WE VISITED BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN’S HOME TO TALK ALL ABOUT HIS NEW MOVIE, ‘WESTERN STARS’
OCTOBER 24TH 2019, 6:00 AM
When you grow up in the New York City area, you no doubt find yourself driving through New Jersey on any given day at any given time, on or around its many nondescript highways, traveling down long roads where left turns are annoyingly prohibited. It’s typically pretty uneventful, but when you’re on a shuttle bus heading to Bruce Springsteen’s house to talk about his new movie Western Stars, the ride through New Jersey takes on a new life. Suddenly, the smoke-engulfed factories and blue-collar neighborhoods that add color to so many classic Springsteen tunes become a lot more noticeable.
Suddenly, everything starts reminding you of a Springsteen song.
Fandango joined four other film journalists on a trip to Springsteen’s sprawling New Jersey farm, home to horses, donkeys, goats and an old barn that played host to a live performance of Bruce’s “Western Stars” album. That performance, complete with an orchestra and Bruce’s wife Patti Scialfa strumming at his side, provides the foundation for a new film out in theaters on October 25 (grab your tickets here at Fandango), co-directed by Springsteen and his longtime collaborator Thom Zimny.
“Almost every record of new music I go out and I tour,” Springsteen explained while seated comfortably on a couch outside his home recording studio. “But I know that it's not that kind of record. It's not a band record, and it's a record with a big orchestra. And so I said, "Well, I'll make a film of me playing the record start to finish, and that'll be my tour," you know?”
Western Stars is part concert film, part poetic wisdom. Interspersed between songs are little short films about growing older and letting go of mistakes in order to embrace the love that’s all around you. “The film is fundamentally about a transition that everyone has to make. Everyone has to make it. And it's about how you make that transition,” he said. “The price you pay if you don't make it. The rewards you get if and when you do. And that's what the film became about as we worked on it, because it was in the subtext of the music. When I went to write a script, I searched into the songs about – what are they actually saying? What are the issues they're wrestling with? And we came out with this film.”
We met Springsteen at a recording studio he fashioned out of an old garage. Bruce – or as his fans call him, “Bruuuuuuuce” – was dressed casually in a jean jacket and white shirt, surrounded by books, bagels and a smattering of career memorabilia. On one shelf were a string of mugs featuring all of Springsteen’s Rolling Stone magazine covers, and on a wall near the door were three framed images of Bruce embracing Clarence Clemons, his longtime saxophonist who passed away in 2011. A gold record for “Chapter and Verse” sat framed on the bathroom wall, while a “Greetings from Asbury Park” pillow was perched on the couch where Springsteen would eventually hold court alongside the five of us.
We sat and spoke for almost forty minutes, touching on topics that ranged from moviegoing to moviemaking. Did Springsteen ever take acting seriously? In this era of music biopics, would the rock legend ever consider one about his own life? Below are some stand-out moments from our conversation:
Bruce, on growing up inside his local movie theater
If you've ever been to a Bruce Springsteen show, you know that no concert is complete without Bruce tossing out some ancedotes about growing up in Jersey. Of course there needed to be one during our chat, and it came while talking about the Boss's moviegoing habits.
“We’re a generation of moviegoers, you know. We had a great movie theater in the center of Freehold. It had one thing it advertised: "It's cool inside". That was it. Didn't have the banner of the movie that was playing, just had that, "it's cool inside." So when it got to be 95 degrees in 1957, when you were eight years old or nine years old, and no one in town had any air conditioning, people went to the movies and they saw whatever was on the screen.
You went to the movies every week. It was just, Saturday movie day. You went down to the movie theater. Initially my mother would take us, and it was 35 cents if you were 12, and a dollar once you hit 13. So my mother would just say, "Tell them you're 12. Tell them you're 12. Get down. Scoot down a little bit and just tell them," and the guy would say, "How old are you, son?" I'd go, "T-T-Twelve," and feel really shitty about it.
