Living Legends: Nils Lofgren On His Guitar Philosophy, Staying Sober & Meshing With Iconoclasts Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young
Nils Lofgren

Photo: Carl Schultz


Living Legends: Nils Lofgren On His Guitar Philosophy, Staying Sober & Meshing With Iconoclasts Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young

Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music who are still going strong today. This week, sat down with Nils Lofgren, an inspired solo artist and key collaborator of Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen.

GRAMMYs/Feb 16, 2022 - 02:44 pm

Presented by, Living Legends is an editorial series that honors icons in music and celebrates their inimitable legacies and ongoing impact on culture. In the third edition, caught up with Nils Lofgren, a revered solo artist and crucial accompanist to Neil Young in Crazy Horse and Bruce Springsteen in the E Street Band.

Neil Young and Crazy Horse may have been in rustic, cozy climes while recording their latest album, Barn, but departed friends were heavy on their minds. From decades-long manager Elliot Roberts to luminous vocalist Nicolette Larson and beloved pedal steel guitarist Ben Keith, Young's cosmology is populated with far too many lost colleagues. One of the cruelest losses was Danny Whitten, the Horse's brilliant first guitarist who succumbed to an overdose far too young.

Current guitarist
 Nils Lofgren is keenly aware he could have ended up like him.

"If you're struggling with issues like that, you only have three choices: You get cleaned up, you get locked up or you get covered up," the guitarist, accordionist and Horseman — who's played with Young for more than 50 years and been sober for almost 35 — tells He cites fellow survivors Ringo Starr and Joe Walsh, who both wrested themselves from addiction, and remain healthy and creative in their 70s and 80s.

Of course, Lofgren is known for far more than cleaning up his act; he's one of the most evocative, graceful guitarists on the planet, and an inspired accompanist in the Horse and Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band. But as per his blunt axiom, living clean has allowed him to flourish as an artist and human being. He speaks with palpable gratitude and humility, both crucial weapons for breaking vicious cycles. And the best part is: he's got more music in him.

With Barn and a new solo, live album, Weathered, out in the world, presents an exclusive interview with the guitar extraordinaire about his past, present and future. (The conversation occurred before Lofgren removed his music from Spotify in lockstep with Young over COVID misinformation.)

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

The Barn film made the sessions seem like a marked difference from the experience of making Colorado. While that experience was a little more exotic — you were at a 9,000-foot elevation — recording in the barn seemed much more comfortable.

"Comfortable" is a good word. Gosh, we all go back well over half a century together — as friends and fellow bandmates and musicians. 

Being in the middle of a pandemic and having everybody vaccinated and testing and safe, you knew you were in a safe environment. Which, in and of itself, was kind of an out-of-body experience at the height of COVID, when you were worried sick at home and spraying mail down. Of course, that was from pre-vaccination. 

It was pretty extraordinary. The initial intent was just to see each other and be musicians for a week or so. Neil thought he might have four songs — maybe five — but he kept writing and had more material.

We were sitting around, telling stories and just being grateful to be with each other — to go play for hours at a time and work on new music. It was an extraordinary 12 or 13 days — whatever it was. My wife Amy always says if I'm going to miss my birthday at home, she couldn't find a finer place or circumstance.

You've seen Neil's career from the very beginning to the most recent part. What does it feel like to come back to Crazy Horse with 50 years of experience?

It's an extraordinary level of comfort, gratitude and familiarity. We call it the Gold Rush upright — the same piano I played when I was 18, when I played "Southern Man," "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" and "Don't Let It Bring You Down." To sing on that at 70 — 52 years later — and be with people you've been through so much with, in the studio and on the road, just hanging out, in endless rehearsals over the years [is remarkable].

I did the first Crazy Horse album while Danny was alive, with Billy [Talbot], Ralph [Molina] and Jack Nitzsche. That history just brings a beautiful comfort level. We had cameras rolling in a drafty old barn — Neil set it up like a nightclub, so there's a stage looking out. We never put on a set of headphones once. It's the first album I made in 53-odd years where I didn't put headphones on. I got a kick out of that.

 It was a very comfortable, beautiful experience in the middle of a frightening pandemic. I thought Daryl [Hannah]captured it beautifully in the film. I'm really glad that's going to come out and be shown because it really does capture the comfort and familiarity, high up in the Rockies.

When you think back to the After the Gold Rush days, what comes to mind?

I met Neil when I was 17, at the Cellar Door. Shortly after I met him on Crazy Horse's first tour, I was out in California. I looked Neil up. True to his word, he took me under his wing. He introduced me to David Briggs, his producer. Long story short, after a lot of Hollywood misadventure, I moved in with David in Topanga Canyon. So, I saw a lot of Neil.

They were my big brother mentors at a very young age. They were very encouraging and very honest. I remember my band, Grin, became the house band at the Topanga Canyon Corral. Neil came down and jammed with us one night and we really hit it off and were playing great.

So, the next day, I was at his house with David Briggs. And we were feeling pretty good, you know? Neil and David were telling us how good the drummer was and how much Neil enjoyed playing with us. Being the hard-ass, show-biz, music-biz friends they were, they said, "The band's pretty good, but you need a better bass player."

I was crestfallen because we were a team — a family. But I was only 17, and I had Neil Young and David Briggs — who had moved me into his home with the plan of getting me a record deal and producing us — what are you going to say to that? "Oh, you guys don't know what you're talking about?" So, we got our bass player, Bob Gordon. Sadly, we lost Bob a number of years ago.

