Posted on Friday, November 29th, 2019 by Jason Gorber
Bruce Springsteen has had a hell of a few years as of late. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, given that he’s had a hell of a last few decades, becoming one of the most celebrated and cherished entertainers in popular music history. Still, the release of his autobiography, followed by his award winning show on Broadway that helped contextualize and deconstruct some of the prevailing themes of his work has proven to be one of the great late-career moves of the day. Add in his latest project, a sun-drenched Western themed record called Western Stars, and you’ve got a trinity of Boss things to trumpet.
As an album, Springsteen’s latest borrows liberally from Jimmy Webb, the iconic producer who helped solidify a sweeping, cinematic form of country pop that fused lush strings, warm harmonies and songs whose narratives were both evocative and inviting. Just as early Bruce borrowed from another iconic producer, Phil Spector, this fascination with the scope of Webb-style songs has resulted in a different kind of mythmaking for Springsteen, one that draws from a dusty Californian landscape rather than the Spartan roads of North Jersey.
Along with documentarian Thom Zimny (editor of The Wire, director numerous Bruce docs), Springsteen has helped craft this film to document not only a performance of songs but, like with the Broadway gig, to provide editorial and thematic responses to the tune, situating them within grander contexts and establishing their place within his larger body of work. The performances themselves are grand, taking place with Bruce’s barn, a cathedral-like place crammed with a small orchestra and country band. The performances are lifted even further from the album’s recording, played live the sweep is all the more grand, the swing all the more palpable.
Following the film’s world premiere at TIFF, Springsteen sat down for a conversation for the audience. He discussed the project, the recording, how it all came together and some of the cinematic and musical references they both brought to bear for this remarkable film.
The following is an edited version of that conversation, collecting the highlights.