One Place That Ain’t Looking Through Me

About a decade back, I heard an interview on All Things Considered with Sarfraz Manzoor, who’d just come out with his book Greetings from Bury Park – his memoir about growing up as a British-Pakistani in Luton, in the Midlands, and getting immersed in Bruce Springsteen’s music. And I think I sat in the garage for a solid half hour, catching the whole fascinating story; someone who couldn’t have come from a more different culture than me, getting pulled on the same musical and personal odyssey by the same bunch of records.

If you’ve read this blog at all, you can see the grab. Right? I don’t think I need to restate the obvious.

I caught the show the other night.

First things first: This isn’t Mama Mia with Springsteen music. While there is the requisite act of the movie where Manzoor’s fictionalized version of himself, “Javed”, gets the same burst of recogniton while listening to “Darkness on the Edge of Town”, the musical epiphany only opens the door to all sorts of conflict in real life – which, in turn, illuminates all sorts of the musical themes.

Any description of “musical epiphanies” from ones’ teenage years is bound to swerve into the cloying and mawkish at times. Teenagers are cloying and mawkish, and it doesn’t matter what culture they’re from. And so the movie’s occasional short-cuts through plot points, via lyric drops or the occasional borderline production number that might – hell, probably will – come across as cringingly sentimental to the non-belever comes across as cringingly autobiographical to those who’ve (raises hand) been there.

So – did I enjoy the movie? Yes, but that wasn’t my main takeaway. It’s more accurate to say I felt a lot of it in the pit of my stomach. The movie took me back to a lot of things from my teens and twenties, in pretty much the same way Manzoor remembers them. That’s a good thing.


And – no spoilers, here – the music isn’t necessarily the most important point of the movie. There’ll be another post about that before too long.

Cons? Yep, there were a few.

It’d be impossible to do a movie about eighties Britain, especially as a Pakistani, without throwing in some of the politics of the era. And Manzoor’s memories of the era include a lot of the prattle of the anti-Thatcher left – which sounded at the time every bit as intolerent and libelous as Big Left’s cant against conservatives (to say nothing of Trumpkins) today. The infantlism of today’s campus “progressive” seems modeled on the prate and gabble of European lefties of the era. That, and the occasional bout of Thatcher-bashing were to be expected. That wasn’t unexpected, or especially dishonest. On the other hand, the rest of the movie – which imparted a lot of humanity on Manzoor’s very traditional Pakistani family and most of the movie’s other, very disparate characters – had me expecting much better of one of the side-conflicts; when “Javed” met his (inevitably left-wing) love interest’s (inevitably) Tory parents, they were portrayed with all the nuanced humanity of a Joe Piscopo sketch on SNL. It was a throwaway – and the movie would have been better had it been thrown away.

So do I recommend it? If you’re not a Springsteen fan, you may not “get” it. Or then maybe you will. Who knows?

If you are? It’d be interesting to see what you think.

ASIDE: By the way – the movie reminded me that my theory – Springsteen is America’s best conservative songwriter – has been completely vindicated this past year. I suspect this would be to the chagrin of a former regular commenter – but alas we’ll never know.

More coming in the next week.

5 thoughts on “One Place That Ain’t Looking Through Me

  1. I loved the movie, and think it could be nominated for best picture but wouldnt ever win because its too uplifting for the Academy. But what struck me throughout the movie (minus the political undertones in the movie between the teens that fall in love) is that THAT is what real racism and descrimination looks like. There is nothing today that comes even close to what those Pakisanis had to put up with. Another line stuck out for me about why I love America so much. The father tells Javed, “No matter how hard you try you will always be Pakistani, you will never be English!” and how in America, unlike everywhere else in the world that is not true. You can become American even if you werent born here because being American is an idea and belief system you can adopt. You cant do that anywhere else. Long story short I really loved the movie and is not only the best movie Ive seen this year, but one of the best in 5 years. This movie will become a classic.

  2. Sidenote: I couldnt relate to the poor struggling upbringing because as the son of a computer programmer and special ed teacher I grew up as middle class as they come. Although in the citry where I was raised, Edina, I was ironically the “poor kid” growing up because all my other classmates had parents that were members of the Edina Country Club but I didnt. And I had no desire to get the hell away from where I was raised once I graduated high school. So while the movie did a good job of that stuff the only thing it made me think of was how lucky and blessed I was to be raised where I was.

  3. “THAT is what real racism and descrimination looks like.”


    ” There is nothing today that comes even close to what those Pakisanis had to put up with. ”

    Although there are a few Republicans who are doing their damnedest to try in re the Somalis.

  4. Althouse made a similar assertion about Dylan at her blog a while ago

    “To be a great artist is inherently right wing. A great artist like Dylan or Picasso may have some superficial, naive, lefty things to say, but underneath, where it counts, there is a strong individual, taking responsibility for his place in the world and focusing on that.”

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