But it was just that kind of thing. There was comfort in their relentless honesty mixed with encouragement that I always felt working with Neil. We had many chapters — Tonight's the Night. In between that and After the Gold Rush, we did the Crazy Horse album. The Trans album and tour in the '80s. "MTV Unplugged" in the '90s. More recently, Colorado, and now the new album, Barn.

And how did you end up joining the E Street Band?

Through the years, I'd go see Bruce play a lot. And in '84, when Steve decided to go solo, to my great fortune, I had an audition —  I look at it that way; Bruce wouldn't call it that. But we jammed for a couple of days, and it was just five weeks before opening night. So, it was kind of a hairy thing. 

I remember I was 18, driving with David. We used to crank Creedence Clearwater driving through the hills of Topanga in a VW Bug. I remember saying, "David, it's so nice to not be a bandleader every day. There are a lot of nonmusical issues that go along with bandleading that disappear." 

So, I was very young when I realized [the value of] taking a break from bandleading and just being in a great band. Neil and Bruce, they're really hands-off. They don't direct you very much. They like you to come up with ideas. They might add a suggestion here and there, but there's a lot of freedom that's very similar between the two. They don't mind rough edges and seat-of-your-pants. Neil's maybe taken that to an extreme more than anybody.

Especially on Tonight's the Night.

That one was an anti-production record. David Briggs and Warner just said, "Stay down in it. We don't want you doing the songs too well, but you're still going to be singing and playing. And when Neil gets the right vocal, you're done. No one's going to be allowed to change the notes." 

It was a great, dark record. We kind of call it "the wake album," because all our heroes and friends were dying. It was a dark time, and I thought it was a very commiserative, healing project despite the darkness of it.

Bruce and Neil are highly iconoclastic, individualistic artists. What is it about your personality and musicianship that allows you to mesh so well with them?

This is also true with Ringo Starr, who I've been blessed to play with in his first two All-Starr Bands — I wouldn't be a musician if it weren't for the Beatles! I grew up playing classical accordion for 10 years. I'd probably be at a Holiday Inn Express lounge playing the quarter-box, doing hits of the day. 

But thanks to the Beatles — and the Stones are amazing, but at the top of the list is the Beatles — I found a crazy, lifesaving love of music that sustained me and still does. I think music is the planet's sacred weapon, really. Billions of souls turn to it.

On the Born in the U.S.A. tour, we went to a birthday party late at night with Ringo, and I got to jam with him. Late at night, having drinks, he gave me his phone number, so I began calling him every few weeks and establishing a friendship. Five years later, he called me in L.A. and told me about his All-Starr Band, so he could get back out there and be a drummer and sing and play. Kind of a round-robin thing.

But back to your original question: there's something they have in common. They quickly pull you out of "Oh my lord, I'm playing with a Beatle," or "Geez, Neil Young — look at his body of work," or Bruce. They're such natural "band" musicians. They're down in it. They're in the music. 

Again, because of the freedom that's given, it's positive pressure, like, "Hey, I don't know what we should play. Surprise me. Come up with something great." David Briggs used to say, "Just be great or be gone." Like, "We think you're great. Figure it out."

I love your touch with Crazy Horse — sometimes, it seems like you're barely touching the strings, offering a subtle power. What's your guitar philosophy?

I fingerpick a lot, and there's a gentleness you can get from your flesh. The thumb pick is like a bore — it's very thick, no give. There's a harshness to it. A flatpick has a gentler sound to it. So, I'll use my fingers to get the gentler sound. And with the thumb, you don't have to hit it too hard, and you get quite a percussive thing — which, of course, lends itself to some harmonic playing.

It depends on the song. If we're doing "Shut it Down," I'm starting to bang with the thumb pick, which is very percussive. Then, you turn around and have a beautiful song like "Green is Blue," which is one of the great climate-change songs ever written. Most of it, I barely touch the strings with the thumb pick. Most of it is played with my fingertips. Whatever the mood is.

What was it like to be around Danny? Neil's written very affectionately and effusively about him, sometimes calling him more talented than himself.

Danny was extraordinary. Neil's got such a great vibrato, but it was really Danny who sang with that shaky, kind of Bee Gees vibrato. You can hear it so well in "I Don't Want to Talk About It," from the first Crazy Horse record and in a lot of his singing in the early records with Neil. He was very powerful — kind of a surfer, California dude. A brilliant, soulful musician. Very game for anything.

Of course, Danny was getting better and more creative and getting ready to make the first Crazy Horse album. It was at that point I joined the band with Jack Nitzsche that [Danny] was getting more affected by alcohol and drugs. It was kind of sad to watch him in decline because he was this real musical hero — all of ours, including Neil's.

At one point, after we made the Crazy Horse record, Danny went back to Maryland. He and I were talking about joining my band Grin as another member. He lived with us for a while. I remember we were at Georgetown University, waiting to see Roy Buchanan. We left Danny; he didn't want to come into town. He was getting pretty sick back then.

We were in the audience waiting for Roy to come on, but the lights were still up. Someone comes to the mic and pages me. So, I go backstage, there was a landline. Our head of road crew, who was living in this funky place in the country in Urbana, Maryland, said, "Man, I'm so sorry. I lost Danny!" I'm like, "What do you mean, you lost Danny?" He was supposed to watch Danny.

