26/365 – “My Hometown”, Bruce Springsteen (1984) – 365 Days of Music

The word “hometown” conjures up a lot of feelings for me.  I was born and raised in Wigan, a town less than 20 miles west of Manchester.  I lived there for the first 18 years of my life.  I then moved to Manchester for 3 years, where I studied for my degree, before returning home.  In 2011 I took the plunge and decided to fulfil my dream of living in London.  I have been in London ever since and have no immediate plans to leave.

This song concludes one of my favourite albums – and Bruce’s most successful – “Born in the U.S.A.”.  This was the record that rocketed Bruce to superstardom when it was released in June 1984.  The song is soft, slow, and quiet.  Its content, like much of BITUSA, reflects upon the hardships many American towns faced during the economic twist and turns of the Reagan years, particularly those of Bruce’s home state of New Jersey. The narrator details the history of his hometown, from his memories as a child collecting his Dad’s newspaper, to the racial tensions of the 60s, through to the current time, where “jobs are going, boys / and they ain’t coming back”.

My hometown of Wigan has a similar history.  Historically a working class town, Wigan has seen widespread regeneration in the last decade or so, but the memories of our industrial past are never forgotten.  Wigan was a major town for coal mining and cotton mills.  Industrial northern towns faced severe economic troubles during the Thatcher years and have also had their share of tensions brought about by immigration policies.  Despite that 3000 mile gap, “My Hometown” reminds me that some of the differences between Bruce’s experiences and those of my town aren’t so dissimilar.  Bruce is the blue collar hero.  His message in this song draws distinct parallels with the experiences of Wigan.  I feel both a sense of pride and sadness for this.  I am proud of my roots, but I’m also sad that my town is often a forgotten town on the map of Britain.  What happens in the halls of power in London affects what then transpires in my hometown.

Speaking of London, I was fortunate to hear Bruce play the BITUSA album in full at his Hard Rock Calling gig in June 2013.  Glorious summer weather, a great venue, and with excellent supporting acts, that was a day I won’t forget.  “My Hometown” was a particularly moving experience for me.  Bruce extended the final bars this song, using call-and-response to tell the crowd, “this is your hometown”, and I proudly sung it right back to him.  I have lived here in London for almost 3 years.  I will never be a born-and-bred Londoner, but home is where the heart is, and my heart is still here in the Big Smoke.  Yes, Bruce, this is my hometown now.  Well, one of two.  Thank you for reminding me.

25/365 – ‘Tougher Than The Rest’, Bruce Springsteen (1987) – 365 days of music

The road is dark
And it’s a thin thin line
But I want you to know I’ll walk it for you any time

This song means the world to me and I’m glad it finally popped up on my shuffle playlist so that I could write a little about it. Tunnel of Love was not an album I was overly excited about when I was first discovering Bruce’s back catalogue. I have a deep love for 80s music, specifically Bruce’s brand of synth-laden rock, but I didn’t think an album about divorce could top Born In The U.S.A., no matter how many synths and drum machines he packed into it. I was wrong.

‘Tougher…’ is track 2 on ToL. From the minute the slow drum kicked in, I was hooked. It’s a beautiful song about a man taking what may be his last chance for love with a pleading message that he is “tougher than the rest” of the men she may be considering. This song has been a crutch for me in times of sadness and loneliness, reminding me there are people out there willing to walk through the dark times with me. It has also helped me to recognise my own toughness in overcoming the numerous difficult phases I’ve experienced in my life so far. Yet again, Bruce proves he is more than just a singer and musician. He is a confidante, a poet, and he gives freely with his gift for writing about the every day trials and troubles that many of us face.

Hello!

It’s been a long time!  Multiple things have been keeping me from WordPress, namely work and my personal life. The months between May and November are the busiest for me in my job and blogging hasn’t been high on my priority list recently.

BUT.

That is going to change now work has calmed down (well, until February) and I have had closure on some major issues in my personal life. First up – I’m bringing back 365 Days of Music. My last post was on 24/365, so look out for number 25.

Two faces have I – Bruce Springsteen and depression

I’ve been meaning to write something for a while now. Well, if a while means two weeks. I have had a busy summer both at work and in my personal life, and haven’t found the inspiration nor motivation needed for a blog post. So much has happened and also too little in the way of change. I couldn’t find the words or context for how I have been feeling. And then the lightning bolt struck me as I walked home from the railway station just an hour ago. I was listening to my favourite Bruce Springsteen album, ‘Tunnel of Love’, and ideas began to take shape.

