Rock & Roll Mama

updated 09/03/2007 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/03/2007 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Every weekday morning at 7 a.m., Patti Scialfa and her husband of 16 years, Bruce Springsteen, get busy making beautiful music together. Their instruments? Frying pans and spatulas. "We always make a hot breakfast for the kids: oatmeal, pancakes, bacon, scrambled eggs, the whole deal," says Scialfa. "We like to have that time in the morning together as a family. I know—it's corny, isn't it?"

But such is the life of a rock and roll mama who's been juggling music and motherhood for nearly two decades. Scialfa, 54, may be best known as the wife and E Street Bandmate of the Boss. But with her third solo album, Play It as It Lays, out this month, the long-legged redhead with the smoky voice takes center stage to belt out ballads about life and love on the Jersey Shore. "For me, my record is about exploring the complexities of a real, committed, long-term relationship [combined] with children and work," says Scialfa, who put her solo career on hold while her three kids with Springsteen (Evan, 17, Jessica, 15, and Sam, 13) were young. As she sings on the title track, "The years go by, you add them up/Some days are holy, some days are rough." Above all, she says, "it's hard for everybody to hold on to their identity and make a life for themselves. It doesn't matter who you're married to."

It's harder still when your personal and professional lives have always been entwined. A Jersey girl who grew up 10 miles away from her 57-year-old husband, Scialfa studied music at NYU and the University of Miami, then busked on the streets of Greenwich Village and sang with local groups before joining the E Street Band as a backup singer on Springsteen's 1984 Born in the U.S.A. tour. She had become friends with the rocker while playing New Jersey clubs, but "I wasn't a fan who knew every song he had written," she says with a laugh. "It was daunting—I had to learn his whole catalog."

A few years later, on Springsteen's Tunnel of Love tour, the two began a romance, which caused a tabloid frenzy (Springsteen was married at the time; he was divorced in 1989). Looking back, Scialfa says, "When Bruce and I got together, we knew we were going to be together for the long haul, period."

The couple found themselves the subject of rumors again last year after the New York Post claimed that Springsteen was having an affair and implied he had been kicked out of the house. For the record, everything in the Springsteen-Scialfa union is just fine, thank you. The stories "had nothing at all to do with reality," she says. "All of a sudden my friends were calling me from around the world, worried. It was exhausting." It was easier to reassure the kids: "I showed them [the papers] and said, 'I just want you to know this is out there and it's wild.' And they're all reading it together, laughing: 'It says Dad's living in the barn! Ha ha!' I said, 'I just don't want you to be upset,' and they go, 'Mom! Dad's over there making pancakes!'"

Near their home in rural Rumson, N.J., they do indeed have a barn—but it's reserved for horses for Jessica, an avid equestrian. And there's a guitar in almost every room of their house. "All my kids play guitar, sing and dabble with writing," says Scialfa. Other than that, they're a typical Irish-Italian family who have spaghetti night on Sundays with various relatives who live in the area and movie nights when Scialfa will put on a classic film noir, or "Bruce and the boys will pick a really sweaty and muscles guy film."

Then it's early to bed. Instead of hitting the clubs like their old Asbury Park haunt, the Stone Pony, Scialfa now hits the sack by 9:30 p.m. and is sometimes up by 4:30 a.m. at the piano. "It's the best time to write," says the multitasking mom, "before you have to get the kids to school and get their schedules together." Yes, she and the husband will give each other writing input at times. "Bruce will play me things and we'll have questions for each other, but ..." But it's not like she's going to tell him how to write a song: "God, no! And he'd be smart enough not to do that with me, either!"

And while there's always music playing in the house, it's not necessarily homegrown: At her birthday bash in July, Scialfa and her brood danced to the Grateful Dead and Evan got his parents hooked on his favorite group, Rage Against the Machine. So don't expect the E Street Band to sign on three teen members anytime soon. "The kids are very relaxed about music, it's not their first calling," says Scialfa. "But Bruce and me? We're always singing."

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