Danny was roaming the Maryland countryside, looking for drugs. We were like, "Oh my god! If he walks up to the wrong home, someone's going to shoot him!" We rushed back out there, looked around and found him wandering around. It got to a point where I was like, "Danny, man… you're so ill. I don't think you can handle this schedule. We're on tour in clubs seven days a week. I'd love you to be in the band, but you've got to get well, man."

He understood and was bummed out, but it never happened. That was the great tragedy when we were making the album. Danny couldn't be bothered to tune his guitar. I tuned it for him. It was lucky that we got that great album done. Everybody, including Neil, wanted to give Danny a shot working on the Harvest record, but he just never did it.

Read More: For The Record: Why Neil Young's Commercial Breakout 'Harvest' Is Weirder & More Wonderful Than You Remember

He was, in the beginning, very confident. He challenged Neil on guitar. The interplay they created together — and Poncho [Sampedro] carried that on so great for 37 years. Neil and Danny wrote the book on that two-guitar grunge — and the pretty stuff, too. And then the voices together were just extraordinary.

At the end of the day, he just became a casualty of alcohol and drugs. It was a great loss to all of us.

I imagine people didn't understand mental health and addiction back then like we do now.

Back then, the rehabs were insane asylums. I will say that while we were making Barn — and same with Colorado — Danny, David Briggs, Ben Keith, Elliot Roberts — they were all fresh on our minds. Elliot was a sudden loss recently, which broke all our hearts — especially Neil's. Elliot was in the room when I met him when I was 17, all those years ago. 

That's part of life, of course, but it was a rough hit for all of us, [being] in a band with such powerful figures. You never quite get over it.

Neil's cosmology is populated with these departed, incredibly consequential figures.

It's just kind of endless. But that's life. It's a rough part of life, and you never get too great at navigating it. But it does really help to have the other guys there.

Ringo and I talk about the first All-Starr Band in '89, which might have been the greatest cast of musical characters in history. There's only a few of us left: me, Joe Walsh, Jim Keltner and Ringo. Dr. John, Billy Preston, Clarence Clemons, Rick Danko, Levon Helm… talk about a band!

From the Tonight's the Night band — minus Ben Keith — four out of five of us are still standing. That's pretty good for a bunch of old guys. 

Do you consider yourselves survivors? You mentioned Joe Walsh and Ringo — those guys could have gone the way of Danny, but didn't.

Ringo's been very open about his sobriety. On the tour in '89, I was just a year ahead of Ringo, cleaning up my act. I've been clean and sober for 34 years. 

The message is: If you've got a problem with drugs or alcohol, there's help. There's a lot more now than there used to be, but you ain't gonna get it if you don't look for it. I'm really proud of people like Joe and Ringo, who got the help and they're out singing and playing.

You can talk it around, talk it to death — but at the end of the day, if you're struggling with issues like that, you only have three choices: You get cleaned up, you get locked up or you get covered up. That's it. Every day, you pick one.

Living Legends: The Kinks' Dave Davies On 21st-Century Breakdown, Mellowing Out In His Seventies & Stirring The Pot On Twitter

Living Legends: Def Leppard's Phil Collen Was The Product Of A Massive Transition For Music — And He Wouldn't Change A Thing
Def Leppard (Phil Collen, far left)

Photo: Ross Halfin


Living Legends: Def Leppard's Phil Collen Was The Product Of A Massive Transition For Music — And He Wouldn't Change A Thing

Def Leppard is out with a new collaborative album with the Royal Philharmonic, 'Drastic Symphonies.' In an interview with, guitarist Phil Collen gets in a reflective mood about their early days of hysteria — and euphoria — in the studio.

GRAMMYs/May 12, 2023 - 12:59 pm

Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, spoke with Phil Collen, the guitarist of Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Def Leppard for more than four decades. Their latest studio album, Diamond Star Halos, was released in 2022; their new album with the Royal Philharmonic, Drastic Symphonies, is available May 16.

By any standard, the 1980s were a transitional era for popular music, a rubicon crossed.

That had a lot to do with emerging technology, which led some to sink and others to swim. While the drift to synths and sequencers left some classic rockers beached, artists from Madge to Prince and Paul Simon flourished. And that trial-by-digital gave us the one and only Def Leppard.

Def Leppard's new release, Drastic Symphonies, out May 16, acts as the opposite point of this arc, proving that the band is adaptable to both tech and the timeless nature of classical music. 

Reimagined with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Drastic Symphonies may be a program of hits (like "Animal" and "Pour Some Sugar on Me") and deep cuts (like "Paper Sun"), but it is far from typical.

Rather, Drastic Symphonies’ splendorous, cinematic treatment provides a window into their tunes’ innate malleability and longevity — while giving their legacy something of a consolidative This Is Your Life treatment.

"It gives it that third dimension that you always want to hear,” Phil Collen, their guitarist of more than 40 years, proudly tells over Zoom. “It was a beautiful experience, I've gotta say."

Collen's head is full of memories of that pivotal decade — the one where they were "selling sometimes a million records in a week." If you imagine Def Leppard as being rowdy and recalcitrant in the studio back then, like their current tourmates Mötley Crüe — think again. Under producer extraordinaire Robert "Mutt" Lange, they were perfectionists, breathing the maximum amount of imagination into every song.

