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Bruce Springsteen

E Street detour: Patti Scialfa leaves hubby Bruce Springsteen at home during road trip

Published online, Wednesday, September 15, 2004
By Larry Katz

For just one week, she's the boss.

Then Patti Scialfa returns to her usual role: wife of Bruce Springsteen and backup singer/guitarist in his E Street Band.

Scialfa (pronounced SKAL-fah) launches her first tour tonight in Asbury Park, N.J., not far from where she grew up in the heart of Springsteen country. She had hoped that the brief tour, which includes a sold-out show Friday at the Paradise in Boston, would continue a bit longer. But Scialfa's husband had other plans - and he really is The Boss.

So on Oct. 1 she'll be back performing as a member of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band when the politically motivated Vote for Change tour kicks off in Philadelphia.

``Vote for Change kind of came up underneath my tour,'' Scialfa says from the home in New Jersey she shares with Springsteen and their three children. ``The question was whether I should even bother going out for just five shows. But I said, `I don't care if it's only one show. I just want to get out and play'.''

Which is something she hasn't had the opportunity to do with her own music. When Scialfa's unjustly overlooked solo debut, ``Rumble Doll,'' came out in 1993, she was too busy raising a family to pursue her singer/songwriter dreams.

``Making solo records is something I always had in mind to do,'' she says. ``When I was at jazz school at the University of Miami, I'd come home for Thanksgiving and take the bus into Manhattan and drop off my demo tapes at record companies. So by the time I got a record contract after I first started working with Bruce on the `Born in the U.S.A.' tour, I wanted to make a record as quickly as I could. But when I was all ready to go, Bruce called about the `Tunnel of Love' tour.''

Scialfa reluctantly agreed to postpone recording her own album to embark on another tour with Springsteen, who was fresh from the breakup of his first marriage to model/actress Julianne Phillips.

``I had trepidations about going,'' Scialfa says, ``because I considered having my own record my personal path. But Bruce said the tour would just be six months. Then we ended up getting together as a couple. After that, it just didn't seem the right time to put out my own record. There was - how can I say this right - a lot of attention paid to us. If I put out a record it just would have been lost in the sauce.

``So I took a couple of years off before I made `Rumble Doll'. When I finished it, I was pregnant with our third child, Sam. We had them back to back to back, so when I came home from the hospital I had three little kids in diapers. I was like, `OK, let me just get my family together'.''

But Scialfa never stopped writing songs. In the late '90s she came close to finishing a second album before abandoning it. ``It was a beautiful record,'' she says, ``but it just didn't tell a story that was personal enough.''

Scialfa solved that problem with ``23rd Street Lullaby.'' Released in June - 11 long years after ``Rumble Doll'' - it's a collection of vivid snapshots of her pre-Springsteen youth living in New York City as a struggling musician. Her band on the album features friends from those bygone days including producer/drummer Steve Jordan and E Streeter Soozie Tyrell - as well as her husband, who adds unobtrusive guitar and keyboards.

``For me, this was a chance to go back and see if the things I believed and set my compass by were still relevant today,'' Scialfa says. ``After working for other musicians and helping them tell their story, I wanted to tell my story.'' She laughs. ``It's a celebration of my independence!''

But Scialfa's musical independence will be short-lived. She'll soon return to her accustomed role with Springsteen when he joins Dave Matthews, R.E.M., Sheryl Crow and others on a Vote for Change tour intended to raise funds to help defeat President Bush in November.

Her husband's decision to engage in partisan politics may be ill-timed as far as her own tour plans go, but Scialfa has no complaints.

``I was very glad when the Vote for Change came about and when Bruce decided to pariticipate,'' she says. ``I think that everybody who has young children thinks about what kind of world we're handing over that they're going to grow up in. You wonder what you can do individually, even the smallest thing, to help make it a better place.

``But I don't want it to seem these are words from him,'' Scialfa, 51, says. ``And I'm not a spokesperson for Vote for Change. All I can say is I'm very proud of Bruce. I thought it was time to do something. There'll be time for me to get something together and play a few more shows after the election.''