It is perhaps a sad fact that ‘Tunnel Of Love’ should be my favourite Bruce album. At 25 (almost 26, yikes) I have lived barely a third of my life (hopefully). An album so full of adult problems surely shouldn’t speak so deeply to me in these young, formative years. But it does and I won’t deny it. I have suffered for many years from depression and a perpetual inclination to mental breakdown. This album speaks to the half of my brain that betrays me to these inclinations. It has been at many times my only confidante and my only way of articulating those thoughts I myself can’t make sense of nor make sense to others. Maybe I should have directed my loved ones to this album sooner and we could have saved ourselves a lot of bother. Coulda, woulda, shoulda.

‘Tunnel Of Love’, coincidentally, was released in 1987, less than two weeks after I was born. I’d like to think Bruce knew that some day in the future a young white female from northern England would need this record more than any other. It’s a bit of a stretch but I like that thought. Bruce himself was going through a time of personal upheaval. His marriage to his first wife was deteriorating, and it has been suggested that his relationship with his bandmate (and his future wife and mother of his children) had already begun. Hm, so how does a twentysomething English girl find solace in an album about a broken marriage?

I never believed this idea that you necessarily had to experience something fully to appreciate the impact it has on your life. Truth be told however, I don’t think depression’s tortuous effects can ever be comprehended unless you suffer yourself. Music, on the other hand, gives us the ability to relate and express our own emotions and experiences through the artistic abilities of someone else. Who better then than Bruce, the greatest storyteller and lyricist of the last 40 years? Yes, I am biased. For me, this collection of 12 songs has been a comfort in times of great distress and loneliness. Songs about loss, bitterness, self-loathing, the pain of relationships, in all their forms, ending – these things have no restrictions. We will all experience one or more of these situations at some point in our lives. It doesn’t matter that I haven’t been through the breakdown of a marriage myself. Loss touches everyone.

Bruce opens the album with the catchy ‘Ain’t Got You’, in which he lists all the amazing things he now has, including “diamonds and gold” and “houses across the country”. Alas, the one thing he does not have is his love. When I first heard this song, I thought it kind of comedic. It has an upbeat bluesy melody and you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a happy song. But really it’s about all the happiness and love that material wealth simply cannot buy. Sure, I’ve never been rich. I do okay. But for the longest time I focused my time too much on what I didn’t have rather than what I did. I have wanted the boyfriend, the well-paid job, the skinny body, the looks of Angelina Jolie. What I wasn’t appreciating was the incredible people and experiences I already had in my life, from my loving family and friends, to my decent job, and the roof over my head. I live in London, for fuck’s sake. This was my dream. It is my dream. But depression will do that to you. Nothing is ever enough. You’re always looking over your shoulder with a sense of inadequacy. She doesn’t like me as much as her. He won’t think I’m attractive. Why am I the way I am? Why am I fat? Why why why? It’s an endless list. This song made me start to look inward.

Inward is not a pretty sight, but I doubt it is for most people. We are a selfish, arrogant species capable of both extraordinary kindness and unbelievable cruelty. I have dished out both of these myself. I have also been on the receiving end. I have pushed myself to the limits of self-flagellation for my actions and words and I have reaped what I sewed. If you keep pushing something away, eventually it’ll just get up and leave. Who can blame it? But at times when I have felt my weakest and seen no end in sight to my own torment, ‘Tougher Than The Rest’ has lifted me from those doldrums. It might be a song about an average Joe asking for a chance with the object of his affections, but for me it speaks of second chances and the bravery of those willing to reach out. After all, for so many of us, “the road is dark”. Just having one other person there to walk it with you can make a world of difference.

The flip side of this of course is the crippling loneliness and self-hatred one can feel during the times when no one is walking that dark road with you. Both of these have been at the centre of my depression. I remember the first time I heard ‘Two Faces’. It was in 2008, just as I was familiarising myself with Bruce’s back catalogue. I was going through a rough time at university, but this song spoke volumes to me. It helped me make sense of my own mind and the Jekyll and Hyde sides that I have wrestled with. For in my heart and mind, there is always the potential for both happiness and despair. It’s a fine balance I have still not managed to attain, but hearing Bruce speak of his own “two faces” gave me comfort. You, Cat, are not alone. We all have two sides. This song is still difficult for me to listen to. It is too close to the bone. Promising you’d make your friend or partner or relative “happy every day” and then you “made her cry” – yes, I can relate. You can never really promise these things. I wake up some days “sunny and wild”, but before too long my own “dark clouds come rolling by” and I want to pull the duvet over my head. You never feel quite whole, and I think this was Bruce’s point all along. These two faces create an incomplete duality. Perhaps only the love of another – or several others – can help breach the gap.

