Bruce Springsteen and Blinded by the Light

How Bruce Springsteen's Lyrics Find New Relevance in 'Blinded by the Light'

Sarfraz Manzoor, whose memoir inspired the film, tells Playboy why The Boss' songs changed his life

Courtesy: Warner Bros.

Journalist, author and screenwriter Sarfraz Manzoor didn’t know at age 16 that he wanted to eventually pursue a career as a writer. This wasn't because he couldn’t write—in fact, he’d kept a journal nearly his whole life—but as the child of immigrants growing up in the London suburb of Lufton in the 1980s, he didn’t see it as possible.

“I wouldn't have said that I'd be a writer because I literally couldn't have imagined somebody like me being a writer,” Manzoor tells Playboy. "It was just outside of my comprehension that somebody like me could have done that for a living."

Now, his memoir Greetings From Bury Park: Race, Religion, and Rock ‘n’ Roll is the basis for the film Blinded by the Light. The movie, in theaters Friday, tells the story of a 16-year-old Pakistani boy named Javed who finds escapism, redemption and himself in an unlikely source: the songs and lyrics of Bruce Springsteen.
So much of my life is about processing my dad's death, and also thinking about Springsteen and what he did for me. This film is a meditation on both those things.
For Manzoor, Springsteen’s songs introduced him to a standard of life he’d never experienced, and made him feel like meeting that standard was an option. Two of the most impactful tracks for him were “Thunder Road” and “Born to Run.”

“In ‘Thunder Road,’ there’s a good example where he says, ‘It's a town full of losers, and I'm pulling out of here to win,’" says the 48-year-old Manzoor. "I came from a town that was like that. He's saying, ‘This is where I come from, but I'm going to go somewhere else.’ That's quite an empowering lyric to listen to if you're 16, stuck in a town like that.”

Springsteen also gave Manzoor an example of love that he feared he himself would never experience. “In ‘Born to Run,’ he says, ‘We can live with the sadness, I'll love you with all the madness in my soul,’" Manzoor says. "And I remember thinking, I am somebody who my parents think is going to have an arranged marriage. I can't imagine having an arranged marriage and believing or feeling that about a woman. And so when he sings that song, and he says, ‘I love you with all the madness in my soul,’ it made me think I would really, really like to have someone in my life that I could say that about. That did not feel possible in the context of marrying somebody from a village in Pakistan who I didn't know."
Despite the friction Manzoor dealt with due to being British and Pakistani and not being sure where he fit, one of the most important dynamics in not only the film but in his life was the relationship between himself and his father. “He had to be an obstacle, but I didn't want him to be a two-dimensional ogre character,” the author explains. “I wanted him to have his own humanity and his own history, which would be gradually revealed. And so for me, trying to protect the father and son's story was the most important part. My dad died when I was 23, which is a foundational thing in my life. So much of my life is about processing my dad's death, and also thinking about Springsteen and what he did for me. This film is a meditation on both those things.”

The narrative of the film, though very specific to Manzoor and his firsthand experiences, resonates with viewers—myself included—who see themselves in the story. "I've been blown away by how relatable people are finding it,” Manzoor says about the film’s initial reception. "I thought if I was lucky, people would find it interesting to know what it was like to grow up in this particular part of Britain at this particular time, and that it would give them a window into my life. But what I’ve been struck by was how people are relating it to their own lives. People from very different backgrounds from mine are finding connections with it, and that’s the bit I wouldn’t really have been able to predict. That’s the bit that’s been the most amazing to me.”
I can't imagine having an arranged marriage and believing or feeling that about a woman.
The result is that the book’s adaptation is the definition of a feel-good film. As a black female rock journalist, who happens to have her favorite band’s lyrics permanently scribbled on her right ribcage, watching Javed navigate political turmoil and family dynamics, with the music of Springsteen as a backdrop, is refreshing and relatable. (Even during some of the cheesier musical numbers, I couldn’t help but sing along.) However, whether or not the film—which currently boasts a sterling 91% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes—will receive the audience turnout it deserves is hard to say. As filmgoers, we often ask for more diverse stories, but when those stories are told, we sometimes don't turn out in droves to see them. For his part, Manzoor seems less concerned about how many people go out to watch the movie, and more with how many people connect to the film’s central theme of our differences making us great.

“How ridiculous is that, if you think about it? If you take a step back, what is this story? It's about a kid who happens to like different music than some other people in his life,” Manzoor laughs. “You know, that seems like quite a small thing, but it actually can be quite a big thing. If I'd been listening to The Smiths, and everyone else was listening to The Smiths, I wouldn't have a film. I wouldn't have a book, and I wouldn't be talking to you.”

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