Portrait of the artist at seventy

16

Dear Artist,

This past summer, a few months before his 70th birthday, Bruce Springsteen released his 19th studio album. Western Stars he said, would be a character-driven collection of songs that spoke to the themes that had always driven his work — the loneliness of the highway, the cowboy sky, isolation, family and work, and life’s small miracles that keep us going. Set in California and reminiscent of the 1960s anthems of some of his childhood musical heroes and orchestrated with sweeping, elegiac string arrangements, Springsteen’s stories are laid out as a metaphor for an artist’s quest and the quiet, inward revelations that arrive in life’s last chapters.

Bruce Springsteen and his debut album "Greetings From Asbury Park" in 1972. Art Maillet photo

Bruce Springsteen and his debut album “Greetings From Asbury Park” in 1972.
Art Maillet photo

In lieu of touring his new album, Springsteen converted the loft of a horse barn on his New Jersey property and invited a handful of friends to be there when he performed the record live, in its entirety, with an orchestra. Working with his longtime collaborator — director, Thom Zimney, Bruce filmed the hyper-intimate performance and interspersed each song with a voice-overed vignette set in Joshua Tree National Park.

During the introductory vignette to his song Chasin’ Wild Horses, Springsteen describes the anger he felt as a young man. “I’ve spent thirty-five years trying to learn how to let go of the destructive parts of my character,” he explains. “I still have days when I struggle with it.” He offers that love is our only tangible evidence of a miracle, and that it’s our job to nurture it in our lives as best we can. He acknowledges life’s heartbreak, then tenders his flickering hope and gratitude to his family in the form of this wistful, sweeping, aching masterwork. I wept at the miracle of his creativity and my own devotion to making things as a tether to hope. “Life’s mysteries remain and deepen,” says Bruce, “its answers unresolved.”

Bruce Springsteen in Long Branch, New Jersey, 1973 David Gahr photo

Bruce Springsteen in Long Branch, New Jersey, 1973
David Gahr photo

Sincerely,

Sara

PS: “The supreme question about a work of art is, out of how deep a vision of life does it spring?” (James Joyce, Ulysses)

Esoterica: “A fingernail moon in a twilight sky
I’m ridin’ in the high grass of the switchback
I shout your name into the canyon
The echo throws it back

The winter snow whites out the plains
‘Til it can turn you blind
The only thing up here I’ve found
Tryin’ to get you off mind
It’s like chasin’ wild horses” (Bruce Springsteen, Chasin’ Wild Horses)

Bruce Springsteen and Thom Zimney’s film, Western Stars, is currently in theatres.

From "Western Stars", 2019

From “Western Stars”, 2019

You can download the album Western Stars here.

The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, are available for download on Amazon, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.

 

“Talk about a dream, try to make it real.” (Bruce Springsteen)

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16 Comments

  1. What a perfect way to start our Friday Sara… with “a tether to hope” and “chasin’ wild horses”. Now I am in the right frame of mind to go open the new show in my small gallery this morning. Thank you as always for the Painters Keys and the anchors these posts offer each week to us creative beings.

  2. Beautiful, Sara. Thank you. The challenge is being able to effectively express what is deep within because it could
    either pull one into the dark or come out shining. It is that effective expression, that small triumph over the struggle of dark and light that makes the artist.

  3. Thank you , dear Sara.. You’ve highlighted yet another example for being your most authentic self, and staying curious, going deep, giving everything you can…
    …my heart is feeling the yearning to go beyond art that is a ‘mirror that reflects surface images’ and offer more ….

  4. Had the privilege of seeing the boss in Kilkenny a few years ago. the day was characterised by a sense of extraordinary human warmth emanating from this man on stage bursting his heart for us all. I go to a lot of gigs. This was another level of connectivity and love. Unforgettable. I play western star every second day at the moment. Trying to spread it out for my self, make. that total in love with feeling go as far as I can stretch it. Remember doing the same with the river as a teenager. His art is for the heart. God bless him and keep him and he ain’t finished yet!

  5. … could, or would, a sleepy, soulful, saxophone, … bring it all back East, in a stripped down Cadillac, ‘neath a billboard sign, … top down, engine on, doors open, with the radio playin’ … in the shade of some freeway … ? … Stevie blowin’ ‘Z’s in the driver-side back …

    Munn Ice Arena @ Michigan State University, April ’78

  6. Thanks for this, Sara. I’ve responded to the Genn news letters in the past…but it has been years since the last time…your dad was still around. Anyway….very much enjoyed reading about Bruce….particularly about his struggles to over-come his anger…to “let go of the destructive parts of (his) character”. I’ve been at it for years too…as probably many of us have…takes a long time to earn what causes it…then when found…takes the rest of your life dealing with it. Years ago, quite by chance, I found the writings of Jiddu Krishnamurti. To make a long story short…he provided a way to learn and become aware of what was going on…especially inwardly. In a nut shell: Observe, pay attention to relationships, outwardly and inwardly, be accepting of what you find. The latter being very necessary…in other words…don’t beat yourself up…again, be accepting of thoughts, feelings , etc And…don’t try to change anything…simply continue to observe and pay attention…change will take place on its own. For me….as a result…my life is more relaxed, peaceful, and more interesting. And, Fun. The anger still pops up…but not as frequently, and when it does, I recognize it immediately. Onward!

  7. Sara,
    Thank your for this beautiful story about the connection that exists in all creative endeavors, particularly the written word and painting. Art is personal, as is music and I think you described how our ability to investigate ourselves when we create brings a sense of awareness of life in general as we grow older.
    Your description of Springsteen’s music was so remarkable. You write as well as your father.
    Susan Truex

  8. That is just brilliant! Thanks for leading me to Springsteen recent music … Inspiring. Bruce, and you for spotting the creative brilliance, and sharing it so piercingly.

  9. “Springsteen’s stories are laid out as a metaphor for an artist’s quest and the quiet, inward revelations that arrive in life’s last chapters” I feel pretty sure he wouldn’t consider these his last chapters. While there’s life … well … there’s life! And we can only hope for many more chapters like this. 70 is simply a number … just like all the rest.

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