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.

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.

Bruce

Just gonna word-vom some Bruce stuff right here before Hard Rock Calling tomorrow.

This is a man who I first saw in concert in 2008, when I simply went to his gig as a favour to a friend.  For 4 years I’ve followed his music, his interviews, his achievements etc (trying not to sound too stalkerish) up to the point where I can say without reservation that this man and his music have had a bigger impact on me and my life than any other band or artist. 

His music has given me comfort, joy, encouragement, laughter, memories, and, most importantly, hope.  For every moment in my life there has a been a song of his that has relevance and has helped me to make sense of a situation.  I came to the Bruce party very late.  He’d already turned 58-years-old and released his 15th studio album when I discovered his music.  But better late than never and I am so glad I agreed to help out a friend in need on May 28th 2008!

Tomorrow is a very important day for me.  It’ll be my second Springsteen concert, but the first where I will truly feel part of the E Street family.  In 2008 I felt like an ignorant child, witnessing for the first time the miracle of something bigger than myself.  I was mesmerized.  This will be the first time I will stand in front of my hero and really feel worthy to listen to his music and the stories he tells through his lyrics.  Zeus himself could open the sky and ‘let it rain’ from dawn til dusk and I will not care.  I know before it’s even happened that this will be one of the greatest nights of my life.

Going underground

Blogging from my desk at work.  How rebellious am I?!

Well it’s been quite some time since I posted.  It’s been a fairly difficult few weeks personally.  Work has, thankfully, quietened down, but I’ve still found my stress and patience levels being tested.  However, I am venturing back to the homeland on Thursday evening for a few days & nights in Wigan.  I think I desperately need it.  I never thought I’d desperately need Wigan.

I had an idea in my head this morning about doing a few posts about London and the little things I’ve noticed since moving here.  This idea came to me whilst I was on the Tube, listening to Madonna and generally watching all the madness that goes on on a Tube train during morning rush hour.  It goes so far beyond just ‘people watching’. 

It’s kind of cliche to talk about Tube etiquette.  Everyone in London has an opinion about it, whether you’re a resident or a visitor.  A few things I have noticed:

– Anarchy: there is no authority on the Tube.  Every man for himself.  Free for all.  Except when a pregnant person or oldie boards, and you feel that sort of awkward guilt for waiting to see if anyone else gives up their seat.  And when they don’t, you have to stumble over to said expectant mother/OAP and ask them to take your seat.  But what if someone steams in behind you and takes the seat?  Do you stand up and fight for that seat?  Do you say “I ACTUALLY VACATED THAT SEAT FOR THIS PREGNANT LADY / ELDERLY MAN” ?  Oh the dilemmas.

– Idiots who don’t move down the train.  We’re on a train from zone 3 to zone 1, which goes through Finsbury Park and King’s Cross St Pancras, both of which are interchanges for other Tube services and National Rail.  But no.  We’re all going to congregate around the doors, which both blocks other passengers’ exits and the ability of people to board.  What happened to common sense?  A hilarious example of this happened last week.  Well of course it was hilarious to me, as I actually had a seat.  Morning rush hour.  The trains for some reason are packed… I mean, sardine-style packed.  In typical style, cretinous passengers started to board at various stops and loiter around the doors.  When we pulled up at King’s Cross St Pancras, there was total mania.  People breaking their own ribs to ensure they could get off at their stop, bags getting tripped over, people refusing to budge.  Onto the public address system comes the driver to bellow “WOULD PEOPLE PLEASE MOVE RIGHT DOWN INSIDE THE CARRIAGE.  IF YOU CANNOT FIT ONTO THE TRAIN, PLEASE DO NOT ATTEMPT TO PUSH ON WHEN THERE’S ANOTHER TRAIN ARRIVING AT THE STATION IN THE NEXT  2 MINUTES”.  Hilarious for privileged, seated onlookers like myself.

– Seat wars: this morning I boarded the Tube as normal.  At Turnpike Lane, a woman and a man boarded and stood, like me, and waited for that tense moment at Finsbury Park when you look to see who makes a move.  As we pull into Finsbury, said woman decides to come stand next to me, and motion as if she’s leaving the train.  I thus go to move down into the train where 2 other women have just vacated seats.  So what does this bushy-haired moron do?  Sees my move for the seats, spins back around and pretty much sprints to take one of the seats.  A) Do you really need a seat that badly?  B) Why did you motion to get off the train?  C) Fuck you, I got the seat next to you anyway. 

And there is my almost-4pm rant for the day.

10.31pm.

Most people probably hate the sound of airplanes over their house.  It doesn’t bother me in the slightest.  When I lived in Manchester, I hated the silence of my street.  I found it hard to sleep, especially when I had the back bedroom, where the quiet was almost eerie.  Thankfully I got to move to the front room in my 3rd university year, which was better.

But where I live in London is fairly noisy.  Not in an obnoxious or overbearing way.  Just the way I like it.  I sleep better with background noise.  And for some odd reason, hearing the planes overhead comforts me.  Makes me really feel like I’m part of ‘the city’.  I guess they’re from Luton or Stansted airport.  Heathrow and Gatwick are the other side of London.  Who knows.  But it reassures me.

London Calling.

I’ve wanted to move to London for about 5 or 6 years.  I first visited London proper in 2004 on a college trip and it was love at first sight.  I’ve been back and forth ever since then, staying for as little as 12 hours and as long as 4 days.  For me, there is very little I dislike about London.  That’ll probably change now I live here and have to cope with its mood swings every day.  But for now I’m happily in my little London-is-still-a-novelty bubble.

Talking about moving to London and moving to London are clearly two enormously different things.  But in the last 2 years, since I met some of my best friends down here, the pull towards moving here permanently became stronger.  Every time my train pulled out of Euston I felt like I had left a piece of me behind [insert melodrama].  So I decided in late 2010 that 2011 would be the year to finally bite the bullet.  I didn’t realise how quickly things would move.  Not that I haven’t had my doubts.  When my mum took ill with pneumonia in March, I went back and forth over my decision.  Thankfully she made a fine recovery.  And London was back on.

I made numerous applications, most of which were rejected.  I had one telephone interview that didn’t progress beyond that stage.  But when I applied to work at University of London, it felt different.  I felt I had a very strong application – a feeling that proved true.  And on May 4th 2011 I came down to London, interviewed, and found out I had the job the very next day.

And so here I am.  After an intense and stressful weekend of house hunting in north London in May 2011, I find myself in a little town called Wood Green.  I have a nice house.  A lovely room.  And a job I still enjoy, but I’m only 3 weeks in… so come back in a few months and I may have changed my mind.  As a Libran, this indecision and to-ing and fro-ing is a terrible flaw of mine.

I have created this blog as a place where anyone who gives a fuck can come and see what I’m up to here in the capital city now I finally live here.  I suspect it may turn into a blog of ranting, complaining and/or fangirling over the many musical/film/sporting loves of my life.  Either way, I hope you’ll enjoy it.  I have no intentions of becoming the next Carrie Bradshaw but I’d like to give it a shot.  Without the interesting love life, I fear this goal is just a tad unrealistic…