Okay, full disclosure: I’m not really a Bruuuuuce fan. Yes, like every other Springsteen not-actually-a-fan fan, I have a handful of tracks that I trot out every year or so when I’m taking a long drive, working through daddy issues, or collapsing under the strain of bein’ a hard workin’ man.
Springsteen’s nineteenth studio album is called Western Stars, and instead of touring it, he’s decided to make a concert reel to promote it. It was showing at our local multiplex, so my smarter half (a Bruce fan from years back) dragged me along to see the great man perform the album live, in his shed. Well, I say ‘shed’, but it’s actually a barn, and when I say ‘barn’ it’s actually big enough to hold a band, an orchestra, a bar, all his mates, and a film crew … Anyway, the seats in our local picture house recline, so at the very least I was expecting a decent nap. I was also expecting about ninety minutes of self-indulgent rambling interspersed with a few songs about travelling long and dusty roads.
Well, I was wrong …
Yes, he did talk a lot: about his life, his wife and his creative process. I listened, realising that here was a man who, whether I class myself as a fan or not, had devoted his entire adult life to the single-minded pursuit of excellence in his chosen craft. He had suffered, and had made other people suffer, for the sake of this pursuit. and I think he’s still suffering. He’s not a musician; he’s a poet who sets ordinary life to music.
But when he wasn’t talking, he was playing songs from the album, backed by a fine orchestra and his own musicians. Now, I don’t claim to be a musical expert, but I know what I like: for me, Western Stars is the finest collection of songs since The Stone Roses.
I have no idea where the time went, but the credits rolled, and an old man, who’d clearly never swept anything in his life, started sweeping up the barn, I was thinking: ‘That’s it?? Get back up there and play some more songs you lazy …!’ It’s a long time since I’ve been that disappointed to see a movie come to an end.
Western Stars is a humble, understated, loud and rousing testament to life and enduring love. Springsteen should be very proud. Ten out of ten.