(Spoiler content warning for those who have not seen it yet)
For those that don't know, It’s the story of a teenage Pakistani boy growing up in England. His parents immigrated there to “make a better life”. Layoffs, urban decay, racism and unrealistic parental expectations make it hard on the main character. Compounding the matter is that awkward stage where he feels like an outcast from all sides and he find it impossible to live up to anyone’s standards because he is unsure of his own. He is caught between wanting to be noticed & appreciated and wanting to be invisible. He meets a friend, also a Pakistani, who profoundly gives him a couple of Bruce cassettes as if he was giving him the “Key to the Universe”. Shockingly, it WAS the key and spoke to him and was all he needed to hear. So basically a coming of age story as the character finds himself and his purpose while trying to hold on to all the good in his life be it family, traditions, friends and community. It’s not a very deep premise, but was told in an unusual and intense way.
First , the downside…..a little hokey, predictable and mellow dramatic. I am generally not a fan of “movie musicals”. It’s kind of why I didn’t love “Rocket Man”. I have a tough time immersing myself in intense dialogue and story line where the characters suddenly break into a song. I like my musicals on stage. That’s just me. Also, the scene near the end, when he’s spilling his guts out at the awards banquet, and his dad shows up? I mean who could see THAT coming. Whew!
Having said that.....I loved everything else about this movie but especially the creative way they used the Bruce’s music as the main part of the story line. How could I not? It’s literally the soundtrack of my life, a roadmap of my adolescence into adulthood. It was a near perfect photograph of my life shown to me in the most relatable way possible. I was absolutely blown away. They used the music and weaved it’s meaning into the production perfectly. It was the exact same music that gave me inspiration and redemption in my most formative years. There were times when I welled up a bit as the storyline took me back to the times when I felt such despair and hopelessness.
“Everybody's got a hunger, a hunger they can't resist,
There's so much that you want, you deserve much more than this,
Well if dreams came true, oh, wouldn't that be nice,
But this ain't no dream we're living off through tonight,
Ah girl, you want it, you take it, you pay the price,”.
This is why Springsteen’s songs were so important to me. His songs told me that I was not alone, that Bruce knew everything I was going through. Bruce gets it… Bruce gets me…
Springsteen’s music came into my life in 1975 when I was almost 16 (Born to Run had just come out). My father and I had a good relationship overall, but age 15-20 was the low point for sure. My dad worked his ass off to give us a good home, nice things, education, security and stability. He wanted us to follow suit; get an education, get to work, find a wife, raise a family, find a place in the world, stay there & be thankful. What he couldn’t understand is at the time, I wanted different things. I saw that there was a part of him that wanted something different too. I could see that the life he choose only headed in one direction and I wanted to go in all directions. I wasn’t going to “settle” for anything because I wanted everything. The life he chose didn’t have to be for both of us, I wanted different things. I moved out when I was 18, dove headfirst into drug and alcohol abuse, drove fast and reckless, abandoned relationships much too quickly, hitchhiked around the country and tried anything I could to put my hometown in the rearview mirror.
At 21, I found the love of my life and that changed everything. More life lessons in Bruce’s music and how if you have that one person riding shotgun and taking the wheel when your weary, then that’s the exactly where you belong. “Oh-oh come take my hand, We're riding out tonight to case the promised land”.
“The River” came out just as Sue and I began our journey together. While songs like “Independence Day” reflected on the turmoil of our parents houses, this record was loaded with songs telling us that even if all you have is that one person falling asleep and waking up by your side....you’re doing way better than most anybody. Enjoy it now because while it can be fleeting, it’s worth doing anything to save it.
So in the end….in the movie…. and in my life… father and son both actually wanted many of the same things & just chose a different vehicle to get there. My Dad drove a Chevy, I drove a convertible.