I strategically waited six months before seeing Springsteen’s film Western Stars, which is his meditative and reflective take on the album of the same name and his life’s journey. I waited to see the movie because I wanted to familiarize myself with the album, and by familiarize myself I mean have it soak into my being. I listened to the album over and over during the past few months as I went for walks in my neighbourhood, went for hikes, rode my bike, went for drives in my truck, worked out in my basement, or relaxed in my favourite cozy chair in the loft in my home.
When the album was released in June of 2019 Springsteen talked about how it was one of his most creative experiences. Given that I’ve been hooked on The Boss since I was a teen, I looked forward to sharing in that experience in a way that reflected how his music resonates with my soul. I wanted to come to the film prepared.
Even though I readied myself for the film I didn’t realize I’d be as moved as I was. My experience in seeing him live on Broadway led me to think it was his creative masterpiece. I was wrong. It’s the Western Stars film.
To say that this is Springsteen’s masterpiece says a lot. There are a few other musicians and artists who have been around as long as he has, but most of them are not still creative in the way he is. Most of them are performing their old hits or releasing what seems uninspired and unoriginal music. At seventy, Springsteen’s creativity seems boundless. Just a few years ago his Wrecking Ball album won a Grammy for album of the year, his Springsteen on Broadway set records and won critical acclaim, and now he gives us one of his best albums with an accompanying film that is pure genius. The masterpiece is the film. The album stands on its own, but the film is the piece of art that will stand out.
In this film he takes the country inflected California pop sound of Jimmy Webb and others from the sixties and seventies in the songs he wrote for the album Western Stars and combines it with short films containing reflective dialogue to introduce each song. These intros are filled with cutting and vulnerable insights about life, his life, our lives. He talks about the ongoing struggle to walk away from the destructive parts of his life, about the unanswered mysteries of life, the ongoing tension between individual freedom and communal life, and about the deep desire we have to make love part of our lives.
In the intro film to the song Drive Fast (The Stuntman), he says, “We all have broken pieces, emotionally and spiritually, in this life. No one gets away unhurt. We’re always trying to find someone whose broken pieces fit our broken pieces. Something whole emerges.”
The concert part of the film takes place in the hay loft of a hundred-year-old barn he has on his property in New Jersey. It’s a perfect setting to gather a few friends and a small orchestra. The filming of the musicians sharing their craft during this creative masterpiece is well edited to highlight how the film is about much more than just a band and an orchestra playing songs. As Springsteen says about the barn concert, “The music took on a life of its own.”
If you can, try to spend some time listening to the original Western Stars album first. It will allow you to connect with the film at a deeper level.
I understand not everyone will have the same experience viewing this film as I did. However, I hope those who take the time to prepare and watch it will walk away from it with an experience that reflects the creative masterpiece Springsteen gave us.
Here are other blog posts I wrote about Springsteen: