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Bruce Springsteen and the Art of Aging Well – The Atlantic

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Bryan Derballa / The New York Ti​mes / Redux

I recently saw a photo of Lyndon B. Johnson in the first year of his presidency. He looked like a classic old guy—wrinkled, mature, in the late season of life. It was a shock to learn that he was only 55 at the time, roughly the same age as Chris Rock is now. He left the presidency, broken, and beaten, at 60, the same age as, say, Colin Firth is now.

Something has happened to aging. Whether because of better diet or health care or something else, a 73-year-old in 2020 looks like a 53-year-old in 1935. The speaker of the House is 80 and going strong. The presidential candidates are 77 and 74. Even our rock stars are getting up there. Bob Dylan produced a remarkable album this year at 79. Bruce Springsteen released an album today at 71. “Active aging” is now a decades-long phase of life. As the nation becomes a gerontocracy, it’s worth pondering: What do people gain when they age, and what do they lose? What does successful aging look like?

President Donald Trump is a prime example of an unsuccessful older person—one who still lusts for external validation, who doesn’t know who he is, who knows no peace. Nearly two millennia ago, the Roman statesman Cicero offered a more robust vision of what elders should do and be: “It’s not by strength or speed or swiftness of body that great deeds are done,” he wrote, “but by wisdom, character and sober judgment. These qualities are not lacking in old age but in fact grow as time passes.”

Springsteen is the world champion of aging well—physically, intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally. His new album and film, Letter to You, are performances about growing older and death, topics that would have seemed unlikely for rock when it was born as a rebellion for anyone over 30. Letter to You is rich in lessons for those who want to know what successful aging looks like. Far from being sad or lachrymose, it’s both youthful—loud and hard-charging—and serene and wise. It’s a step forward from his Broadway show that debuted three years ago and his memoir, released four years ago. Now he’s not only telling the story of his life, but asking, in the face of death, about life’s meaning, and savoring life in the current moment.

It’s the happiest Springsteen album maybe in decades. “When I listen to it, there’s more joy than dread,” Springsteen told me. “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 album generates the feeling you get when you meet a certain sort of older person—one who knows the story of her life, who sees herself whole, and who now approaches the world with an earned emotional security and gratitude.

The album, and the film that recorded the making of the album (I recommend watching the film first), was occasioned by a death. From 1965 to 1968, when rock was in its moment of explosive growth and creativity, Springsteen was in a band called the Castiles. Two years ago, Springsteen found himself at the bedside of a member of that band, George Theiss, as he died of cancer. After his passing, Springsteen realized that he is the sole remaining survivor from that band—the “Last Man Standing,” as he puts it in one of the songs on the new album.

The experience created an emotional vortex and the music poured out of him. “The actual mechanics of songwriting is only understandable up to a certain point,” Springsteen told me, “and it’s frustrating because it’s at that point that it begins to matter. Creativity is an act of magic rising up from your subconscious. It feels wonderful every time it happens, and I’ve learned to live with the anxiety of it not happening over long periods of time.”

On the album, Springsteen goes back in time to those mid-’60s years when he, Theiss, and the Castiles would play in the union halls, hullabaloo clubs, and bowling alleys around Freehold, New Jersey. He goes further back, to his childhood, and reminisces about the trains that used to rumble through town; the pennies he’d put on the tracks; and when he first became familiar with death as a boy, going to the funerals of his extended clan, walking up semi-terrified and kneeling before the casket and then walking back home with a sense of trembling accomplishment.

“Memory is many things,” the Benedictine nun Joan Chittister has written. “It is a call to resolve in us what simply will not go away.” Springsteen has made a career, and built a global fan base, out of going back and back, to Freehold and Asbury Park, and digging, digging, digging to understand the people he grew up around and who made him, for good and ill, the man he became. “The artists who hold our attention,” he told me, “have something eating away at them, and they never quite define it, but it’s always there.”

Even in his 70s, Springsteen still has drive. What drives him no longer feels like ambition, he said, that craving for success, recognition, and making your place in the world. It feels more elemental, like the drive for water, food, or sex. He talks about this in the movie: “After all this time, I still feel the burning need to communicate. It’s there when I wake every morning. It walks alongside of me throughout the day … Over the past 50 years, it has never ceased. Is it loneliness, hunger, ego, ambition, desire, a need to be felt and heard, recognized, all of the above? All I know, it is one of the most consistent impulses of my life.”

With the Castiles, he not only learned how to do his job but also found his mode of emotional communication and a spiritual awareness. He found his vocation, and his vehicle for becoming himself. 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. The songs “House of A Thousand Guitars” and “Power of Prayer” are about those moments when music launches you out of normal life and toward transcendence. For a nonreligious guy, Springsteen is the most religious guy on the planet; his religion is musical deliverance.