But you saw films every single week and you saw whatever was being played on Saturday and Sunday in a theater with hundreds and hundreds of other people. In Asbury Park, the theaters fit thousands of people, and that's what they expected to come to the movies was thousands of people to see a film on a Friday night. And they did.”
Bruce, on getting his own biopic.
Rocketman. Bohemian Rhapsody. We're living in an era rich with biopics about our most celebrated musicians. Many have been interested in bringing Springsteen's life story to the big screen, but while Bruce readily admits that people continue to bring him projects based on his past experiences, the singer-songwriter still isn't ready to see his story realized in such a way.
“Somebody came up recently who wanted to shoot a picture that went up to “Born to Run.” I haven't dove into that yet. It's kind of something I've just held off on because so few of them are successful. Finding someone to play yourself is really weird. It's just been something that I haven't really dove into. I don't know if I will.”
Bruce, on a potential acting career
There was a time early in his career where some thought Springsteen might make a good actor. He's certainly a master entertainer and a prolific writer, but apart from a cameo here and there, we've never seen the Boss try on a leading role where he isn't just being himself. Is acting potentially in the cards?
“I don't think so, you know. It's like, the cameos [I’ve made] are just favors to friends. But I always worry about, well, I haven't done any homework. You know, I'm a believer in preparation, and I had years of preparation to be a musician and to be a writer.
And so even when I was young, I understood that when I was 25, and a couple of people were looking around to see if I had any interest in it. I said, "Well, you know, I feel like I just haven't done the homework or the preparation to be an actor." I didn't have the confidence, whereas in music, I was completely confident in at least what I was doing, and I liked that feeling, so I stuck with it.”
Bruce, on incorporating old home-movie footage of his honeymoon into Western Stars
One of the loveliest moments in Western Stars comes when the audience is treated to home-video footage of Bruce and his wife Patti on their honeymoon. They're young, in love and outside enjoying nature and each other. The footage arrives at a time when the themes of the film truly begin to resonate, and those feelings of an isolated man off soul-searching across America begin transforming into something richer and more complete. It's the moment we recognize the power of true love. We asked Bruce about that footage...
“Well, you know, once the kids go, you don't take the videos as much. We took the videos when we were very young and when the kids were young, but we were like everybody else: you shoot them, you throw ‘em in a box and then you don't look at them for 35 years.
So Thom took a catalog of my home video footage and gave it to me for Christmas one year. He knew what was in all of it. I didn't know what was in any of it, but he knew what was in all of it. And one day I came in, and he had pulled out some of this footage, and I said, "Oh man, I remember that." Yosemite, and Patti and I were playing with the camera all the time. And it was just a little tiny video camera that we brought. But it ended up actually being an important scene in the picture.”
Bruce, on ending the film with a surprise cover of “Rhinestone Cowboy”
What's a Springsteen show without an encore? The encore at the end of Western Stars comes as a bit of a surprise, but when you recognize the journey the character is making throughout the film, then it's really no shock to find a cover of "Rhinestone Cowboy" at the end of it – as if Bruce wanted to share a few more words of wisdom with his audience: to never stop chasing the dream. Here's how Bruce explained the song's inclusion:
“Because it was celebratory. I could've left the film with “Moonlight Motel” and then had the voice over, but the character in the film makes this journey and it needed to be celebrated a little bit. And so that song was celebratory. When it comes up, it's a release for the audience. It may not know why, but that's why, so that's how that song came about. And it was slightly connected to the genre I was working in, and Glen Campbell, who was an inspiration for a lot of song styles.”
Bruce, on documenting future performances of his on film
Fully aware that audiences are consuming content in a multitude of ways these days, Springsteen isn't shying away from making his performances available to everyone, however he can. "We're in an enormously transitional period in the way that films are shown and viewed," he said. "We'll see where it goes." One thing's for sure--when it comes to the work Bruce and his collaborators are putting out, he'll be making sure others get to experience it, too.
“When you include a film portion, it just extends the life of what you're doing, you know. And I have to find new ways to extend the life of the presentation, whether it's my music or whatever it is I'm working on. It's a huge asset. I'm sure we'll be using it more in the future.”