Springsteen: Movie Maker

I am really looking forward to seeing Bruce Springsteen’s movie Western Stars next week.  Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post has a nice long-form piece about the film.  Here is a taste:

COLTS NECK, N.J. — “Ahh, it’s early!” Shortly after 9:30 on a warm autumn morning, Bruce Springsteen walks into the cozy kitchen-sitting area of Thrill Hill, the recording studio nestled into a corner of his Monmouth County farm. “For the first interview of my 70s, it’s early!”

A few days after turning 70, Springsteen looks tan and fit as he settles into a leather slingback chair, stretches his arms and runs his hands through brush-cut hair the color of steel shavings. This is the same room where “Western Stars,” a movie based on his recent album of the same name, was in postproduction over the summer, with co-director Thom Zimny editing at a nearby dining table as he listened to Springsteen working on the score in the next room. The movie had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September; it opens in theaters on Oct. 25.

Springsteen makes his feature directing debut with “Western Stars,” sharing a credit with Zimny and making official a fact that has been obvious to anyone who’s ever listened closely to his music: Bruce Springsteen — singer, songwriter, rock star, consummate showman, American icon — has always been a filmmaker. Whether in the form of widescreen, highly pitched epics or low-budget slices of daily life, Springsteen’s records have been less aural than immersive, unspooling with cinematic scope, drive and pictorial detail. Phil Spector might have built a wall of sound, but Springsteen used sound to build worlds.

He greets the suggestion that he’s an auteur with one of his frequent self-effacing chuckles. But Springsteen admits that a cinematic point of view came naturally to him. “Movies have always meant a lot to me,” he says in his familiar rasp. “It’s probably just a part of being a child of the ’50s and ’60s and ’70s, when there was so much great filmmaking.”

He grew up in a blue-collar, Irish Italian family at a time when the local bijou was still a vital community hub. “The Strand Theatre in Freehold, N.J., was dead in the center of town,” he recalls. “It was your classic old, small-town movie theater. Its main attraction was, ‘Come on in, it’s cool inside.’ ”

He laughs again.

Read the rest here.

*Forbes* Reviews Forthcoming Springsteen Documentary *Western Stars*

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Yesterday we gave you a glimpse of a song from the new Springsteen documentary Western Stars.  It will be out in theaters later this month.

Over at Forbes, Steve Baltin reviews the film.  Here is a taste:

Western Stars, (co-directed by Springsteen and Thom Zimny, who worked with Springsteen on The Promise documentary and directed Springsteen On Broadway) is the companion film to the album of the same name this year. But it feels as much as a continuation of his best-selling memoir Born To Run and the Springsteen On Broadway run, as if this is Springsteen sorting that baggage in his art and in front of the world.

Springsteen, who is one of the greatest chroniclers of characters in the rock era, seems to be, in a sense, deconstructing the myths of his greatest character — Bruce Springsteen, the rock legend.

There is that brilliant monologue in Springsteen On Broadway, where he confesses with tremendous humor, about how he had spent his whole career writing about guys with blue-collar jobs in factories and he had never set foot in a factory. He continues to debunk those myths in Western Stars. But this time it’s without the humor or the audience laughing, so the depth of his revelations often seem startling.

Every story and admission he makes is tied to a song on Western Stars. In the framework of the film there is him talking, then a live performance, and that repeats for every song on the album.

So as he talks about change he discusses how he had spent the last 35 years of learning to let go of “my destructive side,” with the help of his family. But talking about what he was like before he learned to let go of that side he says, “If I loved you, I tried to hurt you.”

Read the rest here.

“This is totally non-history, but what’s the name of that song you referenced today in lecture?”

Yesterday in my United States History to 1865 survey course, I lectured on the colonial responses to the Stamp Act.  I also use this lecture to introduce students to the Whig vocabulary of the Founding Fathers.  I try to historicize words like “power,” “liberty,” “slavery,” and “tyranny.”

When I talk about “power,” I note that Whig political thinkers believed that power was not only the antithesis of liberty, but it also had an encroaching dimension to it.  In other words, British Whigs, and by extension the American founders, believed that those with power will always want more.

