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.

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16/365 – ‘Dancing in the Dark’, Bruce Springsteen (1984) – 365 Days of Music

Blah, word vomit ahead. This song conjures too many memories to count.

1. First time I saw Bruce’s bum wiggle in those jeans must have been when I was a kid watching MTV or VH1. But I remember the first time I watched it and had FEELINGS about that wiggling bum. That was around 2008 when the obsession first kicked off.
2. Seeing it live at my first Bruce gig, May 2008, one of few songs I knew at that point… phoned my Mum so she could hear it.
3. My 23rd birthday. Me and my mates in Bamboogy on King Street in Wigan. They got this played for me, it was glorious.
4. Any time in Reflex bar I’ve managed to get it on.
5. One of my top 5 songs to run/gym to. Nothing better than pummeling the treadmill whilst Bruce sings, “can’t start a fire / can’t start a fire without a spark”.
6. Dancing to it at a friend’s family party in summer 2012. Dancing with my best mates in the White Hart in London just before Christmas. Me and my friend Holly doing the classic Bruce dance from this very video.
7. One of those songs that can just pick me up when I’m down. “Can’t start a fire / sittin’ round cryin’ over a broken heart”. Thanks Bruce.

3/365 – ‘A New England’, Kirsty MacColl (1984) – 365 Days of Music

There are some songs that slip quietly into your favourites list.  Then there are the songs that crash and explode into your life and have a profound effect.  Kirsty MacColl’s version of the Billy Bragg song, ‘A New England’, made such an introduction.  I guess it came at the right time… like many ignorant folks missing out on a wealth of amazing music, I only knew Kirsty MacColl from the Christmas classic, ‘Fairytale of New York’ with the Pogues.  Then at some point in 2008, I was fortunate enough to hear this song.  The exact details escape me but what does it matter – the sheer luck of getting this song into my life is all I care about.

I was struggling through my second year at university in 2008.  I was deeply troubled.  Going off the rails, drinking too much, making a lot of people in my life unhappy, but mostly making myself unhappy.  This song came into my life with this turmoil as a backdrop.  The jangly guitars, the bass, the beat…. and Kirsty’s beautiful interpretation of Billy Bragg’s lyrics.  The lyrics spoke to me about isolation, problematic relationships, lost love and loneliness.  I needed this song at a time when my own life was rudderless and tormented.

I saw two shooting stars last night 
I wished on them, but they were only satellites 
It’s wrong to wish on space hardware 
I wish, I wish, I wish you’d care

So much of this could have been describing my life at that point.  Some days I’d wake up and say, “yes this is where it changes.  It starts here – a new day, a new life” but before I knew it, I’d be back in the same patterns of destructive behaviour.  Wishing on stars, looking for signs and symbols, all those superstitions and fallacies we allow ourselves to cling to when we feel adrift and out of our comfort zones.  “…but they were only satellites” summed it all up perfectly.

Once upon a time at home 
I sat beside the telephone 
Waiting for someone to pull me through 
When at last it didn’t ring, I knew it wasn’t you

And relying on others to sort your own shit out when deep down you know, only you are capable of making those important changes.  I did my fair share of waiting for others – friends, family members – to help me out of the hole.  And they did as much as they could.  But I was waiting for a miracle cure to my problems that was never coming.  I was my problem; I was the only one who could alter my predicament.  “I knew it wasn’t you” – it had to be me.

I love this song and I always will.  It spoke to me then and on my bad days it still speaks to me.  A wonderful bonus of discovering ‘A New England’ was that it opened the door for me to find more of Kirsty MacColl’s music.  When Kirsty was tragically taken 13 years ago in a boating accident, the world of music lost a supreme talent.  I feel blessed to have found her music and I hope those who read this will perhaps go on that same journey through her discography.  You won’t be disappointed.

I don’t want to change the world / I’m not looking for a new England / are you looking for another girl?