When I saw Yesterday, I saw a trailer for this movie, Blinded By The Light, which tells a story based on that of journalist/Springsteen super-fan Sarfraz Manzoor. Before the movie came out, I was talking to my dad about it and he was like, “Wait a tick, isn’t ‘Blinded By The Light’ by Manfred Mann?” Me being the classic rock historian in the family, I told him that it was actually Bruce Springsteen who wrote the song, and Manfred Mann popularised it (basically a lot of Manfred Mann’s discography was Springsteen and Dylan covers).
I know I’ll sound like a bad classic rock fan when I admit this: I didn’t really listen to Bruce Springsteen until maybe 2017 because one of my friends was really into his music and I knew I had to give it a chance when he said he was listening to “Jungleland” on the bus ride home. Gave Born to Run a listen and I liked what I heard, but I didn’t take the time to really sit down and appreciate The Boss’s lyrics. Here comes Blinded By The Light, to change that and get me to think about life generally.
If you want to know what I think of this movie, keep on reading. Warning: Spoilers will be in this review.
When I spoke to Decoding Dylan author Jim Curtis (I’ll be publishing the interview soon! Just been away for a while travelling this summer, which is why I haven’t seen this movie sooner because I’m usually on the ball with classic rock movies), he mentioned that besides Dylan, another great classic rock lyricist is Bruce Springsteen. The two are often compared because of their poetic and politically conscious lyrics.
I think biopics are a bit overplayed and it’s kind of the easy way out when writing a movie about musicians and music in general. Simply put, this movie is a wonderful tribute to Springsteen because it has a politically and socially conscious message and it came out at a time when we need it. A time when the world is so divided. Even if I was born 7 years after the events of the movie happened, I could relate to it. History repeats itself and great lyrics are timeless and relatable to people of generations to come. I firmly believe we’ll still be talking about these legendary musicians.
It’s 1987 in right-wing, neoliberal, Thatcherite Luton, England – a town 30 miles away from London. Javed Khan is a 17 year old sixth form student who loves to write and has been keeping journals and writing poems since he was 10. His parents are working-class immigrants from Pakistan. Like many immigrant families, they have wishes for their children to be successful, studious, and to get a prestigious job. It’s understandable because immigrants sacrifice a lot to move to a new place and they know how difficult it is to be accepted and they want their children to have a better life.
The school year has begun and that means Javed has to leave his menial summer job, that he doesn’t get to keep his wages from because his parents need the money. On the first day of class, he accidentally bumps into the other South Asian student in the school, Roops, who is Sikh. A cassette tape lands on the ground and Roops mentions he’s listening to The Boss. Javed is confused, but it’s later clarified to him that The Boss is none other than Bruce Springsteen. Roops lends Javed a couple tapes and tells him he needs to give them a listen.
Life in Luton is boring. It’s not the exciting metropolis that is London. It’s even harder for Javed because racists spit on him, bully him, and vandalise property. At school, Javed faces rejection from the radio station and newspaper. At home, life isn’t good either. Javed’s dad, Malik, is authoritarian and has high expectations. He won’t even let him go out to parties. Naturally, Javed wants to go to university somewhere else, 200 miles away in Manchester.
Malik works hard at the Vauxhall Motors factory, but it’s not enough and his wife and kids all have to work to supplement his low income. One day, he gets the bad news that he’s been made redundant. Everyone else in the household has to work very hard because of bills and Yasmeen’s upcoming wedding. Javed goes to his room and writes some poetry, but feels disheartened and throws out all of his work. In comes Bruce Springsteen’s music to save the day and reignite his love for writing. During this scene you’ll see impactful lyrics highlighted in a lyric video-esque way next to his emotional face. He runs out into the storm, recovers a lot of his work, and brings it to his English teacher. She sees a lot of potential in him, but she isn’t the only one who sees it. His WWII veteran neighbour is impressed by his poetry too. Sadly, his parents don’t see the beauty of his poems and the value of following his passions.