In order to illustrate the encroaching dimension of power, I use a line from Bruce Springsteen’s song “Badlands”:

Poor man wanna be rich

Rich man wanna be king

And a king ain’t satisfied

Till he rules everything

Sometimes I even sing the lyric.

Usually this part of the lecture is met with blank stares.  The same thing happened today.  My students just don’t appreciate The Boss.

But when when I returned to my office later in the day I received an e-mail from a student.  It read:  “This is totally non-history, but what’s the name of that song you referenced today in lecture?”

My day was made!

Eric Alterman on Springsteen: “World-famous rock stars don’t come any menschier”

Long Walk HomeEric Alterman, a professor of English at Brooklyn College, is a contributor to the recently released collection Long Walk Home: Reflections on Bruce Springsteen (Rutgers University Press, 2019).  His essay in the book is titled “Growing Up With Bruce Springsteen: A Fan’s Notes.”  Here is a taste of an excerpt of that essay published in today’s New York Times:

Bruce Springsteen is the son of Catholic parents and grandparents. There is no ambiguity on this point. And yet, in much the same way that New York football fans have casually annexed the stadium across the river to root for what they like to pretend is their “home” team, some Jewish Springsteen fans are devoted to proving that New Jersey’s favorite Irish Italian son is, if not actually Jewish, nevertheless somehow Jew-ish. Perhaps you thought young Bruce was mostly singing about cars, girls, and getting the hell out of town before he switched gears to focus on the dignity of working folk, the broken promises of the American dream, and more cars and girls. But amid the empty factories, crowded barstools, and swimming holes that constitute the foundation of the Springsteen oeuvre, some detect a whiff of the Chosen.

Read the rest here.

Is This Springsteen’s Greatest Performance?

Rolling Stone thinks it is.  Here is a taste of Andy Greene’s piece “Is This Bruce Springsteen’s Single Greatest Live Moment?”:

With all of this in mind, naming his single greatest concert is a very difficult task. And zooming in even further to pick out his best performance of a singular song is just absurd. After all, he’s played “Born to Run” 1,744 times, “Thunder Road” 1,424 times, and “The Promised Land” 1,375 times. Hell, he’s even done the 1984 B side “Shut Out the Light” 35 times, and “Jump” by Van Halen” twice. One time he even did Bon Jovi’s “Bad Medicine,” though nobody is going to pick that one.

But in honor of the man’s 70th birthday yesterday, we’re going to go ahead and pick our choice for his best live performance anyway. It was “Prove It All Night” at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey, on September 19th, 1978. The show was broadcast on the radio and released as the famous Pièce De Résistance bootleg that Springsteen fans have cherished for years. Springsteen finally released it himself earlier this month as an official download. The Capitol Theatre also had a camera running and you can watch the whole thing right here.

It begins with a four-minute piano and guitar duel between Springsteen and E Street Band keyboardist Roy Bittan before the vocals kick in. The version of the song that follows makes the “Prove It All Night” on Darkness on the Edge of Town sound like a limp, lifeless demo by comparison. The group had been touring the album for four months at this point and were in absolute peak form as a live band.

To be fair, there were 115 shows on the Darkness on the Edge of Town tour and only a tiny handful survive in crystal-clear audio like this show. Even fewer were caught on film. It’s quite possible that other shows had a “Prove It All Night” even better than 9/19/78. It’s actually quite likely. But based on what we have access to at the moment, we stand by our choice.

Springsteen kept “Prove It All Night” in his live repertoire after 1978, but the extended version from the Darkness tour vanished. The fans never gave up on hearing it again, though, and one even managed to ask Springsteen about it during a 2010 appearance on E Street Radio. “You’re one of the ’78 piano intro guys!” Springsteen said. “There are clones of you in various places throughout the United States. … It was just a device that worked nicely at the time. If you’d like to hear it again, that’ll probably never occur, my friend. But it was good while it lasted.”

Springsteen’s Only #1 Song on the Billboard Charts

He wrote it, but the Manfred Mann cover went to #1 on February 19, 1977.  “Blinded by the Light” ended Marty MacGregor’s two-week run for “Torn Between Two Lovers” and stayed at #1 for one week before it was overtaken by the Eagles “New Kid in Town.”

