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.

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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

Bruce

On May 21st 2008, Manchester United beat Chelsea in the Champions League final in Moscow.  I watched the match on my university campus in Manchester city centre, got suitably trashed on snakebite, and then walked – with 2 of my best friends – all the way to Old Trafford to celebrate.  It was one of the greatest nights of my life.  And a week later, on May 28th 2008, at the same Old Trafford stadium, I enjoyed yet another great night, a night which would kickstart a now-5-year strong musical obsession with Bruce Springsteen.

The story of how I came to be a fan of the Boss begins on a sad note.  One of my best and oldest friends had recently broken up with her long-term boyfriend.  For Christmas or perhaps a bitrhday present, he had bought her 2 tickets to see Bruce and the E Street Band on their ‘Magic’ tour at Old Trafford in May 2008.  She has been a longtime fan of Bruce, as has her mum, and knowing me to be a fan of most rock music, invited me to join her.  I agreed but reluctantly.  I didn’t really know if it’d be something I would enjoy seeing as I could only recall 2 or 3 Bruce songs (everyone knows Born in the USA and Dancing In The Dark, surely!) and I thought I’d be a bit lost.  But wanting to be a loyal friend to someone who was going through a rough time, I said I would go.  Easy enough for me too, already living in Manchester.

And that night changed my life.  I can still replay it all in my head.  It was, as per usual, a grey, drizzly day in Manchester.  My friend picked me up at my house in Rusholme and we headed over to Trafford for 5:30, when the entrances for pitch standing would open.  We stood in the rain for 2 hours waiting patiently – me perhaps with slight annoyance! – for Bruce to take to stage.  The band came on at 7:30 sharp and launched straight into ‘No Surrender’.  And I was gone.  Hooked.  Mesmerised.  In love.

That night was the beginning of my relationship with the music of Bruce and the E Street Band.  From there, I bought, downloaded, YouTubed every single thing I could about this handsome American rocker who had blown me away on that damp night in Manchester.  It seemed fitting to me that I should discover my love for Bruce at the same stadium where the other great love of my life ply their trade.  It fitted so nicely.  I don’t necessarily believe in fate, but something about May 2008 was ‘meant to be’.

I went back home to Wigan in summer 2008 and spent many an evening riding around in my friend’s car, blasting the Boss.  I made her 2 mix CDs of some of the big songs that we had both enjoyed at that gig.  ‘Badlands’, ‘Because the Night’, ‘Rosalita’, ‘Long Walk Home’ and ‘Tenth Avenue Freeze Out’ are the five I seem to remember the best.  The “woah woah woah woahs” of ‘Badlands’ are still ringing in my ears.  I can still see everyone on the pitch jumping up and down and humming along with the extended opening horns intro of ‘Tenth’.  It’s something I’ll never be able to replicate.

I have loved many artists and bands in my 25 years.  Like changing socks and underwear, I had a new favourite band every week when I was 17 and 18 and hanging out with a much more varied crowd at college than I had ever had at secondary school.  Blondie, Fleetwood Mac, The Libertines, early Arcade Fire, early British Sea Power…. I was obsessive about all of them, and still am to some extent.  But for me, Bruce was ‘it’.  I had found him.  The one artist, the one songwriter, the one musician who leapfrogs above all the ones before and takes centre stage in your life.

I go through phases with most bands.  Recently I have been listening to a lot of Florence + The Machine, having just seen her perform an amazing set at the o2 just before Christmas.  I listened to Fleetwood Mac for the first time in months earlier this week.  I don’t just mean one song – you know, when you listen completely.  But then I get ‘bored’ of that particular band.  Bored is perhaps the wrong word, but it’s the best way to describe it.  I’m never really bored of any of the bands I love but sometimes you need a change.

Bruce has never just been a phase.  If it is a phase, it’s a particularly long one with no end in sight.  I don’t know what it is about him because there is much about him that I know people dislike.  As a person perhaps not, as he is as genuine and modest as his New Jersey roots will allow him to be.  But in his music?  Yes I can see why people would not like what he does.  One of my other best friends cannot stand his brand of homeland rock and songs about cars, girls and working class life.  I think she misunderstands him.  She says she doesn’t.  We agree to disagree.  We agree that Depeche Mode are one of the best things Britain has ever produced, so that is enough for us!

