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.



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.