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.

10/365 – ‘Coming Around Again’, Carly Simon (1986) – 365 Days of Music

I love the 1980s.  All synths and big beats and weird electronic sounds and fancy bouffants.

This song appears as the theme to one of my favourite Meryl Streep films, ‘Heartburn’.  Carly Simon wrote the score and an instrumental version of this song opens the film.  It was there that I discovered the song.  The film itself is based on the semi-autobiographical novel of the same name, written by the recently-departed Nora Ephron.  Adultery, trust and politics are the major themes.  ‘Coming Around Again’ may sound like your run-of-the-mill 80s ballad, but it is actually a quite deep and personal song.  It describes the good and bad sides of marriage and family life as depicted in the film, something that Simon herself had also been through during her divorce from James Taylor in 1983.

A few years ago I managed to find a vinyl copy of the single in a Manchester record shop for just 50p.  The cover showed Meryl and her co-star, Jack Nicholson.  It was one of my best bargain buys and it came with me to London for when I finally buy that elusive record player…