“Dancing in the Dark,” which was written and performed by Springsteen, made it to #2 on June 30, 1984 and stayed in that spot for five weeks.  It was unable to overtake Prince’s “When Dove’s Cry” and Duran Duran’s “The Reflex.”

Happy Birthday Bruce Springsteen!

The Boss turns 70 today.

I don’t have time today for original commentary, so here are a few good things online:

The 50 best Springsteen covers on his 70th birthday. (TWOILH reader Barton Price contributed to this list!0

Brian Hiatt, author of Bruce Springsteen: The Stories Behind the Songs, offers seven thoughts.

National Public Radio features a new edited collection on Springsteen out with Rutgers University Press.

Billboard offers 18 reasons to celebrate Bruce’s birthday.

Nj.com has completed its list of the 70 greatest Springsteen songs.

Jonathan Cohen, editor of the aforementioned edited collection, shows how Democratic presidential candidates are using Springsteen’s music.

The Co-Writer of the Movie “Blinded by the Light” Reflects on Springsteen, Nativism, Trump, and America

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As I wrote last month, “Blinded by the Light” is the very definition of a “feel good movie.”  Springsteen fans will love it.

Over at The New York Times, , the author of memoir upon which the movie is based, reflects on its reception. Here is a taste:

The most encouraging thing to me has been the extent to which the film has connected with people so outwardly different from the characters in the film. In New York, I had a couple from New Jersey approach me after a screening to tell me how much they connected with the film. They had never met any other British Pakistanis. “You are just a Pakistani version of us,” the man said. It seemed such a simple statement but, in a time when the president and his supporters seem determined to deepen divisions by saying that certain communities who pray or look a certain way have less right to claim citizenship, it felt hugely significant and cheering.

In “Long Walk Home,” written after George W. Bush was elected for his second term, Springsteen sang that the “flag flying over the courthouse means certain things are set in stone. Who we are, what we’ll do and what we won’t.”

The America I fell in love from afar all those years ago will have to take a long walk home. Yet conversations with Americans who were moved by the story of a brown, Muslim boy from a British town left me with hope.

Read the entire piece here.

Saved By Bruce

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Earlier this week I saw Blinded by the Light, the feel-good movie about a Pakistani teenager named Javed Kahn living in Luton, England during the Thatcher years.  Javed’s depressing life is transformed after he is exposed to the the music of Bruce Springsteen.  I wrote about the movie here.

I really enjoyed Richard Brody’s review of Blinded by the Light at The New Yorker. Here is my favorite paragraph:

Yet what’s heartwarming about “Blinded by the Light” is its pursuit of easy unanimity, which it achieves by borrowing plot elements that have the ring of authenticity and then sweetening and contrivedly assembling them so as to denature them. Javed’s life is changed one day at school, when a classmate named Roops (Aaron Phagura), who’s Sikh, approaches him and, in an encouragingly friendly gesture, offers him cassettes of two albums of his musical hero: “the Boss.” Javed is puzzled. Roops clears up the mystery: “The Boss of us all.” When Javed listens to Bruce Springsteen, the lyrics swirl around him on screen and he is transformed. What’s odd about the way that the movie handles Javed’s awakening is that its result is a monomaniacal fixation on Springsteen. Javed’s discovery of the Boss’s music doesn’t unlock the door to music for him, or to rock music, or to personal poetic rock at large, the way that a discovery of Beethoven might open up a world of classical music, or a discovery of François Truffaut might spark the discovery of cinema, or that of Virginia Woolf might ignite the discovery of novels. Rather, the movie looks benignly, even beatifically, at Javed’s cult of personality, as he fills his room with Springsteen posters, imitates Springsteen’s way of dressing, and seemingly listens to nothing but Springsteen’s albums. Far from sparking Javed’s curiosity, Springsteen sparks his incuriosity.

Read the entire review here.

The *Western Stars* Documentary is Coming

Springsteen’s most recent album, Western Stars, will be the subject of a music documentary that Warner Brothers will release this Fall.  Here is Variety:

Warner Bros. has nabbed global rights to “Western Stars,” the upcoming music documentary co-directed by Bruce Springsteen. The film will be released on the big screen and will open in theaters this fall after its world premiere at September’s Toronto International Film Festival.