"You have this image in your head, and it was creating it for audio," Collen recalls of the era that produced classics like 1983's Pyromania and 1987's Hysteria. "[Lange] always used to say, 'Look, we've got to create Star Wars for the ears."

Operating by that celestial edict, Def Leppard succeeded and then some: they've sold more than 100 million records worldwide, and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2019. "We're ticking every box," Collen says. "And a lot of these boxes we didn't quite tick in the '80s."

Read on for a rangey interview with Collen about Diamond Star Halos a year on, the genesis of Drastic Symphonies and the state of Def Leppard.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

What's it been like living with Diamond Star Halos over the past year?

It's been great in the fact that we've actually been touring it, and it's been getting accepted as we've been playing it. You know, when you release a new album, it's like: no one really wants to hear it live. They just want to hear all the hot chestnuts — all the older stuff. But we feel this is genuinely, fully integrated into the live set. We're doing, like, three songs, and one of them we're doing acoustically. 

I love the album, looking back at it. It's amazing. We felt like we celebrated our heroes on it — everything about the Bowie, T. Rex, Queen era. I think we hit the mark with that one.

Since Def Leppard is still an actively creative enterprise, how do you navigate that tension between the old and the new? You're not devoted to, as David Crosby memorably put it, "turning on the smoke machine and playing the hits."

Well, now you gave me an idea — we'll put the smoke machine on during the new songs!

We just follow the Stones' lead on that. Every time they go out, they carefully place a new song. They know they've got to do "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and "Satisfaction" and all that stuff. We just do that — we integrate it in there.

You've just got to be careful. It's great doing [it as a] first song, because you can use the theatrics of "Here we are." There's a lull at a certain point, and you inject something like that. We're very careful about where and when we put them in the set.

Who were your role models in the early Def Leppard days? Who did you look to and say, "I want to perform live, or make records, or have a career like them"?

It's always been the rock-ness of AC/DC but the finesse of Queen, and the great songs that Queen had. We like to tour like the Rolling Stones but have the caliber of appreciation of Queen. We're kind of getting there, to an extent. But they are the two pillars, I guess, that we kind of base the whole thing on.

Tell me about your relationship to symphonic music, and pave the road to the Royal Philharmonic album. Def Leppard and your peers have always had something of a symphonic sweep, so this seems like the most natural thing in the world.

It is. On "When Love and Hate Collide" and "Two Steps Behind," we had an orchestra. "Let Me Be the One," a song we did in the late '90s [and released in 2002, also did]. Especially ballads lend themselves really well to that.

This came up about a year ago, when we were over in England doing promo for Diamond Star Halos and getting the whole thing sorted out. It just got suggested by the label. 

[The Royal Philharmonic] was doing this series of albums of bands like Queen and Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys. We wanted to be involved in it; we didn't just want an orchestra playing our stuff. So, we got into the arrangements; we got our string arranger guy who worked on Diamond Star Halos, Eric Gorfain.

It really worked. And some of the songs absolutely didn't work. They sounded wrong and kind of comical in some respects. We had to demo each song with a keyboard string arrangement, and it was really easy. It was like black or white, yes-no.

Were you in Abbey Road Studios, working with the string players on a hands-on level? What was the nature of the interchange between the band and orchestra?

They played all their stuff live. It was a year of preparation. Eric scored it all out. Ronan McHugh, our front sound guy and producer and everything, got in touch with the producer, Nick Patrick, and all of us met up at Abbey Road. We were there when strings were done.

That was really an icing-on-the-cake type thing. All the prep work had been done — on some of the songs, we'd leave guitars and drums out for whole sections and let the orchestra breathe. 

But we'd done that all before, so it was just them literally playing to the conductor and us sitting in the control room hearing this wonderful cacophony coming back, of us playing with them.

Songs like "Paper Sun," which is kind of a deep cut off [1999's] Euphoria, just works so well with an orchestra. It gives it that third dimension that you always want to hear. So, yeah, it was a beautiful experience, I've gotta say.

I think we tend to think of classic songs as preordained — that they'd inevitably come into existence and bake themselves into culture. Back when you guys actually wrote and recorded hits like "Pour Some Sugar On Me," was there any attitude that would be modern standards 40 years on? 

This is really funny, actually. I remember Mutt Lange, our producer, 37 years ago or something like that — someone came into the room and said, "The album's taking so long! Why do you spend so much time?" He said, "So that you'll be talking about it in 40 years." He actually said that!


Certainly, Mutt Lange had the vision of it. We were just part of his vision!

Sounds like you guys were serious perfectionists in the studio — deeply focused on the product.

We were. And I think we overdid it a little bit, because we'd be there from 10 in the morning 'til 2 the next morning and not take weekends off. As we've gotten more experience, we found that if you have a cut-off point, you actually get more done.

It was gangbusters, the whole thing. It was trying to make something that no one had ever done before in that format. It really worked, but we do have to thank Mutt Lange for that.

In what regard do you think you guys overdid it? Were you scrapping arrangement after arrangement? Were you doing take after take after take?

With the time, actually. You have this image in your head, and it was creating it for audio.

[Lange] always used to say, "Look, we've got to create Star Wars for the ears." And a song like "Rocket" literally was that. Even when we play it now, it's got such immense proportions, and we have this screen and all that stuff. You have this mental image, and you have this stacked-up vocal thing, which takes ages to do. Just singing them over and over, like Queen did.

