Posted in Books, Music, pop culture, Reviews

Book Review: Born To Run – Bruce Springsteen

The Boss needs no introduction. Even those of us who were mere blimps in our parents’ minds (I doubt I was even a concept in mine) when he released his biggest hits would have heard his songs, or some iteration of it, at least once: Blinded By the Light, Glory Days, Born in the USA, perhaps even a teeny tiny song called Dancing in The Dark whose music video featured a then-unknown young actress who would someday grow up to be Monica Geller.

I personally have very fond memories of Bruce and his music. Both are inescapably linked with my memories of growing up. I can still recall sneaking my uncle’s limited edition 2-disc Bruce Springsteen and the E-street Band Greatest Hits CD out of the living room cupboard late at night so I can listen to Thunder Road on repeat as I go to sleep, and then waking up at dawn so I can sneak it back in before he’s had the chance to notice it was gone.

In hindsight, I honestly don’t know why I didn’t just ask to borrow it but there you go.

For some reason, Bruce seemed to have experienced some kind of renaissance during the pandemic. He was everywhere during the first, second, and (for those of us in the UK) third lockdown; at least, it felt that way to me.

He was in all my running playlists because you simply can’t finish a run without playing (wait for it) Born to Run. His Broadway show was on Netflix, he had a weekly Spotify podcast with Barack Obama, he was showing young ‘uns like Jack Antonoff and Brandon Flowers how its done in songs like Chinatown and A Dustland Fairytale, and leaving them in the dust even at the ripe old age 70.

So ubiquitous was his presence that I felt compelled to buy a copy of his memoir, aptly titled Born to Run, from Blackwell’s in Oxfordshire of all places, because Waterstones and Amazon were no longer selling the hardbound edition. And after the slow start of the first few chapters, where it felt like he was still struggling to find his voice, I was pleasantly surprised to find that The Boss can really write, and that I actually gave a damn about what he had to say.

I found that although our lives are about as different as night and day, Bruce Springsteen’s story is universal, and in reading his memoir, I felt seen, heard, and understood.

Bruce in his younger years was the consummate perfectionist, who lived with all the voices in his head telling him he wasn’t good enough. Like me, he needed his people. This is why he brought the guys of the E-street band with him all the way up to the stratospheric heights of success he achieved, because he knew the experiences would be meaningless if you don’t have anyone to share it with.

Bruce had his demons. He was very forthright with his mental health struggles and his turbulent relationship with his father, but only to an extent. Despite his public persona, and despite the glimpses of his true self he allows us to see through his music, he is an intensely private man. He describes the reasons for this perfectly when he said:

Trust is a fragile thing. It requires allowing others to see as much of ourselves as we have the courage to reveal.

I like how he remained true to himself, and honest about who he is, faults and all. Most people give in to the temptation to edit their life story and make themselves look good. He went almost the opposite way. There was a sense of self-deprecation underlying everything that he wrote which makes the book immensely readable.

Bruce is the anti-thesis to the everyday working man who holds a 9-to-5 job, secure in the knowledge of where his next pay check is coming from even if said pay check is meagre as hell after taxes, pension, and additional deductions because payroll totally screwed up in calculating your National Insurance contributions so you’re now having to pay back that salary increase you thought you had earned. (Sorry, I didn’t realise I was still bitter about that).

Bruce’s story is everything that mine isn’t: taking risks, taking chances, holding on to your dream even when you were down to your last dollar, virtually homeless and living off the goodwill of your friends. I could not live like that. I sometimes ask myself why I never pursued a career in the entertainment industry, and the answer, apart from my obvious lack of acting skills or musical talent, is that I do not have the constitution to live under the threat of poverty as I wait for my dreams to come true.

Sometimes I wish I was the kind of person who could choose the road less travelled, instead of the one who makes the safe choices every time the road diverges. Because even though examples are few and far in between, if you want it bad enough and you work hard enough, you can pull out and win. Thunder Road is one of my favourite songs in the world because it is a love letter to possibilities, to those who have beaten the odds and won.

