Posts Tagged ‘Blinded by the Light’

The whys and wherefores of music fandom are such that it’s near impossible to convey them on screen. They’re simultaneously elusive and illusive, mythical Bigfoots found only in the deepest reaches of the synaptic thicket called the brain. A series of interlinked sounds kicks off a chain reaction within our neurotransmitters – that is, physically speaking, what happens. But why one melody, guitar riff and soaring chorus instead of another? 

Among music-centric films, it’s rare that a fan is front and center – and rarer still that we see how the fan is born. I Wanna Hold Your Hand, Diner, The In Crowd, High Fidelity and Almost Famous are all good to great films, for example, but only Almost Famous shows what fueled the fandom. And the scene when 11-year-old William Miller flips through the LPs his sister left for him, lights a candle and places the Who’s Tommy on his turntable is wondrous – but then we jump a few years into the future to find William’s fandom in full swing.

“Blinded by the Light” – which the Washington Post posits “may be the feel-good movie of the summer” – fills in the gap. Set in 1987 Luton, England, the movie follows Javed Khan (Viveik Kalra), a British teen of Pakistani descent who dreams of being a writer. But life, he fears, is passing him by due to his overly strict father. At the same time, he deals with the realities of racism and the era’s economic tumult (1987 was the seventh year in a row of 10+% unemployment in the U.K.). His only escape comes from the Walkman hitched to his belt, and the feather-light headphones he slips over his ears whenever he can.

At the movie’s start, he listens to such Britpop acts as Madness and Pet Shop Boys, but the music’s a deflection from his life, not a reflection of it. Until, that is, when during a moment of personal crisis he inserts Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA into the Walkman and hears “Dancing in the Dark” for the first time. Roops (Aaron Phagura), a new friend at school, had lent him the cassettes for it and Darkness on the Edge of Town, and the music is a revelation, articulating everything he’s been unable to put into words about his life. As seen in the trailer below, the lyrics swirl around his head…

…and, before you know it, the music and lyrics inspire him for the better.

Directed by Gurinder Chadha, Blinded by the Light was inspired by Sarfraz Manzoor’s memoir Greetings from Bury Park, and written by Manzoor, Chadha, and Chadha’s husband Paul Mayeda Berges. In some respects, it follows the formula laid down by Chadha’s Bend It Like a Beckham, but substitutes Springsteen fandom for soccer. There are several scenes of racism-related ugliness; moments of utter sweetness, such as when Javed serenades a girl he fancies; and moments of pure giddiness, such as when Javed and Roops take control of the school’s music station and blast the Boss for all to hear.

I found it a fun, feel-good film that explains how the best music can and does transcend its origins, and reflects the listener’s reality as much as the artist’s. As I’ve noted before, the mark of much (though not all) great art is that it’s both personal and universal, restrictive yet expansive. That, in the late ‘80s, a British kid of Pakistani descent can fall under the sway of a New Jersey born-and-bred, working-class rock star shouldn’t come as a surprise. Life is life, after all, no matter where one lives or what one’s background is.

The second of the three Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band reunion-tour shows I attended was no mere concert, but a blow-out bash; and while not the favorite Springsteen concert that I’ve enjoyed, it ranks near the top. Originally slated to take place on September 16th, it was pushed back eight days due to Hurricane Floyd’s unexpected visit to the East Coast. That meant the shindig fell on the day following a major Springsteen milestone: His 50th birthday. 

Unlike the other five nights in Philly, the concert took place at the Spectrum, which seemed positively tiny and quaint in comparison to the barn-like First Union Center. The site holds a special place in Springsteen lore for two reasons: When he and the E Street Band first played it on June 6th, 1973, during a 13-date stint opening for Chicago, they were greeted – for the first and possibly last time – not by shouts of “Bruuuuce!” but actual boos; in response, Bruce is said to have flipped the finger to the over-eager fans, who were no doubt clamoring for “Roxie” instead “Rosalita.” (Oh, wait – wrong Chicago!) Fast forward three years, however, and he and the band played their first and second large arena shows as a headliner at the venue on Oct. 25th and 27th, 1976. (Both nights, as all nights in Philly, sold out.)

My first memory of this show: The traffic and parking, which were insane. The Phillies were at Veterans Stadium, which was situated across the street from the Spectrum, and the Flyers were hosting the New York Rangers at the F.U. Center, which was next door. The Schuylkill Expressway and I-95 were both backed up, and Broad Street was at a standstill. We pulled into and parked in a distant lot that, I’m fairly certain, was in Timbuktu.

