What Blinded by the Light understands about the power of Springsteen's music
“Bruce is a direct line to all that’s true in this s‑‑‑ty world.”
It’s a statement that will ring true for any Springsteen fan, and the essential thesis of a film that’s all about loving the Boss to distraction. Or rather, loving him to the point of action. Because it’s Springsteen’s words, his lyrics, his soul-searing tunes that propel Javed to take hold of his dreams and the life he yearns for, rather than the one imagined for him by his traditional Pakistani parents.
As the opening epigraph reads, borrowing a line from Springsteen’s “Badlands”: “Talk about a dream, try to make it real.” That’s the grand summation of Springsteen’s oeuvre, and the reason so many of us keep coming back for more.
At the risk of writing “1,000 words of closely argued adulation,” as Javed is accused of doing, Blinded by the Light perfectly portrays the spiritual experience of loving the Boss. Those of us who find Springsteen’s music to be a transcendent, near religious listening experience are tapping into something Springsteen understands about what it means to be alive. More romantically, we’re connecting to the struggle to eke out a fraction of the life we’ve dreamed of, rather than the one we’ve been given.
Javed latches on to exactly that growing up in the small British town of Luton in the 1980s under the shadow of Thatcherism, a stagnant economy, and xenophobia. His family wants him to keep his head down and pursue something sensible, but he dreams of being a writer. He pens poems that he tacks to his wall and keeps a daily diary — but he’s about to give up on the whole thing until he discovers the Boss.
“It’s like Bruce knows everything I’ve ever felt, everything I’ve ever wanted,” Javed tells Roops. This comes after a stirring sequence where the words of songs like “Dancing in the Dark” and “The Promised Land” come alive for him as he hears them for the first time. They swirl around his head and appear on a wall behind him as they foment a storm inside him as potent as the one blowing outside. It’s an incredibly moving moment: There in Javed’s face and the words inscribed on the screen is the experience of what it’s like to listen to Bruce’s music writ large. It’s all-consuming, elemental, even feral — a head-on collision smashing in your guts, man.
Blinded by the Light has a lot to say about how simultaneously American and universal Springsteen’s music is — how the way he writes of working-class individuals, factory life, familial strife, disappointments, and victories taps into things inherent to his blue-collar New Jersey upbringing, while also holding true for millions around the world.
There’s, of course, the familial aspect. Springsteen’s music becomes a channel for Javed’s domestic strife — his sense that his father will never understand him coming through in Springsteen’s own fraught relationship with his dad as expressed in his music. Undoubtedly, many Springsteen fans have found a well of comfort and familiarity in those same father-son issues. But there’s the flip side of that equation (a reversal also explored on screen): Springsteen as source of familial connection. It’s probably a more recent phenomenon, as Bruce’s first generation of fans have gone on to become parents.
For many, myself included, Springsteen’s music is as much about tradition as breaking free. I can scarcely remember a family road trip or a deep cleaning of my childhood home that wasn’t set to the music of Springsteen. I always say I was raised Catholic, but Springsteen is the true altar at which my family worshipped.
When I hear his songs, I think immediately of my mom, of how Bruce is “our thing,” and all that he’s come to signify in our life (as well as the myriad memories he’s supplied, including the excuse for my mother’s first-ever trip to New York City). As much as he writes of how our parents will never understand us, Springsteen also stirs up a powerful, all-encompassing point of connection (which bears itself out in Springsteen’s own admission that he adopted his father’s image as his stage persona).
Javed turns to Springsteen’s music searching for answers and tries to live by his words, but learns that he also has to take a chance on himself outside of the tenets of his idol’s lyrics. Springsteen writes about faith a lot. Having faith in yourself, your lover, and the things you want most. Underneath his stories of down-on-their-luck folks on their last-chance power drive, he reminds us that, as Blinded by the Light says, we shouldn’t “let the hardness of the world stop [us] from letting the best of [us] slip away.”
It’s that touchstone of faith that has guided me as it does Javed. I have the words “Show a Little Faith, There’s Magic in the Night,” from “Thunder Road,” tattooed on my arm as a reminder to draw on that faith when I need it most. Like Javed, I’ve turned to Bruce to get through the most perplexing, challenging moments of my life. I don’t know a Springsteen fan that hasn’t. He reminds us to keep the faith, but to never lose our hungry hearts.
At this point, Springsteen has become more legend than mere mortal — his fame has certainly exceeded what he could have ever envisioned as a kid in Freehold, N.J. Nothing is a clearer indication of that then the very existence of a film dedicated to the power of his music.
“Write your stories, but don’t forget us,” Javed’s parents plead near the end of the film. And that’s what Blinded by the Light, in all its heart-stopping, hard-rocking, earth-quaking sonic glory, nails about the appeal of Springsteen and the eternally fulfilling, exhilarating experience of being his fan. Because Bruce, he writes his stories, but in doing so, he never forgets about all of us — the ones who dream, the ones who struggle, the ones dancing in the dark, the ones born to run.
Blinded by the Light hits theaters August 16.
Blinded by the Light