Springsteen’s music makes Javed feel more confident and he asks out his crush, Eliza, a progressive girl with Tory parents. She brings him to her house to meet her family, but he faces a lot of ignorance, making him feel uncomfortable.
Javed’s writing improves immensely and his teacher finds him work experience at the local paper. The only problem is it’s an unpaid internship and Javed’s dad isn’t happy, calling it a waste because he’s working for free and that writing is a career that privileged people go for. To be fair, I’d have to agree with him here: fair pay for fair work and the journalism field tends to have more privileged people (because of the requirement of unpaid internships, it’s harder for those from less well off backgrounds to get the experience).
While at work, he gets approached asking if he is Muslim and speaks Urdu. He straight away asks if he’s going to be fired. It’s the contrary! He’s going to get paid to write a story about racism towards the Pakistani community. Javed takes the advice of Bruce Springsteen’s music and seizes his moment by not telling his dad about the money he’s making and using it to treat himself to tickets to Springsteen’s concert, skipping part of his sister’s wedding to ensure he gets the coveted tickets. While he was getting the tickets, his father is beaten up by National Front thugs. I very rarely cry in movies, but I actually cried during this scene.
His dad does not approve though, ripping the tickets in front of his face and calling him selfish.
Maybe it’s going a bit too far for Javed and he’s taking the messages of going for what you want too seriously. His friends, girlfriend, and family are upset with him, and he snaps at them saying he doesn’t need them.
He gets some good news though from his teacher, that his essay about the Springsteen and the American Dream in Luton was one of 10 winners and the prize is to go to Monmouth College in New Jersey, not too far from Asbury Park. Javed tells his teacher that he can’t go to America because his parents will never allow it. He runs away to live with his friend, Roops. They both go to America and take pictures next to all the Springsteen landmarks. While he’s away, his mum snoops through his poems and tells Malik that he needs to reconcile with Javed before they lose him.
He comes back to England and gives a moving speech at an awards ceremony at his school. His parents and Eliza are in the audience and he apologises to them and says that Springsteen’s music isn’t just about following your dreams, it’s also about loving and respecting your family and friends. The ending is happy. The family make up, Malik realises that Springsteen’s lyrics reflect Pakistani values, and Javed goes to Manchester to go to university, listening to Springsteen in the car.
I loved the editing. Lyrics showing up on the screen, cassette tape motifs, and old video clips of the past. It’s a movie that hits close to home in so many ways. The high expectations immigrant parents. Wanting to get away from home. People around you being racist. The division within the country and bad economy. Going for what you want despite people not always being behind you 100%.
I was looking at the statistics and I was sad to see that it didn’t do as well as I thought it would. I think because it was released too close to Yesterday (a movie that has a few parallels, mainly being about British Asian men who are into classic rock legends), it didn’t get the love and attention that it deserved. To be honest, I liked this movie way more than Yesterday. Sometimes great work doesn’t get as much recognition and I hope that this movie gets more recognition. Definitely makes me want to read Sarfraz Manzoor’s book Greetings From Bury Park, the book this movies is based on.
This movie makes sense to be released during the Trump/Brexit era. As I said earlier in the post, history is repeating itself. Bad economy because the rich screw over the poor. The elites pit working people against each other and get them to scapegoat minorities. Poor white people who feel left behind vote for these far right wing parties because they trick them into thinking they are temporarily inconvenienced millionaires who are being replaced by an “other”.
This is why I left America. Of course, hate and ignorance is everywhere and I’ll never completely escape it, but I try my best to find a bit of happiness in music.
One image stood out was a Conservative poster with Margaret Thatcher on it that said something like united together juxtaposed next to the scene of a hate crime. Shots? Fired. Shade? Thrown. Hotel? Trivago.
I may not have a lot in common with the main character, but at the end of the day we’re really not all that different after all. This movie has a universal message that people of all backgrounds can relate to and that’s what music is all about. Uniting people and being that little bit of hope we have in society.
If you love my blog posts about diversity and classic rock, you’ll love this movie.
Shout out to my good friend and Topaz level Patron, Patrick and my friend Matt.
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