But what can we do when we lose people in our lives, people we love, because of our own behaviour? I have often listened to ‘Brilliant Disguise’ and questioned my own disguise. We all put on a brave face, but I let this get to the point of no longer knowing who I really was. And I forgot who a lot of my friends were too, friends with their own stories, their own burdens, and their own needs. Needs I should have helped them with. It’s part of the responsibility of being a friend and I will admit I have let many of mine down. Bruce sings of “struggling to do everything right” and things “falling apart, when out go the lights”. These words help me come to terms with my own failings. The truth is, we can make all the commitments and promises we like, something which Bruce touches on in both ‘All That Heaven Will Allow’ and ‘One Step Up’. But I, like many others, have often succumbed to the pull of my own demons and flaws.

‘One Step Up’ is, in my opinion, the saddest song on the whole album. There is a futility throughout the song that seeps in the moment that sad soft drum beat and acoustic guitar begin. From the stuttering car, to the silenced bird, and the lonely figure of a desperate man on a bar stool – all is despair, failure and melancholy. I have weeks, sometimes months, of good times until something happens – a word, a misunderstood look – and it crumbles. Inevitably, I’m “caught moving / one step up and two steps back”. Never in any other song has a lyric spoken so clearly to me and my own life experiences. Bruce sings of “another fight in our dirty little war” and the challenges that come with deep loving relationships and friendships where no one person will concede blame or compromise. Yes, I can relate. These themes continue throughout ‘When You’re Alone’, ‘Cautious Man’ and ‘Valentine’s Day’.

So, are there any happy songs? Not really. The three most upbeat songs on the entire album could fool you into thinking they deal with happy times, but don’t make that mistake. ‘Spare Parts’ is one of my favourite songs on the whole album. It’s a real foot stomping rocker, and I resent Bruce for not playing it live more often. The story it tells is of a pregnant woman who has been abandoned by her lowlife boyfriend. She has her baby, the boyfriend swears he “wasn’t ever going back” and she considers her life as one big mistake.  Happy?  Not so much.  Similarly, ‘Tunnel of Love’ is a great song, but darkness lurks over its seemingly-jovial description of a couple enjoying an amusement park ride. We smile and enjoy the ride, but really all we’re left with at the end is the lies we tell each other and “all that stuff we’re so scared of”. That, I suppose, is the risk we take with any relationship.

And as for ‘Walk Like A Man’, it’s a song about a fragile father-son relationship that has finally grown to a place where both parties feel a sense of peace and tolerance. Bruce himself had a strained relationship with his own dad. I can’t relate on a father-son note, but I did have a tempestuous relationship with my mother, especially during my mid to late teens when my depression was first manifesting. If I couldn’t explain my anger and pain to myself, how could I ever explain it to her? Thankfully we have passed that point. And yet my pain will always remain her pain, whether I’m 18, 25, or 50. During all my slip ups and progressions, she has been a rock for me, even when I was giving her shit every day. For that I will be forever grateful. It’s the kind of debt you can never truly repay.

I suppose this is where the post ends and I’m glad to end it on one of the more optimistic songs on the album. I’ve gone through all the songs on this masterful record, touching on some more than others purely because I relate to some more than others. Currently I’m at somewhat of a setback in my own personal life and this album has given me both comfort and perspective. I have had the most amazing support network throughout my battle with depression and continue to do so. This record is not a substitute for that, but merely an additional crutch. Many people have stayed a part of my life even when they probably felt they shouldn’t, and many I have pushed away, but I don’t blame or resent the latter. It’s never easy being close to someone like me, but I live in hope that they will find peace with me and perhaps even understanding. As Bruce says, “I didn’t think there’d be so many steps I’d have to learn on my own”, but that itself is part of growing, changing and healing. Spare parts and broken hearts – they keep the world turning.

Catherine

2nd September 2013

6:30pm

Things I can’t say on Facebook

This hasn’t been a good week for the world.  Mother Nature batters Oklahoma and takes 9 children with her.  There have probably been countless tragedies and murders in the third world that we are not exposed to.  And yesterday a member of the British armed forces was shot, stabbed, and supposedly beheaded in a horrific attack in south east London.  I sighed heavily when I read the news.  I sighed not just because of the revulsion at this despicable act, but because I know a can of worms has been opened.  Vengeance will take precedence, racist attitudes will emerge from those you least expect, and ignorance will spread like wildfire.

