsteen’s biggest hits and could also be a sly reference to the “birther” campaign where Obama’s eventual successor, Donald Trump, falsely suggested Obama’s origins were outside of the country.

Spotify said Monday it was working with Higher Ground on another podcast, “Tell Them I Am,” which compiles stories from Muslim voices and will debut throughout Ramadan.

The service also said it had reached a deal with Warner Brothers and DC Comics for a series of narrative podcasts, with the first being “Batman Unburied.” Director Ava DuVernay is participating in a new podcast about high profile cases of police brutality.

Spotify is also upgrading its sound, announcing that it will debut Spotify HiFi later this year, where members with Spotify-connected speakers can sign up for enhanced quality music streams.

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