At age 71, Bruce Springsteen has released a new album that's receiving praise from reviewers and fans as, remarkably, one of his best. Letter to You, which is accompanied by a streaming film, is largely a look back, built around the closeness of the E Street Band, David Brooks writes in the Atlantic. The album was inspired by a death, and it looks toward the inevitable, but it's not melancholy. These are happy songs, Brooks says. "When I listen to it, there’s more joy than dread," Springsteen told him. "Dread is an emotion that all of us have become very familiar with. The record is a little bit of an antidote to that." The death was that of George Theiss, Springsteen's 1960s bandmate in the Castiles. It was in that band that Springsteen "found his vocation, and his vehicle for becoming himself," Brooks writes. Springsteen visited Theiss in his last days, then was hit with the realization that he was the last member of the Castiles alive. The songs, including "Last Man Standing," came pouring out.
"A lot of the music on this album is about music, the making of it and the listening to it, the power that it has," Brooks writes. There are songs "about those moments when music launches you out of normal life and toward transcendence," he says. "For a nonreligious guy, Springsteen is the most religious guy on the planet; his religion is musical deliverance." Brooks sees aging being redefined, in a time when both presidential nominees are over 70, the speaker of the House is 80, and Bob Dylan is doing creative work at 79. Brooks and Springsteen look at what's lost and what's gained in getting older. For Springteen, the drive remains, but there's more gratitude and appreciation now—including for his band. "The ups and downs have deepened us," Springsteen said. "The band is as close now as it’s ever been. We had to suffer." Brooks wonders if the nation could move that way, relying on "successful maturity" for perspective if not wisdom, its drive intact. (You can read Brooks' full piece here.)