Social media is a wonderful thing.  We discover news now as it is happening, rather than wait a few hours to know the full details of any given situation.  But it also enables misinformation to spread like a virus.  It is toxic in that sense and it was toxic yesterday.  Within an hour of it happening, rumours were flying around and hate speech had already started to be spouted all over Twitter and Facebook.  I reserved my judgements until the full facts were known.  We have now been told by the authorities that yes, this was a terrorist attack motivated by fundamentalism and a hatred of the military.  But the ignorance does not end even when the basic facts are known.  Facebook opened my eyes to this.

I despair of Facebook in a way I don’t with Twitter.  Twitter is full of strangers and it’s hard to remain angry at someone who you don’t know or have any direct contact with.  You can hate what they say, but you have no personal relationship.  Facebook is a very different beast.  It is defined by the relationships and friendships you conduct there.  You have control over who sees what and who you add or delete.  That’s why I despaired all the more, because suddenly people in my life – people I love and respect – were saying things I never expected from them.

But it’s understandable, if not excusable.  This attack has a unique horror to it by its very nature.  All the details we now know have evolved into a narrative that fires your emotions.  The facts go from “men kill man” to “two black men claiming to be Muslims shoot and behead a British soldier wearing a Help for Heroes t-shirt”.  You hear about these kinds of barbaric acts – beheadings, stonings – happening in other countries, but you are insulated by your surroundings.  You feel, as a British citizen living in a so-called liberal democracy, that you need never worry this thing will happen on your streets.  But now it has.  And how do you react to something so awful when you have no experience of knowing how to react?  I understood the hatred.  People were saying “kick them all out”, “kill them all”, “fuck off home” and many other variations of this sentiment.  Emotions are raw.  This isn’t any old murder.  It was, to many people’s minds, a brutal murder of a serving member of our armed forces – tasked with defending British citizens – by crazed extremists.  And you picture your own son, your own brother, or your father, being that victim.  Who wouldn’t be angry?

But that doesn’t excuse the ignorance.  In the hours after something like this, people don’t search for facts.  They want to vent and rant.  So it doesn’t matter that this act was committed by two black men – people will still have a go at “P***s”.  One of the saddest things on my Facebook feed last night came from a young woman I know back home.  She is half Turkish and has suffered her own experiences of racial abuse and ignorance.  She left a fairly eloquent status about the attacks, and I thought, “Wow, how lovely”.  If you knew the crowd she hung around with, you would not expect such rationality.  But then this morning I checked again, only to see her now ranting about “throwing all P**** out” of Britain.  What a difference 8 hours makes.

I also saw multiple statuses referring to “our way of live” and telling the perpetrators to “go home”.  Whilst the facts relating to their nationality are not known – indeed fundamentalists usually attach themselves to their cause, rather than their flag – I suspect they are British-born.  Just as the 7/7 Tube bombers were.  This is something we must not lose sight of.  These are our compatriots.  It’s comforting to imagine they are alien to us, and in their views they certainly are, but they aren’t all that different in a few basic aspects.  These are men who live, breathe, work, love, and hate.  They have families and friends.  They had a car.  I suspect they have or have had jobs in London.  It reassures us to think they are not normal, that they are “mentally unhinged”, and indeed some wiring in their heads must be loose to have been brainwashed into such a callous act.  But many of them aren’t the “nutters” we paint them to be.  They often come from unremarkable backgrounds, as the Tube bombers did.  Indeed, the ringleader of the 7/7 attacks was recognised as a community man, known for running youth clubs for local teenagers.  The minute we lose sight of the fact that these extremists are living and working in our communities, we put ourselves on a path that leads us away from defeating terrorism.  If we are only ever looking for machete-wielding “psychos”, then we ignore the silent enemy in the background who spreads the poison without attention.

There were also the suggestions that we should have killed the suspects and that the death penalty should be brought back.  I understand these arguments, but they can be deconstructed quite easily.  On the first point, to kill the suspects, whilst giving us a sense of temporary justice, is not productive in the slightest.  If we are to attack extremism with the full weight of the law and intelligence services then we can’t miss an opportunity to retrieve said intelligence.  If you kill the suspects, what do we learn about their motives?  We need to know if they are acting alone or as part of a wider plot.  These things can’t be gained from a corpse.  On the death penalty suggestion, I see this as no deterrent to this specific brand of criminal.  Terrorists do not fear death – they merely view it as a route to their own martyrdom.  For them, it is a victory.  If they were scared of dying, why did they stay around to boast of their killing and spout their views into phone cameras?  If they were scared of dying, why did they attempt to attack the armed police, who then proceeded to shoot them?  The death penalty may deter some crimes, but not terrorism.  If you can happily fly a plane into a building, the lethal injection isn’t going to scare you.

