Personally and professionally, Anthony Mason owes a lot to Bruce Springsteen.
The CBS News journalist says it was Springsteen’s 1987 album “Tunnel of Love” that helped him navigate a particularly difficult part of his life.
“It came out while I was going through a divorce,” Mason says during a telephone conversation. “I don’t know if I would have survived without that album.”
And it was Springsteen who helped him discover his gift for profiling musicians.
As Mason, 63, tells it, he haphazardly discovered that CBS was looking for someone to interview Springsteen for a piece on his 2005 album “Devils & Dust.” Mason, who says he became a Springsteen fan when he was 16 and saw him open for Chicago at Madison Square Garden, raised his hand and got the assignment.
“I wasn’t expecting to do any more than that one,” Mason says, “but I had such a good time I was like, ‘Oh, I wonder if there’s any more of these.’ And they said, ‘Well, actually, we’ve got something on Neil Diamond coming up: Would you be interested in that?’
“And I was like, ‘Hell yeah!’ And then I was off and running. It kind of took off on its own.”
Mason, a co-host of “CBS This Morning” with Gayle King and Tony Dokoupil, has done a lot of great work since joining CBS News in 1986. A seven-time Emmy Award winner, he formerly co-hosted “CBS This Morning: Saturday,” worked in the network’s London and Moscow bureaus and was its business correspondent from 1998 to 2016.
But he might be best known for his profiles of musicians, many of which are shown on “CBS Sunday Morning.” His carefully crafted pieces are warm, insightful and revealing. They are the work of someone who cares deeply about music and the people who make it.
There’s no question that Mason, who grew up in New York City, is a music nerd. He remembers listening to Casey Kasem as a child and rooting on his favorite singers and bands as the disc jockey counted down the Top 40. He remembers buying a Beatles wig when the British Invasion hit. And he remembers the first album he ever bought — the Monkees’ self-titled debut.
A lot of people, as they grow older, lose that passion for music. Or they close their ears and stop listening to new music, content to stick with the tunes that were the soundtrack of their youth.
He says the only regret he has about moving from the suburbs to New York City is the 45-minute commute by car to his office, which gave him enough time to listen to an entire album.
And speaking of that office, Mason says it’s equipped with a turntable and a set of headphones that his 19-year-old son gave him.
“I have speakers, but I’m in a fairly wide-open office area off to the side so I can’t blast them too often,” he says.
The three albums that have most recently graced that turntable are Maggie Rogers’ “Heard It in a Past Life,” Springsteen’s “Western Stars” and the Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle.” On deck is Emily King’s “Scenery.”
“I’ve always loved music,” Mason says. “I can’t imagine living without it. I don’t want to live without it. And when I was a kid I was a very guarded person. I tapped into myself the most through music. It’s always meant an enormous amount to me. And I have a profound respect for the people who make it.”
Mason has interviewed some of the biggest names in music, including Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Aretha Franklin, Elton John, Lady Gaga, Van Morrison and Adele.
He has a knack for coming away from the time he spends with musicians with something that gets under that sheen of stardom and reveals their humanity.
His piece on Franklin, for example, includes an almost heartbreaking moment when the late singer breaks down and starts weeping when she, Mason and the camera crew venture in the rain to a small park in inner-city Detroit that bears her father’s name.
“If they come to trust you and feel sort of safe, that you’re not trying to trick them, they’ll give you something. That’s what I love about musicians. They put themselves in songs. They’re used to giving up part of themselves, which is very different from actors, who are kind of used to hiding in a part ... musicians are very much themselves and are by nature usually very vulnerable people who put that vulnerability in their music.
“And they’ll give you part of that if they feel they can trust you. And that to me is the most fascinating part of this whole thing.”
Mason says gaining that trust takes time. Typically, he needs to spend a total of about a day and a half with the person he’s profiling for an eight-minute segment for “CBS Sunday Morning.”
And sometimes that means catching up with the subject at far-flung locations. A profile of Jason Isbell, for example, included stops at a guitar store in New York, a studio in Nashville, another studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and Isbell’s mother’s home in Alabama.
“I was very proud of that piece,” Mason says. “When you get a chance to shine a spotlight on someone you know is ridiculously talented but not a household name, and they have a really compelling story, that’s the moment I get the most excited.”
Plans to continue
Though the demands on his time have increased exponentially since he joined “CBS This Morning,” Mason says he plans to continue his reporting on music and musicians.
He recently attended the Newport Folk Festival, where Dolly Parton made a surprise appearance.
The festival also featured a new group called the Highwomen (Brandi Carlisle, Maren Morris, Amanda Shires and Natalie Demby). One of the apparent intentions of the four women is to make significant inroads into the male bastion that is country music.
“To put a band together with the intention of basically driving a battery ram into this is pretty nervy,” Mason says. “Those are four ridiculously talented women.
“I’ve been saying to my colleagues here at the morning show: Do not make the mistake of thinking that cultural stories are not news, because what is happening in the art world, in the music world, in the theater world, in the film world is in many ways driving and leading the conversation about diversity, equality, etcetera.
“It’s really important.”