This is an interesting moment for me. This is the first time that I’m listening to what I’m writing about. Letter to You is the name of Bruce Springsteen’s latest album, recorded with the E Street Band. Bruce Springsteen’s Letter to You is a powerful documentary by Thom Zimny, who has directed a steady stream of Springsteen related material for over a decade. As I put on the album and got ready to write this, I posted about it on my personal Facebook account.
Consider this a reminder of the beauty in Springsteen’s Letter to You… documentary or album. I’m writing my review of the documentary while listening to the album and I’m completely mesmerized by how incredible Bruce’s voice is at 71 years old and how powerful his lyrics are.
That’s the most succinct way that I can describe the album. Beyond that… I’m not sure what I’m going to write, so I’m just going to type and see what appears on the screen.
I’ve been a fan of Bruce Springsteen since my family purchased our first CD Player. We joined Columbia House and got our 7 CDs for a penny. Prior to that, my musical influences were mostly my parents old records – CCR, The Woodstock Album, Elton John, Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin, and more. In the order we got Billy Joel – The Stranger, Alabama – Greatest Hits, and Bruce Springsteen – Born in the U.S.A. These were the days before computers in every home and I would spend my days listening to these albums on repeat. Songs like Movin’ Out, Just the Way You Are, Only the Good Die Young, Love in the First Degree, 40 Hour Week, The Fans, Downbound Train, No Surrender, Bobby Jean, Glory Days, and My Hometown shaped me for years to come. These are the songs that take me back to my childhood and the artists that helped make me the person I am today. When I hear those Springsteen songs today, they bring tears to my eyes. Hopefully, this sets the stage for the rest of this review and how excited I was for the release of the documentary – I’m sure it also establishes a bit of a bias.
One of the problems with writing while listening to an album is that sometimes, you get caught up in the music. I had to stop because I got caught up in Last Man Standing, track #5 on the album. A powerful song that looks at how he’s the only surviving band member of the Castiles, which he calls his first real band. It’s impossible to listen to it without wiping away a tear.
The documentary follows Bruce and the E Street Band recording the album. You get some insight into the creative process, an explanation of the meaning of the tracks, and a look at the musicians with their instruments. It is perfection. Today, with Apple Music, Spotify, and YouTube, we tend to listen to songs instead of albums… it’s a dangerous path that we started down back in the days of Napster. You miss so much with these older artists when you don’t listen to the album and hear the story. I feel like this process of filming a documentary on the album creation is a great way to drive people back to listening to the complete album. I loved the experience. My wife and I normally attend a dozen or more concerts in a year and this was a nice distraction from the fact that we haven’t been able to do that this year.
The documentary is also a nice touch given that our heroes are aging, something it touches on a lot. It was only a few hours ago that we learned of Alex Trebek (age 80) passing and that I had the chance to spend two minutes talking to William Daniels (age 93). Springsteen is 71 and the E Street Band has already suffered a few losses as members age. It’s a painful part of life and this album and documentary touch on it brilliantly. Mixed with Bruce’s thoughts on aging and death and stories from his past, the film is a touching tribute to those that have passed and those that are still here. The poetry of Springsteen’s words are unmatched in anything I have seen or heard recently. This is not something you watch, it is something you experience. It is emotional, heart-wrenching, and devastating. At the same time, you can’t help but smile when you see Bruce and his wife, Patti Scialfa, share a mic or Stevie Van Zandt shred on the guitar.
That’s the last thing I want to say about this absolutely brilliant piece of music history – and yes, it is an instant classic – it will make you cry. My wife and I were not expecting that. We didn’t know what to expect and we had to replace the tissue box during the film. We were both reduced to bawling puddles on the couch as this film progressed. I’m reduced to tears writing this and listening to the album. I’m currently on track #9, If I Was The Priest, and I still have tears in my eyes from the album. This is a song that Springsteen played when he auditioned for John Hammond back in 1972 in an effort to get signed by Columbia Records. The power and emotion comes through in every single track and every moment of the film.
The album and subsequent documentary are called Letter to You. I feel like this might be the most fitting name for any album, ever. It felt like the emotions it conveyed were for me and the words were just what I need to hear. If 2020 has a bright point, I think it might be this album. It’s a shimmer of hope in a bleak year. A port in the worst storm of my lifetime. 58 minutes of pure magic that make me laugh, cry, and love. We’ve made it to track #11, Song for Orphans, the penultimate song on the album. It feels like the perfect time to wrap up this sappy love letter of a review and close my eyes and bathe in the final few minutes of this album. Check this album out, it’s everything you could want or need in musical catharsis.
Bruce Springsteen’s Letter to You is available on Apple TV+.
Bruce Springsteen's Letter to You
Movie title: Bruce Springsteen's Letter to You
Movie description: “Bruce Springsteen’s Letter to You” captures Bruce Springsteen recording his new album “Letter To You” live with the full E Street Band, and includes final take performances of 10 originals from the new record. The feature-length vérité documentary features full performances from the E Street Band, in-studio footage, never-before-seen archival material, and a deeper look into “Letter To You” from Springsteen himself. Written by Springsteen and directed by his frequent collaborator Thom Zimny, the film is a tribute to the E Street Band, to rock music itself, and to the role it has played in Springsteen's life.
Date published: 2020-10-23
Director(s): Thom Zimny
Actor(s): Bruce Springsteen, Roy Bittan, Nils Lofgren, Patti Scialfa, Garry Tallent, Stevie Van Zandt, Max Weinberg, Charlie Giordano, Jake Clemons