Like every successful mature person, Springsteen oozes gratitude—especially for relationships. The film is largely about the camaraderie of the E Street Band, men and women who have been playing together off and on for 45 years and who have honed their skills and developed a shorthand for communicating. We watch them discussing and arguing over how to put each song together, then savor the end result. The band sounds fantastic, especially the powerful drumming of Max Weinberg.

The film intersperses clips of Springsteen recording and performing with the same guys four decades ago, when they were young and lithe, and today, when they’re a bit grizzled. “We weren’t immune from the vicissitudes. We had the same ups and downs as most rock bands,” Springsteen told me. “It’s like a marriage. The ups and downs have deepened us. The band is as close now as it’s ever been. We had to suffer.”

Letter to You is a sincere and vulnerable album. It conveys Springsteen’s appreciation for the conversation he’s had with his audience, and his appreciation for the dead and the debts we owe them. The core of the album comprises three songs about how the dead live on in us and in the ensuing generations. “It’s just your ghost / Moving through the night / Your spirit filled with light / I need, need you by my side / Your love and I’m alive,” Springsteen sings in “Ghosts,” the best track on the album.

“When you’re young, you believe the world changes faster than it does. It does change, but it’s slow,” Springsteen told me. “You learn to accept the world on its terms without giving up the belief that you can change the world. That’s a successful adulthood—the maturation of your thought process and very soul to the point where you understand the limits of life, without giving up on its possibilities.”

Attaining that perspective is the core of successful maturity. Carrying the losses gently. Learning to live with the inner conflicts, such as alternating confidence and insecurity. Getting out of your own way, savoring life and not trying to conquer it, shedding the self-righteousness that sometimes accompanies youth, and giving other people a break. The owl of Minerva flies only at dusk, as they used to say.

That perspective is evident in the movie’s “bright sadness,” to use a term from the Franciscan monk Richard Rohr. Directed by Thom Zimny, the film cuts again and again to overhead shots of snow-covered forests—Old Man Winter coming. But inside the studio, everything is warm and full of music. The dreams of Springsteen and his band came true times a thousand; they have good reason to be content in old age. But studies show that most people do get happier as they age. They focus more on life’s pleasures than its threats.

As you watch the film, you may think of not only personal maturity but also national maturity. America has always fancied itself as wild and innocent; youth, Oscar Wilde observed, is the country’s oldest tradition. After the past 20 years, and especially after the presidency of Donald Trump, we’ve become jaded, and look askance at our former presumption of innocence. But, taking a cue from Springsteen, maybe we can achieve a more mature national perspective in the years post-Trump.

“Joe Biden is like one of the fathers in the neighborhood I grew up with as a kid,” Springsteen told me. “They were firemen and policemen, and there was an innate decency to most of them that he carries naturally with him. It’s very American.”

Approaching 80, Biden is pretty old. Seventy-seven is probably not the ideal age to start such a grueling job as president of the United States. But making the most of the not-ideal is what maturity teaches. The urge to give something to future generations rises up in people over 65, and a style of leadership informed by that urge may be exactly what American needs right now. Today, being 77 doesn’t have to be a time of wrapping things up; it’s just the moment you’re in, still moving to something better. Maybe this can be America—not in decline, but moving with maturity to a new strength.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.

David Brooks is a contributing writer at The Atlantic and a columnist for The New York Times. He is the author of The Road to Character and The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life.

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Expanding the arts and culture sector in Newfoundland and Labrador – TheChronicleHerald.ca

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The spotlights inside Newfoundland and Labrador theatres have rarely gone this long without heating up and wrapping the province’s performers in light. Gone is the audible applause of the audience, now stuck in their homes in front of a screen.

As performers are forced to find new ways to share their work with the public, the delivery of a promised increase in provincial funding to ArtsNL is a relief to many who work in the arts.

Reg Winsor, executive director at ArtsNL, said that for a number of years ArtsNL had been communicating with the government about an increase in grant applications.

“The number of applications that we were receiving, the demand on the funds that were available … we only had the ability to fund a percentage of the projects that were being submitted,” Winsor said. “Through conversations with the community, we indicated where we were and the funding that really was needed for us to move forward, and the community rallied behind that.”

Courtney Brown, artistic associate with theatre company Mindless Theatrics, was involved in those conversations. She says ArtsNL is often an entry point for young artists.

And there is no shortage of emerging artists in the province.

