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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
This must be the sexiest song in his entire repertoire. He wrote it for Elvis, but Elvis died before he had chance to record it. It was written during the ‘Darkness’ sessions, but Bruce felt it didn’t fit in with themes of struggle and hopelessness that feature on that album. I have to fully restrain myself from throwing my underwear at my computer screen whenever I watch the live performance from 1986. Listen, and melt. Here is the live version. Enjoy.
So I’ve been away for the last 11 days on holiday in Italy with four of my best friends. We had a really wonderful time and I fell in love with the place, the culture, the food, and the people. It is truly a gorgeous place. I arrived back in London yesterday and I am, unfortunately, back at work – but also ready to fire up my blog project again. So what I thought I’d do for this first post in nearly 2 weeks is list a few of the songs that became our “Italy playlist” whilst we were on holiday. A couple of these are Italian songs. We listened to the RTL 102.5 radio station every day and these songs were never off.
Bastille – ‘Pompeii’ – For obvious reasons. We visited Pompeii on one of our last days and it was an incredible experience.
will.i.am & Britney Spears – ‘Scream & Shout’ – It was everywhere. I think on one day we must have heard it approximately 4 times. We particularly liked reciting “Britney, bitch” after numerous shots of limoncello.
Vasco Rossi – ‘L’Uomo Più Semplice’ – Oh my days. This song. Some 60+ Italian dude who my friends said reminded them of Bruce (no!!!!!!). He’s clearly on some comeback and we loved this song, including his chants of “GUITAR! GUITAR!” and his cringey Dad-dancing. When I got back to my house yesterday I asked my Italian housemate about him, to which she responded that she hated him and even though he’s a legendary artist in Italy, he’s also vilified for some of his personal life choices, including being a mad drug addict at some point.
Max Gazze – ‘Sotto Casa’ – We called this the “Madness song” because it sounded like Madness. Max looks like a pirate in the video and we had no idea what he was singing about, but we loved it all the same and my Italian housemate said everyone in Italy loves Max.
Lykke Li – ‘I Follow Rivers’ – We heard this amazing remix that I am STILL trying to find. It’s so good.
There are other songs but these are the ones that stick out for me. It was a great holiday and it’ll be bittersweet to hear any of these songs now I’m back home. That’s the great thing about music – you can hear a song at any given moment and it can transport you back to some of the best times of your life.