The Brandeis Questionnaire
Jon Landau ’68
Knowing how simpatico Jon Landau and Bruce Springsteen are, you’d be forgiven for assuming the opening lines from Springsteen’s song “No Surrender” — the ones about learning more from a three-minute rock-and-roll record than from school — accurately describe Landau’s own wild, innocent youth.
In fact, Landau ’68 did burst into the popular-music scene with precocity and vigor, writing record reviews for the just-born Rolling Stone while he was still at Brandeis, then quickly rising through the magazine’s ranks after graduation to become its music editor.
But despite rock and R&B’s siren song, Landau was happy being a serious history student. Even his famous prophecy, written after watching a scruffy youngster perform at the Harvard Square Theater in 1974 — “I saw rock and roll future, and its name is Bruce Springsteen” — has historical roots, echoing the cadence of journalist Lincoln Steffens’ take on the early Soviet Union (“I have seen the future, and it works”).
Over time, Landau morphed from reviewer into Springsteen’s record producer — starting with “Born to Run” (1975) — then into his manager, solidifying one of the most successful and most heralded creative partnerships in music history.
Though Landau has produced records for and managed other artists, including Jackson Browne and Shania Twain, his ongoing relationship with Springsteen will be his true legacy. He’s helped define the outlines of a cultural icon whose music shapes America’s ideas about what it wants to be.
And what’s the artistic vision Landau has thrown his heart and soul behind? There’s this cinematic glimpse near the end of “No Surrender”:
I want to sleep beneath peaceful skies in my lover’s bed
With a wide-open country in my eyes and these romantic dreams in my head.
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What was your idea of perfect happiness when you were at Brandeis?
Sitting in with many other Brandeisians at U.S. Attorney Arthur Garrity’s office to protest the death of Viola Liuzzo. Listening to Herbert Marcuse’s brilliant speech analyzing the war at a Vietnam War protest in Ford Hall. Playing rock music with our little band, the Jellyroll, in the Shapiro B lounge.
When or where were you most miserable at Brandeis?
On the day that Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. (At the multifaith service that followed, poetry professor Allen Grossman, PhD’60, gave the most moving tribute that I have ever heard.) On a more mundane note, the day I flunked out of Brandeis for failing my foreign-language requirement two years in a row. (I went to Berlitz during the summer and was admitted back the next semester after passing a qualifying exam.)
Who was your favorite Brandeis professor?
Norman Cantor, a brilliant classroom teacher as well as a scholar, who taught the so-called Middle Ages. Ramsay MacMullen, who taught Greek and Roman history. David Fischer, still going strong and the man who really taught me what it meant to be a true historian. Léo Bronstein, who gave me some profound inklings into the world of antique art, which later became one of my obsessions.
Where did you usually spend Saturday night?
Cholmondeley’s, often performing.
What is the most important value you learned at Brandeis?
Respect for other points of view, confidence in my own ideas, and how to combine those two different tendencies.
Which talent did Brandeis help you develop most?
Analytic thinking, the ability to write clearly and with style, a working knowledge of the world around us.
What do you wish you had studied harder?
Science — I did so little and miss the knowledge I failed to acquire. Also, with all the travel I do, I sure wish I had put in the time to master some foreign languages.
What three words of advice would you give to current Brandeis students?
Expand your environment and range. Do not settle too easily into any cultural, religious, geographical or ethnic group. Expand your universe. (There, the last one was only three words!)
What would your friends say is your greatest strength?
I can be a good leader and teacher.
What is your blind spot?
Never acquired the interest I should have in classical music.
What movie changed your life?
“The Searchers,” “Sansho the Bailiff,” “Only Angels Have Wings.”
Which possession do you most like to look at?
A painting I own by Tintoretto.
Whom would you like to sing a duet with?
Which bad break was your biggest blessing?
Moving to Lexington, Mass., in 1959 when I was 12. It seemed like a terrible idea then, but, in reality, I got so much out of it that it wound up a terrific plus. Will explain further in my memoirs.
If you could climb into a time machine, whom would you like to hang out with?
Titian, Tintoretto, Bellini, Giotto and Donatello.
On your deathbed, what will you be most grateful for?
My time on earth. My family (my glorious wife and two extraordinary children, and my mom, dad and brother). And the wonderful paths my life has taken.