“There were also new companies and new festivals springing up, which is fantastic, but there weren’t the funds there to support the growth of the community,” Brown said.

Alongside fellow theatre producer Robert Chafe, Brown and many others petitioned the provincial government to fund arts and culture, which is so often promoted in tourism ads alongside images of pastoral scenes, icebergs, puffins and houses of all colours.

The response was an increase in funding from $2 million per year to $5 million per year over a four-year period that began in 2019. All political parties in the province agreed to the increase.

“(Chafe) called it a game-changing investment and I think that’s true,” Brown said. “It’s a groundbreaking step that will have reverberating effects on the culture of this place for a generation.”

Daniel Rumbolt, interim director of Eastern Edge Gallery in downtown St. John’s, said that if it weren’t for government funding, he has no idea how his career would have progressed.

“Art projects are expensive for materials and studio space, but it’s the mentality here that art actually does equal work,” Rumbolt said. “I would have stagnated very quickly if I wasn’t able to try new things and apply for funding.”

It’s easy to see the role art plays in the community just by taking a casual stroll through downtown, looking at the painted alleyways, the murals on the sides of buildings or simply on the clothes that people wear, he said.

But it is sometimes taken for granted how that art got there in the first place.

“We’re used to seeing the final product in a gallery or in a shop somewhere,” he said. “We love to celebrate our tourism industry and our arts and culture industry, and that doesn’t come out of nowhere. It takes a lot of hard work to make it happen.”

Chafe, who is the artistic director of Artistic Fraud of Newfoundland, says he’s happy to see, despite a change in leadership, Premier Andrew Furey is honouring the commitment by announcing on Nov. 25 this year’s funding increase of $1 million.

“Everyone knows the circumstance that our province is in, so the artists of this province certainly weren’t making this ask lightly,” Chafe said. “But government’s own numbers were such that their investment in arts and culture was coming back at least ten-fold.”

Chafe says they didn’t encounter anyone who didn’t understand the value of the arts and culture sector, but an argument had to be put forward specifically about ArtsNL.

“It is one of the few arms-length government agencies that is directly putting money into the coffers of small, unaffiliated, independent artists, for the creation of artwork that eventually, if successful, goes on to make the albums, the films, the theatre shows, the dance shows that create the cultural landmark that is Newfoundland,” he said. “When we made that case very carefully, we made the case for the growth in the sector, and they heard us.”

Andrew Waterman reports on East Coast culture.

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Stephenville's Jesse Renouf finds a story behind the art – SaltWire Network

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Jesse Renouf, 23, has found a way to channel his creative energies and make a living for himself.

His art store, Treasures by Jesse, first opened in Stephenville in June 2017.

Run by Jesse and his family, the store offers a wide array of Jesse’s art, including pebble art, paintings, painted mailboxes, tissue boxes, and more.

While Jesse always had an interest in art, his passion was piqued while completing the Film and Video Production program at the College of the North Atlantic just three years ago.

“Within Film and Video, there was an art course and he loved it,” said Jesse’s mother Judy.

Jesse Renouf proudly shows off one of the walls of art displayed at Treasures by Jesse. CONTRIBUTED – Contributed

 

The family was able to draw on Jesse’s newfound passion to open Treasures by Jesse once he completed the program later the same year.

“We started Googling ideas and that’s where he started with the basic pebble, and then started trying more challenging pieces,” said Judy. “Three years later, here we are.”

The store also provides Jesse, who has autism, an opportunity to socialize – he gets to interact with customers and engage in conversation.

In fact, he has a table set up at the store and often lets visitors watch him paint to give them a sense of the process.

“It gives customers an idea what the story is all about when it comes to painting,” he said.

When he sells a painting, it makes him feel appreciated.

“I feel very proud when someone comes in and buys my artwork and they’re happy,” he said.

Jesse speaks passionately about his work. He is always able to find a story behind the art.

For example, he talks imaginatively of how a painting of a clothesline evokes familiarity to any Newfoundlander.

“It gives customers attention to a type of chore that can be done on a beautiful day outside,” he said. “Hanging the laundry, drying over time. There’s the grass, the waves, the wind blowing the clothes in a breeze. It’s a very beautiful type of day outside, you can tell in this type of pebble artwork.”

Other paintings depict Newfoundland touchstones, including mummers, jellybean row, fishing boats and lighthouses – in each case, Jesse perceives the history behind the object.

He also loves to paint beloved cartoon characters such as Elmo, Spongebob Squarepants, and Homer Simpson.