Most of us will live out our lives living perfectly normal existences, and that’s okay. There is joy to be found in the ordinary. I actually think the ordinary is underrated, and in his later years Bruce Springsteen himself will reflect on the value of simple things, of family, and of love.

But I think we need the Bruce Springsteens and the Thunder Roads of the world because of what they represent: POSSIBILITIES.

More than anything in my life right now, this is the one thing that gets me out of bed and gets me all excited. The idea of possibilities. The wish, the dream, and the hope that something extraordinary could be waiting around the corner.

Whenever I start to feel like the best years of my life are behind me, I think of Bruce, I think of Thunder Road, and I think of possibilities.

Then I smile, knowing that there’s always going to be some magic left in the night.

Overall book rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Posted in fitness, Health and Well-Being, Lifestyle, Stress Relief, Travel

More Life Lessons From Hiking

I always get a little pensive and philosophical after a long, vigorous hike.

Oh, who am I kidding. I get pensive and philosophical after doing something as mundane and trivial as taking a shower. I am, always have been, and always will be the perennial navel-gazer. You guys are just going to have to learn to live with it.

But I did find myself on a spontaneous hike along the Peak District yesterday with three of my closest friends. This has been a dream of mine ever since I first saw Kiera Knightley standing on the edge of some rock, skirts dramatically blowing in the wind even as her hair stays Hollywood-perfect, a thoughtful look on her face as she reflected on the massive, gargantuan stupidity of having inexplicably rejected the gorgeous Fitzwilliam Darcy.

There weren’t any handsome millionaires to be seen anywhere near the Peak yesterday, or if there were they must have been hiding their presence under a rock because I certainly didn’t see them. Or maybe I was just too busy making sure I don’t fall and hurt myself as I climbed up the steep path to Stanage Edge.

It’s funny, I’m always the first to push to go on these hikes, yet I know for a fact that I am the least fit person amongst my circle of friends and I will also be the first to whinge about what a stupid idea the whole thing is in the first place as I huff and puff and make my way through the planned route.

But the views, the fresh air, and the sheer exhilaration of being out in nature (and having beaten that constant voice in my head telling me I couldn’t do it), sure makes it worth all the effort.

Hiking provides one with a lot of opportunity to think and reflect, something I haven’t done a lot lately but have promised myself to try and do at least once a week. You really do get a lot of life lessons from hiking and I’m going to try and put some of those into words and record them here for posterity, in the hopes that if ever I need reminding, or if anyone else needs a similar reminder, they will be here for me and the world to see.

Firstly, there is no substitute for investing in things that will make your hike (or your life) easier in the long run. Stretchy pants and waterproof jackets might not make up the prettiest outfit for an Instagram-worthy photo, and hiking shoes may look fugly as hell, but boy will you be glad for them when you’re scrambling up rocks or walking down muddy terrains.

Make sure you’re on stable ground before you take the next big step, or before you take the next leap on your climb up to the top. If you’re not careful, the path could so easily crumble from beneath you. And remember, shiny surfaces can be deceiving as hell.

Sometimes the journey can seem like a relentless uphill battle, and you’ll want to quit, turn around and just go back. But you have to just keep moving forward. Huff, puff, whinge, and bitch all you want, but don’t stop moving. Because there’s always an end to the struggle; one way or another the path always evens out.

That being said, there is no shame in admitting that you’re struggling to breathe and that you need to pause for a break. You don’t always have to keep pace with others, you only need to keep pace with yourself.

Don’t be too busy watching your every step that you forget to look up and soak in the beauty of what the hike (and life in general) has to offer. It would be a shame if all you did was get from point A to point B, and you missed out on all the beauty in between.

Take lots of photos. Some day, everything and everyone will be gone and you’ll long for every single thing that would remind you of the good times (and maybe even the bad), and you’ll be hoarding those photographs like a miser with his money. So take the time to take a snap, take a selfie or two or several.