We did that with the guitars as well. We made orchestrated guitar things, and not gratuitous. There's a big difference between just overdoing it and then doing it for a reason where it actually works and enhances the song; it always comes back down to the song.

Like I said, Mutt knew what he was doing, but back then, we were following his lead. It would be scrapping guitars and adding new parts and copying strings on a guitar with an EBow.

That reminds me of the Boston template, as per their debut album — a brainiac trying to create perfect, idealized rock songs — but it's an actual band with a producer.

About a year ago, I heard this BTS song and thought, "This actually sounds too good. It sounds almost like AI." I don't know whether it was or not.

I know these days a lot of writers will come in. There was this Beyoncé song where they said, "There's 23 writers!" and everything. And I get that. I really understand how that could be. You want to create the best that you can; you have a top-line guy that comes in, you have a drum programmer guy, you have someone writing the lyrics and all of that stuff.

We were kind of doing that back then with Mutt, but it was internal. It's like: OK, we need a melody. We've got this lyric; that works here. That was the approach, and I think it's a similar thing now.

With AI, I think that we are going to hear that. Like I said, I heard this BTS song and thought, This is so amazing. But could a person do that? I had my doubts. Maybe not. Perhaps it was a collective.

Phil Collen of Def Leppard

Phil Collen performing with Def Leppard in 1983. Photo: Fryderyk Gabowicz/Picture Alliance via Getty Images

With Drastic Symphonies on the way, how would you characterize the artistic and professional juncture that Def Leppard is at?

It's great. We're ticking every box. And a lot of these boxes we didn't quite tick in the '80s, when it was massive and we were selling sometimes a million records in a week, which is crazy, just the thought of it.

But there were still a few things that we didn't do. When we finally got into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, that kind of propelled us forward a little bit. Doing an album like this, but actually having a say in it and going, "We'll do it if we can do it this way."

We're actually doing the stadium tour now. We did one last year, which was great, with Mötley Crüe. We're still on tour with them and having such a blast. Grown-up kids at school together, just having that extreme thing.

Peter Frampton On Whether He'll Perform Live Again, Hanging With George Harrison & David Bowie And New Album Frampton Forgets the Words

10 Artists Who Are Outspoken About Mental Health: Billie Eilish, Selena Gomez, Shawn Mendes & More
Selena Gomez participates in MTV Entertainment's first ever Mental Health Youth Forum at The White House in 2022.

Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for MTV Entertainment 


10 Artists Who Are Outspoken About Mental Health: Billie Eilish, Selena Gomez, Shawn Mendes & More

From Ed Sheeran to Janet Jackson, take a look at some of the major music stars who have shared their struggles with mental health — and helped fans feel supported and seen in the process.

GRAMMYs/May 9, 2023 - 06:28 pm

Sharing mental health issues with close family or specialized medical professionals can be challenging enough. Add in the pressures of fame and being in the public eye, and any struggles are exponentially more difficult to cope with.

In recent years, though, mental health has become a much more widely discussed topic in celebrity culture. Several artists have used their music and their platform to open up about their own struggles with depression, anxiety and the like, from Bruce Springsteen to Selena Gomez.

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month this May, highlights the inspirational impact of music superstars who speak out about what they're going through, and how they manage their challenges. These 10 performers are making change through their courage and candor.

Ed Sheeran

Ed Sheeran takes fans behind the curtain of his personal life and struggles with mental health in Ed Sheeran: The Sum of It All. The four-episode docuseries, which is now streaming on Disney+, details the pain of losing his best friend Jamal Edwards and his wife Cherry Seaborn receiving a cancer diagnosis while she was pregnant with their daughter Jupiter.

"What I think is really great about the documentary is the themes that it explores, everyone goes through," Sheeran said at the New York City premiere on May 2, according to the Hollywood Reporter. "Everyone goes through grief. Everyone goes through ups and downs of their mental health."

Sheeran dives deeper into his struggles — and is more vulnerable than ever before — on his latest album Subtract, which arrived on May 5. "Running from the light/ Engulfed in darkness/ Sharing my eyes/ Wondering why I'm stuck on the borderline," he sings on album cut "Borderline," which touches on battling suicide thoughts.

Lewis Capaldi

Like Sheeran, Scottish singer Lewis Capaldi also gave fans an incredibly upfront look at his mental health challenges in a documentary, How I'm Feeling Now. The new Netflix release details his experience with anxiety and Tourette's syndrome, taking viewers to physical therapy with Capaldi and discussing how his medication both helps and hurts the quality of his life.

Capaldi's second album, Broken By Desire To Be Heavenly Sent (due May 19) will further explore his anxieties and vulnerability. While he has admitted it wasn't easy to be so raw in his music and on screen, Capaldi wants to make a difference in other people's lives. "If people notice things that are concurrent with what's going on in their life, then it's all been worth it," he told Variety.

Billie Eilish

While Billie Eilish's music has been raw and real from the start, her music has become increasingly more vulnerable throughout the years. Whether in her music or in interviews, the star has opened up about dealing with body dysmorphia, depression and thoughts of self-harm — hoping to inspire fans to speak up when they are hurting, and to know that it gets better.

"It doesn't make you weak to ask for help," she asserts in a 2019 video for Ad Council's Seize The Awkward campaign, which features stars discussing mental health.