Some of the art displayed at Treasures by Jesse. CONTRIBUTED - Contributed
Some of the art displayed at Treasures by Jesse. CONTRIBUTED – Contributed

 

Teamwork

Treasures by Jesse is run as a team, with the assistance of Jesse’s mom Judy, his dad Wayne, and his co-worker Trudie Jesso.

“We are working together to make my business stronger,” said Jesse.

The first step is buying the canvasses. Jesse does all the painting on these.

For the pebble art, Jesse and Trudie work together to construct the painting and piece the materials – including pebbles, sea glass, and driftwood – together.

According to Jesse, it’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle.

The paintings are left to dry and then Judy is tasked with coating the paintings.

Meanwhile, Wayne does all the woodworking.

The pebbles, sea glass and driftwood used in Jesse’s art is collected along the beaches.

Cleaning and sanitizing these materials is part of the process.

Local residents also donate materials. Judy felt this was indicative of the type of support Jesse gets from the community.

“People do support him,” she said.

Treasures by Jesse is open year-round.

Art can be purchased in-person at the store, located at 143 Main St. in Stephenville, or ordered for shipping online.

To learn more about Treasures by Jesse, visit www.treasuresbyjesse.com


Behind the Business is a regular feature that introduces you to local businesspeople. Want to suggest someone that should be featured? Email your idea to [email protected]

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Stephenville's Jesse Renouf finds a story behind the art – The Journal Pioneer

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Jesse Renouf, 23, has found a way to channel his creative energies and make a living for himself.

His art store, Treasures by Jesse, first opened in Stephenville in June 2017.

Run by Jesse and his family, the store offers a wide array of Jesse’s art, including pebble art, paintings, painted mailboxes, tissue boxes, and more.

While Jesse always had an interest in art, his passion was piqued while completing the Film and Video Production program at the College of the North Atlantic just three years ago.

“Within Film and Video, there was an art course and he loved it,” said Jesse’s mother Judy.

Jesse Renouf proudly shows off one of the walls of art displayed at Treasures by Jesse. CONTRIBUTED – Contributed

 

The family was able to draw on Jesse’s newfound passion to open Treasures by Jesse once he completed the program later the same year.

“We started Googling ideas and that’s where he started with the basic pebble, and then started trying more challenging pieces,” said Judy. “Three years later, here we are.”

The store also provides Jesse, who has autism, an opportunity to socialize – he gets to interact with customers and engage in conversation.

In fact, he has a table set up at the store and often lets visitors watch him paint to give them a sense of the process.

“It gives customers an idea what the story is all about when it comes to painting,” he said.

When he sells a painting, it makes him feel appreciated.

“I feel very proud when someone comes in and buys my artwork and they’re happy,” he said.

Jesse speaks passionately about his work. He is always able to find a story behind the art.

For example, he talks imaginatively of how a painting of a clothesline evokes familiarity to any Newfoundlander.

“It gives customers attention to a type of chore that can be done on a beautiful day outside,” he said. “Hanging the laundry, drying over time. There’s the grass, the waves, the wind blowing the clothes in a breeze. It’s a very beautiful type of day outside, you can tell in this type of pebble artwork.”

Other paintings depict Newfoundland touchstones, including mummers, jellybean row, fishing boats and lighthouses – in each case, Jesse perceives the history behind the object.

He also loves to paint beloved cartoon characters such as Elmo, Spongebob Squarepants, and Homer Simpson.

Some of the art displayed at Treasures by Jesse. CONTRIBUTED - Contributed
Some of the art displayed at Treasures by Jesse. CONTRIBUTED – Contributed

 

Teamwork

Treasures by Jesse is run as a team, with the assistance of Jesse’s mom Judy, his dad Wayne, and his co-worker Trudie Jesso.

“We are working together to make my business stronger,” said Jesse.

The first step is buying the canvasses. Jesse does all the painting on these.

For the pebble art, Jesse and Trudie work together to construct the painting and piece the materials – including pebbles, sea glass, and driftwood – together.

According to Jesse, it’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle.

The paintings are left to dry and then Judy is tasked with coating the paintings.

Meanwhile, Wayne does all the woodworking.

The pebbles, sea glass and driftwood used in Jesse’s art is collected along the beaches.

Cleaning and sanitizing these materials is part of the process.

Local residents also donate materials. Judy felt this was indicative of the type of support Jesse gets from the community.

“People do support him,” she said.

Treasures by Jesse is open year-round.

Art can be purchased in-person at the store, located at 143 Main St. in Stephenville, or ordered for shipping online.

To learn more about Treasures by Jesse, visit www.treasuresbyjesse.com


Behind the Business is a regular feature that introduces you to local businesspeople. Want to suggest someone that should be featured? Email your idea to [email protected]

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