“Western Stars” is Springsteen’s first studio album in five years and the film marks his directorial debut. It weaves in archival footage along with Springsteen’s narration, and shows him performing all 13 songs on the album, alongside a band and a full orchestra, in a nearly 100-year-old barn on the singer’s property.

The film was also overseen by Thom Zimny, a frequent Springsteen collaborator. Zimny directed the Boss in “Springsteen on Broadway” and “Bruce Springsteen: Hunter of Invisible Game” (2014), and picked up a Grammy Award for “Wings on Wheels: The Making of Born to Run” (2005).

“Bruce lives in the super rarified air of artists who have blazed new and important trails deep into their careers,” said Toby Emmerich, chairman of Warner Bros. Picture Group. “With ‘Western Stars,’ Bruce is pivoting yet again, taking us with him on an emotional and introspective cinematic journey, looking back and looking ahead. As one of his many fans for over 40 years, I couldn’t be happier to be a rider on this train with Bruce and Thom.”

Read the rest here.

Naples

*Blinded by the Light*: A Review

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I saw Blinded by the Light last night at a special “Fan Event” premiere.  (The movie officially opens tomorrow night).  While I don’t think this movie will win any Academy Awards (at least in the major categories), it was a lot of fun to watch.  Blinded by the Light is the very definition of a “feel good movie.”

The film explores the tensions between the Old World and the New World through the life of Javed Khan, a sixteen-year-old Pakistani boy in Margaret Thatcher’s England.  Javed wants to become a writer.  He feels oppressed by the traditions of his Pakistani home and his authoritarian father who is struggling to provide for his family during a period of recession.

This is all a pretty standard story line for immigrant movies until Javed encounters (through a Sikh friend) the music of Bruce Springsteen.  (He listens to Born in the USA and The River on cassette via his Walkman).  Springsteen speaks directly to Javed’s circumstances, but in the end Javed also realizes that the sense of longing and ambition in the Boss’s music must be balanced with roots, tradition and place.

The script is corny at times, and the plot is a pretty tired one, but the characters (especially Javed’s father) are very likable and the Springsteen soundtrack is worth the price of a ticket.  If you are Bruce fan, you will leave the theater with a smile on your face!

 

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Caroline liked *Blinded by the Light*

Gurinder Chadha Talks About the Making of *Blinded by the Light*

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I will be doing my best to see “Blinded by the Light” this week.  In the meantime, here is a great interview with director Gurinder Chadra:

Bruce Springsteen was born to run. Luckily, so was English film director Gurinder Chadha.

She ran into the Boss on a red carpet several years ago. When you want to make a movie using all his early music and then see him in the flesh, you don’t walk up to him. You sprint.

“I ran over and seized the moment. I said, ‘Hi Bruce! You gotta help us out. My name is Gurinder. I’m a film director. I made ‘Bend It Like Beckham,’ ” she recalled. ‘I said, ‘We really want to make a film of the book written by Sarfraz Manzoor about his life and how your music inspired him.’ ”

“To which, Bruce looked at Sarfraz who was there with me and said, ‘Sounds good. I read that book. It’s beautiful. Talk to my manager,’ ” said Chadha, 59, one of the few female film directors of Indian origin.

The end result — “Blinded by the Light” — is one the biggest deals coming out of the Sundance film festival this year, as the film sold to Warner Bros. for $15 million. Early reviews are calling it “the feel-good movie of 2019.”

“Blinded” revolves around a British-Pakistani teenager named Javid (Viveik Kalra), an aspiring poet who meets with the disapproval of his strict father Malik (Kulvinder Ghir). Life is bleak in their small town in England circa 1987. Dad has been laid off from the local plant and to cope with the despair and local racism, Javid becomes obsessed with the rocking music and inspirational lyrics of Bruce Springsteen….

What happened after you encountered Springsteen on that red carpet?

Sarfraz and I went away and wrote a script just for Bruce. We sent it to his manager and then came the waiting period. Finally, Bruce sent this message to his manager and it read: “I’m all good with this. Give them what they want.” Our timing was good because he has really been looking at his legacy and the impact of it.

Read the entire interview at Las Vegas Review-Journal.