"Kids use my songs as a hug," she told Rolling Stone earlier that year. "Songs about being depressed or suicidal or completely just against-yourself — some adults think that's bad, but I feel that seeing that someone else feels just as horrible as you do is a comfort. It's a good feeling."

Selena Gomez

As one of the most-followed stars on social media, Selena Gomez has often used her formidable presence to discuss her mental health and connect with others. In 2022, the singer launched a startup called Wondermind, which is focused on "mental fitness" and helping users maintain strong mental health.

Just a few months later, Gomez further chronicled her own mental health journey in an Apple TV+ documentary, Selena Gomez: My Mind and Me, which shows extremes she's suffered with her depression and bipolar disorder. She has said she was initially hesitant to share the film, but ultimately reflected on how many others could be helped if she did.

"Because I have the platform I have, it's kind of like I'm sacrificing myself a little bit for a greater purpose," she explained in a 2022 cover story with Rolling Stone. "I don't want that to sound dramatic, but I almost wasn't going to put this out. God's honest truth, a few weeks ago, I wasn't sure I could do it."

Shawn Mendes

In 2019, Shawn Mendes first publicly addressed his struggles with anxiety in the dynamic — and GRAMMY-nominated — hit "In My Blood." Three years later, the singer postponed his 2022 tour in order to focus on his mental health, opening up an important conversation to his legion of fans.

"The process was very difficult," he said in a February interview with Wall Street Journal. "A lot of doing therapy, a lot of trying to understand how I was feeling and what was making me feel that way. And then doing the work to help myself and heal. And also leaning on people in my life to help a little bit. 

"It's been a lot of work, but I think the last year and a half has been the most eye-opening and growing and beautiful and just healing process of my life," he continued. "And it just really made me see how culture is really starting to get to a place where mental health is really becoming a priority."

Bruce Springsteen

Even an artist as successful and celebrated as Bruce Springsteen has faced depression. In his 2016 autobiography Born to Run, the 20-time GRAMMY winner cites a difficult relationship with his father and a history of mental illness in the family, sharing that he has sought treatment throughout his life.

"I was crushed between 60 and 62, good for a year, and out again from 63 to 64," he wrote in the book. In that time, he released his 2012 album, Wrecking Ball, which featured a raw track called "This Depression." "Baby, I've been down, but never this down I've been lost, but never this lost," he sings on the opening verse.

As his wife, Patti Scialfa, told Vanity Fair in 2016, "He approached the book the way he would approach writing a song…A lot of his work comes from him trying to overcome that part of himself."

Janet Jackson

The physical and emotional abuse suffered by the famous Jackson family is well-documented in books, documentaries and TV dramatizations. But it's only been in recent years that Janet Jackson has talked about her own depression, which she has referred to as "intense." Her son Aissa has helped her heal from mental health challenges that have followed her all of her life.

"In my 40s, like millions of women in the world, I still heard voices inside my head berating me, voices questioning my value," she wrote in a 2020 ESSENCE cover story. "Happiness was elusive. A reunion with old friends might make me happy. A call from a colleague might make me happy. But because sometimes I saw my failed relationships as my fault, I easily fell into despair."

Elle King

After seeing global success with her debut single, "Ex's & Oh's," Elle King experienced the woes of sudden fame as well as a crumbling marriage. Her second album, 2018's Shake the Spirit, documented her struggles with self-doubt, medicinal drinking and PTSD.

"There's two ways out," she told PEOPLE in 2018, describing her marriage as "destructive," physically abusive and leading her to addiction. "You can take the bad way out or you can get help. I got help because I knew that I have felt good in my life and I knew I could get there again."

Brendon Urie

Certain public situations can trigger crippling anxiety attacks for Brendon Urie, who has been open about mental health concerns throughout his career. He can perform in front of thousands of fans, but he's revealed that being in the grocery store or stuck in an elevator for too long with other people are among some of his most uncomfortable scenarios in his life.

"You would never tell on the surface, but inside it's so painful I can't even describe," the former Panic! At The Disco frontman — who disbanded the group earlier this year to focus on his family — said in a 2016 interview with Kerrang.

Big Sean

Rapper Big Sean and his mother released a series of educational videos during Mental Health Awareness Month in 2021 — two years after the Detroit-born star started talking about his own long-held depression and anxiety publicly.

"I was just keeping it real because I was tired of not keeping it real," he said in an interview with ESSENCE in 2021. "I was tired of pretending I was a machine and everything was cool and being politically correct or whatever. I just was like, I'm a just say how I feel."

Like many of his peers, he hopes that his honesty will help others. "Whatever they can apply to their life and better themselves and maybe it just even starts a whole journey in a different direction as far as upgrading and taking care of themselves and bossing up themselves," he added. "Whatever they're trying to do, I hope it helps them get to that place."

How Durand Jones' Debut Album 'Wait Til I Get Over' Helped Him Explore His Roots & Find Self-Acceptance

Living Legends: Smokey Robinson On New Album 'Gasms,' Meeting The Beatles & Staying Competitive
Smokey Robinson

Photo: Derek Blanks


Living Legends: Smokey Robinson On New Album 'Gasms,' Meeting The Beatles & Staying Competitive

Fresh off the MusiCares 2023 Persons Of The Year gala that honored him and Berry Gordy, Smokey Robinson is out with his first album of new material in 14 years. 'Gasms' is about everything that lights up your brain.

