Saturday, August 31, 2019

Joy Does Not Come on Demand: Reflections on "Blinded by the Light"

It’s not an unfair to ask if a movie is worth seeing in the theater. My once-typical response, alluding to my desire for the “communal experience” of viewing a film on a big screen feels like a near plea-bargain today. In recent times, I've found myself in a theater with two other people, maybe a dog. No loud laughter from this party of three…er, 3.5. Furthermore, so many of us have screens that are big enough.and couches just as comfortable that paying $14 for a quasi-matinee seems wrong. So when my friend Patty, with whom I saw Springsteen at Madison Square Garden in June 2000 asked me if “Blinded by the Light” was worth seeing in person (she’s on board with the Boss), I was ready to give an honest response.
For those that love music, and in particular rock ’n’ roll, the answer is unequivocally, “yes”—but for the sheer joy of hearing the Boss’ music in surround/ in stereo, the way created it to be played and understood. The delight of hearing the drums from the back of the theater in response to the introductory notes of the piano as played on “Darkness of the Edge of Town,” or that unclean yet vibrant energy that overtakes my entire being when I hear “Hungry Heart”… watch that in my living room or my laptop would work, but I would be depriving myself of something so much more.  

I think I want joy on demand…but that’s not how it works. Joy comes in the showing up, in the listening, in the paying attention to details, in knowing something so well—you can’t help but say it….Keep pushing till it’s understood, till these Badlands start treating us good.
There are enough movie reviews and good movie reviewers out there, that I'll leave that task to the experts (I prefer to read those with a Catholic lens; America magazine's Kerry Weber writes a thoughtful piece here). However, I would like to offer one insight that I would be in my hypothetical review.
Whenever I tell someone about my love for Springsteen, I get asked the same question, "Are you from New Jersey?" Although I understand the presumption, I have always felt this question is short-sighted. Coming from the Garden State doesn't automatically make one a Boss fan and if you take a look at any single one of his album tours, one can't help but take note of his global appeal. "Blinded by the Light" rests on this truth. Springsteen's music and his message are larger than yes, what exit you take off the turnpike and sometimes, life itself. But how is that true? Why should I believe that a Pakistani teenage boy living in Luton, England would identify with a musician and singer who has written all of his own music about a particular time and place. New York Times columnist David Brooks has offers an answer that resonates with me, and emerges in the film.

In "The Second Mountain," Brooks writes, 
I watched him perform to sixty-five thousand screaming young fans in Madrid. Their T-shirts celebrated all the local central Jersey places that pop up in Springsteen songs and lore—Highway 9, the Stone Pony, Greasy Lake. It turns out he didn't really have to go out and find his fans. If he built a landscape about his own particular home, they would come to him. It makes you appreciate the tremendous power of the particular. If your identity is formed by hard boundaries, if you come from a specific place, if you embody a distinct tradition, if your concerns are expressed through a specific imaginative landscape, you are going to have more depth and definition than you are if you grew up on the far-flung networks of eclecticism, surfing from one spot to the next, sampling one style then the next, your identity formed by soft commitments or none at all.
Sounds little bit like the premise of "Field of Dreams" a movie about Fathers and Sons, the visible and the invisible, and the broken, timeless, sometimes boring but often beautiful national past time of a country that connects different people from different places.

Perhaps what a young man growing up in Freehold, NJ experiences really isn't that different than one from Luton....or dare I say Walnut Creek. Maybe we just like the music itself. One thing I know for sure, it's brought more joy than a person has a right to have and hold. I've said it once, I'll say it till the end, thank you Bruce....and thank you Lord for the gift of music.
My second favorite show of all time...The River Sessions Tour: 3/13/16


  1. Thank you for this nice reflection. Love the boss. Love his music. Will try and see him soon!

  2. ... will try and see the movie soon! If the boss comes to Spokane, I am in!

  3. Seen the movie twice already and love your reflection Anne . . .