Although – as I mentioned in my post on the Sept. 20th F.U. Center concert – my ticket stubs have been lost to time, I recall Diane and I being situated in first or second-level seats, about 5 o’clock to the stage’s midnight. Not the world’s best, obviously, but much better than one show in ’92 when I found myself sitting in one of the Spectrum’s “obstructed” seats (aka behind a cement pylon).

My next memory: Bruce strolling stage center with a boom box, which he held to the microphone. He played a song that a fan – a neighbor of his mother’s, no less – had sent to him for his birthday. After that, he launched into one of my favorite songs by him, “Growin’ Up,” and soon enough we were havin’ a party. As on the 20th and the 25th, highlights included the five-song stretch from “Youngstown to “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.” In short, the night was raucous and meaningful at once, exactly what this thing called rock ’n’ roll is supposed to be about. 

Unfortunately, video-capable cell phones were still a ways away, so YouTube is not littered with clips of the concert. But two cool, fan-shot videos, both from behind the stage, are present. The first: the first performance of “The Fever” since the Darkness tour…

The other: the closing number of the night, “Blinded by the Light.”

All in all, for me and mine, it was a great show.

The set:

  1. Growin’ Up
  2. No Surrender
  3. Prove It All Night
  4. Two Hearts
  5. The Promised Land
  6. Spirit in the Night
  7. Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street
  8. Mansion on the Hill
  9. Independence Day
  10. Youngstown
  11. Murder Incorporated
  12. Badlands
  13. Out in the Street
  14. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
  15. Working on a Highway
  16. The Fever
  17. Backstreets
  18. Light of Day
  19. Bobby Jean
  20. Born to Run
  21. Thunder Road
  22. If I Should Fall Behind
  23. Land of Hope and Dreams
  24. Blinded by the Light

Forty years ago today, as I write, the first full month of the Carter presidency was almost over; and, all things considered, it had been rather boring. The big news of the day was the revelation that Jordan’s King Hussein had been on the CIA payroll for at least a decade; and, because Jimmy Carter vowed during his presidential campaign to be the first to shed light on such shenanigans, some saw his administration’s newly announced policy of not commenting on covert affairs as being somewhat hypocritical.

Beyond that, the scourge known as inflation had jumped half a percent point to 5.9 percent this month; and the unemployment rate was 7.6 percent, about the same as it had been the year before. Weather-wise, at least in the Philadelphia region, it was freakishly mild – in just a few days (the 23rd), we’d hit 70 degrees.

Probably the biggest news in my world, however, was that the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries had premiered on ABC on the last day of January.

There was plenty of good TV shows in those days – well, what I, at all of 11 years old, considered to be good, including Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley on Tuesdays; and The Donny & Marie Show on Fridays. For anyone who has never had the pleasure of that specific variety show, here’s the Feb. 11th, 1977 episode in its entirety:

Anyway, enough of the preamble. Here’s today’s Top 5: February 19, 1977 (via Weekly Top 40) – and they are, in fact, the Top 5 songs of the week.

1) Manfred Mann’s Earth Band – “Blinded by the Light.” Written and recorded by Bruce Springsteen on his 1973 debut, Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ, and released as his first single, this classic song was destined for general obscurity until Manfred Mann’s Earth Band released their cover version as a single. Not only did it chart, but it went to No. 1!

2) Eagles – “New Kid in Town.” Glenn Frey, Don Henley & Co. released their classic Hotel California LP in December 1976; and this, the first single from it, worked its way to the top of the charts for the week of Feb. 26th. This week, however, it was holding steady at No. 2.

3) Mary MacGregor – “Torn Between Two Lovers.” Falling from No. 1 to. 3 this week is this soft-rock ode to infidelity, which was co-written and co-produced by Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul & Mary.

4) Barbra Streisand – “Evergreen (Love Theme From A Star Is Born).” Clocking in at No. 4 is this theme from A Star Is Born, which was co-written by Streisand and Paul Williams. It would top of the charts in two weeks’ time.

5) Kenny Nolan – “I Like Dreamin’.” Until just now, I’d never heard or heard of this song before. Nolan, it turns out, co-wrote such hits as “My Eyes Adored You” and “Lady Marmalade” before launching his solo career.

And a few bonuses:

6) Thelma Houston – “Don’t Leave Me This Way.” The Number 19 song this week is this fun disco-lite tune.

7) Wings – “Maybe I’m Amazed.” Released as a single on Feb. 4th, this live version of the classic Paul McCartney song checks in at No. 37 (on its way to No. 10). It was a single from the Wings Over America, a live set that, according to Wikipedia, set history by becoming the first triple-LP release by a group to hit No. 1 on the album charts.

8) Olivia Newton-John – “Sam.”