GRAMMYs/May 2, 2023 - 09:57 pm

Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, presents an interview with GRAMMY winner and lead Miracle Smokey Robinson, whose contributions to the American musical canon — chiefly via Motown — cannot be overstated. In 2023, he was honored alongside Motown founder Berry Gordy at the MusiCares Persons Of The Year Event. Robinson's new album, Gasms, is available now.

Smokey Robinson listens to everyone. If you're on the radio, he claims, he's heard you. It doesn't matter your age, or your genre — as the 83-year-old is still in the ring, he intends to keep his gloves up. "I'm not a prejudiced musical listener," he tells "I've got to compete with them. I've got to know what they're doing."

In the middle of a question about who, specifically, he's enjoying from the new guard, his rep's drive through a tunnel abruptly ends the call. But the Miracles and Motown star's assertion checks out — partly on the strength of his new album, Gasms, his first album of new original material since 2009.

On hot-and-bothered highlights like "I Wanna Know Your Body," "Roll Around" and "Beside You," God's gift to green eyes — to borrow a phrase — proves his writing, vocal and performance abilities remain undimmed.

"My thoughts on it is that you can put it on and be with the person that you want to be with and just kick back and enjoy each other," Robinson told the AP. "It's more of the idea of love."

There's a lot of chatter about Gasms. Of course, that's by design, and Robinson's OK with the album title subsuming the conversation. (When asked about the central thesis of the record during its conception, he responds with one word: "Controversy.")

But by Robinson's assertion, Gasms refers to anything that makes you feel good, and the high-thread-count music signifies far more than horny man is horny. It's a treat to hear that the GRAMMY winner responsible for innumerable culture-shifting classics — who has been around long enough to have met the Beatles when they were playing basements — is still a force.

With the 2023 MusiCares Person Of The Year gala, which jointly honored Robinson and Motown founder Berry Gordy, in the rearview, sat down with the man himself about his past, present and future. The results might give you a… well, you know.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

How did it feel to be honored along with your best friend, Berry Gordy, at the MusiCares Persons Of The Year 2023 gala?

That was a wonderful experience. They had never honored two people at the same time, and for me to get honored with my best friend like that — it was an extraordinary night.

When you met all those years ago, was there any inkling your relationship would stretch so far into the future — and impact the planet on this scale?

You can't tell about people and relationships, man. We just struck up a relationship. And we were good in the very beginning, and it just lasted. I couldn't be with him then — or he with me — and say, "Oh, well, this is gonna last forever," like it has, because you just never know. Fortunately, for us, it has, and we're still best friends.

How do you keep a relationship like that going on such a grand scale for decades and decades?

You know, people have asked me that many times. Sometimes, it's six months and I don't even talk to Berry. But when I do, he's my best friend, and I'm his best friend. It's never "Let me get to know you again, or feel you out," or any of that. There's none of that happening.

As you've stated, the title of Gasms isn't expressly sexual. Rather, it refers to any number of mindblowing experiences. What was the last big experience in your life or career that gave you a "gasm," as it were?

I've had so many of those. You know, gasms are what makes you happy, and makes you feel good. Recently, I had one when I did "American Idol," because I hadn't been in a long time. I was on the second panel for judges when Simon Cowell was there. I got a chance to see [judges] Lionel [Richie] and Katy [Perry] and Luke [Bryan], and it was a wonderful night.

I've been a mentor; I've been a judge. "American Idol" is one of the main state talent programs in the world, so it's a great thing for the kids. Because before they even made a record or anything like that, from the very first auditions, being seen by millions of people is a great thing for them.

Let's get to the ground floor of Gasms, when you first picked up a pen and made some calls and put together these songs. What was the central idea you wanted to put forth, musically and creatively?


That was it, huh?

To raise curiosity, and have people wondering what it was before they even heard it.

It seems you succeeded.

It worked. So I'm very happy about that, man.

How did you curate the accompanists and producers on Gasms?

Most of the guys are guys I've worked with all the time in the studio. I've been working with them for years, so I didn't have to get to know them. The main guy — my arranger, David Garfield — is a well-known jazz pianist who makes his own albums and stuff like that. We just got together and did the arrangements at the studio.

I'm sure you were raring to get back to original material, as wonderful as the old Miracles songs and your Christmas stuff is, and  flex your songwriting muscles.

I write all the time, Morgan. It's something that I just do. It's not a conscious effort where I set aside some time to write or anything like that. It doesn't happen like that. For me, it just happens.

What are you working on lately?

Well, at the same time we were working on the Gasms album, we were working on one in Spanish. I've got two more songs I've gotta re-record for that. That's what I'm up to musically.

Is it a learning curve to record in another language, or are your Spanish chops sharp?

I've been learning Spanish for probably about a year. My housekeeper is a Spanish lady. She's from Guatemala, and she speaks four different languages, so she's been really helping me with it.

I'm not fluent in it where I understand everything. I watch the soap operas and news shows on Telemundo and stuff like that, trying to get better, but they're talking so fast. I try to get a word in every now and then and then try to pick out what they meant by the rest of the stuff.

But it's a great language, and I enjoy it very much, so I've been trying to write some songs in Spanish also.

Your voice is so pristine on Gasms. At times, it's like you haven't aged a day. How do you keep your instrument — your voice — sharp as the years and decades go by?

Well, first of all, I appreciate you saying that, man. Thank you very much.