And finally, it always comes down to the people. Having someone who would cheer you on, someone to sing silly songs with as you make The Climb, someone to make jokes with even if the jokes are at your expense, knowing that someone will be there to make sure you don’t fall, or at least knowing that someone will be there to catch you if you do (even if they laugh first and help later)…having GOOD people to take with you on that journey makes all the difference in the world.

Mel. Angelica. Alex. Good people. Maybe even the best people. 🙂

That’s it for now until my next struggle, I mean, hike. Have a good week ahead, everyone!

Posted in bloggers, Careers, Lifestyle

Sit Still, Look Pretty (or as I’m calling it in my head…Reflections From The Dental Chair)

I find it incredibly funny, but also in keeping with everything that I know of myself, that it took a root canal procedure to finally keep me still; long enough that I was able to find words that can be strung together into my first blog in months. I mean, it would be a stretch to call this blog post coherent, but it’s something at least.

Weirdly, sitting there with my mouth propped open and a power drill too close for comfort, I had the chance to look back on the past couple of months and really think about the things that were unsettling me. I’m not any closer to finding answers to the big questions that I have only recently begun asking, hence the incoherence of this blog.

But I’m starting to believe that finding them isn’t the point. It’s the reflection, the search, the discoveries, the mistakes, and everything in between the beginning and the end that will ultimately make everything make sense. At least I hope so. Otherwise, I’d have been listening to (among other things) The Carpenters sing sha la la’s and oh oh oh’s with nothing to show for it but gibberish.

Well, you know what? I’m choosing to write about and share that gibberish anyway.

So what were my thoughts? The first thing that came to mind was that, as human beings, we tend to pre-empt things, and assume something is a foregone conclusion when nothing’s ever really set in stone. We give ourselves so much unnecessary grief and anxiety by being this way. I am a prime example of this.

To some degree, the anticipation of anything can be better or worse than the actual event. Take Christmas for example. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again, its the days leading up to the 25th of December that constitutes the entire holiday celebration.

Those days are what they sing carols about, not Christmas Day itself, because Christmas Day really is lonely as fuck. Christmas Day is the fading echo of a favourite song on the radio in the days before Spotify and instant repeats. You’ll have to wait a while to hear that song again and it’s beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time.

In the same way, the anticipation of pain is sometimes more painful than pain itself. Like, a root canal procedure isn’t really so bad. Maybe I was just unduly influenced by a line I read in one of my Sweet Valley books somewhere that has somehow stuck with me. One of the Wakefield twins was asked to do something she found particularly unpleasant, and she said she would rather have her teeth drilled.

Again, random, and I’m sorry to digress. But the point I’m trying to make here is that despite some aching in my jaw, and even though I am in some degree of pain, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

Like I said, I do this a lot, anticipate things I mean. Sometimes I hold entire conversations with another person in my head, imagining the things I think they’ll say and responding to them. Sometimes I find myself preparing for rebuttals to arguments that haven’t even been made, and getting upset for no other reason than I am conditioned by past experiences to prepare for people to be unreasonable.

Actually, people tend to be quite reasonable when approached the right way. They might not always agree with you, but disagreement doesn’t equal unpleasant. People who disagree with you are not stupid (not always anyway), neither are they bad people. They just happen to have different opinions.

Besides, there’s value in arguments. It means people care enough about what you do to have an opinion about it. The opposite of love is indifference after all. It’s like those celebrities who revel in bad press, because just being in the press at all gives them some measure of assurance that they’re somehow still relevant.

You don’t have to be perfect or right all the time. Besides, you can insist until you’re blue in the face that you’re right about something, and you might even find 100 hundred people who will agree with you. But there will always be that one person who thinks you’re wrong. And that’s okay.

There’s value in being wrong, in making mistakes. It means there’s so much more room for you to grow.

Finally, just because we’re on the subject of things that are of value, I need to remind myself every now and again that there’s value in sitting still. Because even if its during an hour and a half of having your teeth drilled while sat on a dental chair, stopping for a while gives you time to reflect on life.

It makes you feel human, rather than just a trained performing monkey spinning endlessly on precarious wheels.