With the release of his 19th album, "Western Stars," in June, Bruce Springsteen not only managed to blend a country atmosphere with orchestral accompaniment, he also capped off (for now) an amazingly varied few years of productivity. His autobiography "Born to Run" led to a different sort of run - 236 performances of "Springsteen on Broadway." Now he’s starring in and has co-directed (with longtime creative associate Thom Zimny) the concert film "Western Stars," featuring Springsteen and an orchestra in an intimate performance - in his barn! - of the album, along with a number of other sights and sounds away from that barn.
The film is set for release through Fathom Events in cinemas across the country on Oct. 19 and 23. When it had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, Springsteen took part in an enjoyably laidback, thoughtful, and open question and answer session about it in front of an audience. Here are some highlights.
Q: Your creative output over the past few years has been in high gear. Where is all of this coming from?
A: Maybe it’s just a part of the act of getting older. The book came very organically, and then from the book the play came. And from the play this is sort of an extension of the tying up of some of the philosophical threads that I’ve been working on, my whole life, really, since I was a kid. I say at the beginning of the picture, "There’s two sides of the American character. There’s the solitary side and the side that yearns for connection and community." That’s just been a lifetime trip for me - trying to figure out how to get from one to the other, how to reconcile those two things. And it might be that those three things - the book, the play, and this (film) - are all sort of summing up my trip, to this point.
Q: The songs in the film, as well as the parts of it that look around at some wide-open spaces, really capture the feelings and the stories of the American West. Was that your goal?
A: I grew up in the ’50s, and the Western (movie) was king. And I wanted my music to be more than just local, so when I was writing I thought about how to draw from all different parts of the country. Right from "Darkness on the Edge of Town" I started to set songs in Utah or somewhere in the Southwest. There’s something just iconically western. Whether it was Henry Fonda or Gary Cooper - they were icons of adulthood or manhood when you were growing up, so it all just sort of naturally seeps into your bones. The nice thing about this movie is that the performances were done in literally the top of my barn at home. Then we shot all of the mini-movies out in the Southwest, so we got best of both worlds.
Q: You’re so well known as a live performer, which is what you’ve been doing for decades. Was it difficult to move into the medium of film?
A: We all grow up with the movies. The movies are as American as apple pie. This was something that came along and I said, "Well I’m not gonna tour, so maybe we’ll shoot the album as a performance." We did that and then we said maybe we’ll do interviews, then put them in, and that’ll be the picture. So, we did some interviews with people saying what a nice guy I am, and it’s easy to work for me and what an honor it is. (laughs). We tried a little bit of that but it had been done before, so I thought, "Well, it’s new music, and I think I need to help people draw into the songs when they come up onscreen, because I don’t have an opportunity to explain them." So, I wrote the script, and Tom and I started to collaborate on little sections that were in between the music. I’ll always be at home with the band and the guitar. That’s something that will never leave me. But all these different forms are exciting to be a part of.
Q: There’s a big difference between a couple of songs on the album and the way they’re done in the film. "Stones" and "Moonlight Motel" were originally sung just by you. But in the film you’re joined by your wife Patti. What happened there?
A: I should have done that on the record. I don’t know why I didn’t. But when we went to perform it, I said, "Gee, Pats, we should sing these together." We’ve been together a long time, so when we gather around that microphone, there’s a lot of livin’ there, of all kinds. (laughs). Nobody knows me better than she does. So that look in her eyes is frightening ... but it’s lovely at the same time. We sing together in a way that you can only sing when you’ve been together that long. The film is really kind of a love letter to my wife and the changes she’s brought to my life.
"Western Stars" will play in cinemas nationwide on Oct. 19 and 23. For locations and times, visit https://www.fathomevents.com.
Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.