Your voice is like your instrument, and if you take care of yourself, you have a better chance of it lasting and doing well for a long time. I don't think there's any secret formula — Lipton's tea with lemon and all that stuff like that. I've never done anything like that.

I just try to take care of myself. Occasionally, of course, your body will wear down and get hoarse, because you don't know how to play your instrument. I don't do any special stuff.

What are your habits, or what's your regimen, to keep your physical vessel in shape?

I think that the main one is yoga. I've been doing yoga for about 40 years, and I do it almost every day of my life. Then, I have workout programs I do. I have a half-hour workout program and then an hour one. At home, I do the full monte, because I can do everything; I have weights in the basement and so on and so forth.

When I'm on the road, I have a 45-minute regiment that I do most mornings, and it starts with stretching.

I really enjoy how you didn't feel the need to reinvent the wheel with Gasms. The songs could have been written 60 years ago or yesterday. What is it about the timelessness of songs about love, romance and sensuality?

Well, yeah, they all have a connotation; you can use your own ideas of what they mean. For instance, "gasms." That can mean whatever you want it to mean. I try to put that connotation in all of them, so whatever the person means, or who is the listener, it can be that for them.

Smokey Robinson and the Miracles

Smokey Robinson performing in 1964. Photo: PoPsie Randolph/Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images

Speaking of timeless love songs, you play a huge role in the Beatles' rise. They worshiped you, and beamed you into millions of kids' heads via "You Really Got a Hold On Me" on With the Beatles. And you've covered them, too. Does it feel surreal to look back to your youth, and to these recordings, and say I wrote that?

You know, I don't think about that nowadays, man, unless somebody brings it up. It's not something I concentrate on, or anything like that, but it's a wonderful thing. 

It was especially wonderful — back then, they were the number one group in the world — to pick one of my songs. They were great songwriters themselves. So, to pick one of my songs to record was especially flattering.

What are your memories of those guys?

Oh, they were cool dudes, man. I had met them before they became [Adds air of thunderous significance] the Beatles. We met them in Liverpool; they were singing in a little club down in the basement. They were good guys, and I especially got close to George while he was alive, you know? He was my closest friend in that group.

He sure loved you. He wouldn't have written "Pure Smokey" if he didn't. Can you offer more memories of George?

George was just a great guy, man. He was a nice man. He was one of those people that if you meet him, you like him.

With Gasms out in the world, what do you hope people take away from it?

Oh, take away some enjoyment. I hope they enjoy it with themselves, alone, and with others also. That's what I want them to take away from it. If I can accomplish that, then I feel that I've done what I set out to do.

What has been giving you "gasms" lately? What are you watching, reading or listening to that has been inspiring you?

I listen to everyone, man. 

I'm a music lover, so I listen to all kinds of music. Especially when I'm in my car, and there's no telling what musical mood you're going to catch me in. Weeks happen where I don't listen to anything but classical — Chopin and Rachmaninoff and all that. Sometimes, I listen to hip-hop or jazz or alternative. I just love music, man.

What newer artists have you been checking out?

All of them, that are making music that I can hear on the radio. I listen to all of them, because I'm still making records, too. So, I've got to compete with them. I've got to know what they're doing. I'm not a prejudiced musical listener, whereas I think, OK, these are young people, so I'm not gonna listen to their music.

No, they're in the forefront of music right now. So I listen to everybody.

Living Legends: Van Morrison On New Album Moving On Skiffle, Communing With His Roots & Reconnecting With Audiences

GRAMMY Rewind: Bruce Springsteen Finally Gets To Celebrate Winning Best Male Rock Vocal Performance In 1995
Bruce Springsteen at the 1995 GRAMMYs.

Photo: Steve Granitz/WireImage


GRAMMY Rewind: Bruce Springsteen Finally Gets To Celebrate Winning Best Male Rock Vocal Performance In 1995

Ten years after Bruce Springsteen first won a GRAMMY for Best Male Rock Performance, The Boss did it again in 1995 with "Streets of Philadelphia" — but this time, he was actually able to accept his golden gramophone on stage.

GRAMMYs/Apr 28, 2023 - 05:00 pm

Over the span of fifteen years, Bruce Springsteen received four nominations and two wins for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance. He missed the ceremony for his first win in 1985 for "Dancing in the Dark," but he made up for it in 1995, thanks to "Streets of Philadelphia."

In this episode of GRAMMY Rewind, revisit Springsteen's second win for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance, 10 years after his first victory.

"Not sure this is a rock vocal, but you stick around long enough, and they give these things to you, I guess," Springsteen quipped.

"Gee, I actually won this a few years ago. They gave it out in the afternoon, and I missed it," Springsteen continued with a smile. "They sent it to my mom, and she presented it to me over the kitchen table."

That wasn't the only trophy Springsteen accepted that night, either: "Streets of Philadelphia" nearly made a clean sweep at the 1995 GRAMMYs, winning four of the five categories it was nominated in. The song also won golden gramophones for Best Rock Song, Best Song Written For Visual Media and the coveted Song Of The Year.

Press play on the video above to watch Bruce Springsteen's complete acceptance speech for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance at the 37th GRAMMY Awards, and check back to for more episodes of GRAMMY Rewind.

Bruce Springsteen Essentials: 15 Tracks That Show Why The Boss Is A Poetic Rock Icon