For me though, there is no one else who comes close in terms of singing and writing about the spectrum of human emotion and experience.  Of course, as a non-American, there are things in his songs that sometimes confuse me – words or references that I’ll never fully grasp.  But in singing about the big themes – love, loss, work, family, politics – he hits the spot every time.  It is 40 years since his first album was released, and he has had 16 further studio albums since then.  His latest effort, ‘Wrecking Ball’, was released in March 2012 and has been critically-acclaimed and nominated for 3 Grammy Awards.  He is still on the WB tour, a tour which has been extended this year.  Few other artists at age 63 are still doing what he does.

Bruce and his music have been there for me over 5 years’ worth of my own experiences.  Love, loss, politics – yes, all of those have assumed huge importance in my life.  Though boring to many, politics is my main interest and my academic focus.  That Bruce can take a ‘dry’ subject and write something feeling, exciting, inspirational about it…. it is a testament to his gift.  For every situation I have been through since 2008, there has been a song.  When people ask me where to start with Bruce, I say listen to either ‘Born to Run’ or ‘Born in the USA’ – but if you have a particular struggle you are facing, or a specific mood you’re in, I can be more picky!  If you’re in love, listen to ‘Tougher Than The Rest’.  If you need uplifting, listen to ‘The Rising’.  Wanna escape?  Anything from ‘Born To Run’.  Grieving – ‘You’re Missing’.  Angry about the state of the world?  ‘Last To Die’.  Going out to party?  ‘Ramrod’.  I could go on.

I am eternally grateful to the powers that be that I was able to see the Big Man before he passed away in 2011.  I still regret not trying harder for Glastonbury or Hard Rock Calling 2009, but those are trivial decisions in the grand scheme of things.  I got to HRC last year in Hyde Park to see Bruce for a 2nd time.  Another rainy day – it seems me and Bruce are destined to meet in rain-soaked grass, not that this dampened the crowd’s spirits.  Seeing John Fogerty and the indefatigable Sir Paul McCartney join Bruce on stage were personal highlights.  Having an eye-to-eye moment with Steve Van Zandt, watching Bruce hump an inflatable Mr Blobby doll, and hearing him do some of my fav songs (although he will not be forgiven for leaving my favourite song, ‘Hungry Heart’, out) rank right up there with some of the most important moments of my life (such as graduating and the like!).  I only wish Danny and Big Man had been up there with him.

In June 2013, I will be seeing Bruce again on the WB tour when he brings it back to London for a Saturday gig at Wembley Stadium.  When European dates started popping up for summer 2013, I just knew he’d do Wembley and I was proved right.  I am so excited.  And with this being a non-festival, pure-Bruce-and-E-Street concert, I am hoping many more obscure gems will be played (not an obscure song by any means but hearing ‘Born in the USA’ in that stadium would be a chill-inducing throwback to the 1985 Wembley gigs).

But most importantly to me is not just that I’ll be seeing Bruce live again at a stadium, but that 3 of my best friends will be there to enjoy it with me.  They, like me in 2008, are Bruce virgins and I cannot wait for us to experience this concert together.  I have encouraged all my friends over the years to listen to the Boss, but now they have no excuse to ignore me any further.  All 3 of them have ‘Wrecking Ball’ now and I hope they will be well-versed come June.  I have further encouraged them to by-all-means-necessary get me onto that stage with him during ‘Dancing in the Dark’.  We’ll see.

If you’ve read this far, wow.  Thanks.  I rarely write blog posts of this length unless I have something big to say.  I have been meaning to get down in words how I feel about Bruce for a long time now, and I still don’t feel this one post can accurately convey all of that.  But it’s a good overview.  For me, there is no one better and no one who I would rather listen to for hours-on-end.  I’d sell a kidney to see him live.  No joke!  Next up on my Bruce bucket list is to either see him live in New Jersey or at Madison Square Garden in New York City.  Both are long shots, but as Bruce has taught me, ‘follow that dream / wherever it may lead’.  Failing that, a dance at Wembley will do just fine.