So where does this lead us to?  What is the solution?  The political consequences of this attack will unfold in the coming days.  I suspect there will be calls for a raft of measures aimed at squeezing people’s rights, as we saw in the aftermath of 7/7.  There has already been a suggestion this morning that the data communications bill absolutely must go through, despite several concerns about what it means to the average citizen in terms of their privacy.  Suggestions of this nature will continue to pour in, I’m sure.  In terms of the social consequences, I fear revenge attacks will become more widespread as further details emerge.  The EDL kicked off last night, surprise surprise.  How typical of them to use this for point scoring.  They spent most of last night fighting the police – how revolutionary.  The EDL solution will only ever lead us to more hate and more fear on our streets and we must fight fascism and racism with the same fervour we intend to fight terrorism.

In my view, we need a root-and-branch re-examination of what it means to live and govern in Britain in the 21st century.  We are faced with a new type of terrorism, that of the so-called “lone wolf”, and it needs new solutions and ideas.  We can’t bury our heads in the sand and say this is an exceptional situation, because it isn’t.  This sort of attack is, unfortunately, going to become more prevalent.  Whilst governments and intelligence services go after the big terror rings, smaller agents are preparing and organising all the time.  The acts of these terrorists are never justified, but it would be foolish of us to ignore their motives and reasons.  Knowledge is power.  Ignorance breeds hate.  We must educate ourselves and those around us.

I’ll end this post with a quote from a friend of mine on Facebook.  She is a former colleague and someone who has a personal connection to the armed forces.  I admired and respected her restrained attitude when so many other people around us were going for the jugular.  She said, “my sons say they won’t have kids, because why would they want to bring them into this world?”.  It’s a simple statement and one that is often trotted out at times like this, but it really struck a chord with me.  I want children, in fact I want quite a few of them.  But if a mother’s greatest responsibility is to protect and nurture her child, then why would anyone bring a child into this world?  I now think, perhaps, the best thing I could do for the protection of my future children is to not bring them into this world at all.  I hope I am proved wrong.

24/365 – ‘New York City Serenade’, Bruce Springsteen (1973) – 365 Days of Music

Walk tall / or, baby, don’t walk at all

I’ve loved this song since the first time I listened to ‘The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle’.  The album as a whole took longer to grow on me than most other Bruce albums.  But when I finally got it, I really got it.  This is the final song on the album.  It’s nearly 10 minutes long, but I wish it was longer.  It starts off with a sweeping piano intro by Bruce’s pianist at the time, David Sancious.  You could be listening to Rachmaninoff.  The song is New York City.  Everything about the music reminds me of that great city.  NYC is one of my favourite places on the planet.  I’ve visited twice now and I hope in the next few years I will get back there for a longer stay (I’ve never been there longer than 6 days).

A great memory for me comes from my last visit to Manhattan.  It was a 5 day trip I took with two of my best friends and we were staying on the Upper West Side.  On the Sunday, we had done our usual 50 block walk to Midtown and ended up in an Irish bar on East 48th St, right near the Rockefeller Center.  It’s probably my favourite part of Manhattan.  The bar staff were very friendly, the food impeccable, and the bar manager gave us free Bailey’s when we left.  As we walked back up 5th Avenue towards Central Park, I put this song on my iPod.  It was an incredible 10 minutes.  Just me, Manhattan, my friends, and Bruce.  The night was cold but clear, and all the lights of Manhattan twinkled.  It was the closest thing to real magic I’ve ever experienced.  Moments like that can’t be bought or reenacted; they just ‘are’.  That was in November 2011 and it’s now April 2013, but that memory is as fresh as ever.  I’ll never forget it.

23/365 – ‘The Good Old Days’, The Libertines (2002) – 365 Days of Music

If you’ve lost your faith in love and music / oh, the end won’t be long

The Libertines remain one of the greatest bands this country has ever produced.  Shame that Pete Doherty’s addiction problems overshadowed a large part of the band’s success and ultimately they peaked too soon.  Still, I listen to them now and I am reminded of a time when I first was discovering this brand of early 00s indie/rock music.  The uncomfortable honesty of the lyrics Pete wrote have often chimed in time with periods of my own life, and this song in particular takes me back to some of my worst days (though thankfully I never turned to drugs).

Because if it’s gone for you then I too may lose it / And that would be wrong