English journalist Sarfraz Manzoor peeks behind the curry curtain in modern U.K. Pakistani culture in his memoir, Greetings from Bury Park. As the rope in a tug-of-war between two cultures pulling in strikingly contradictory directions, he finds himself in a situation similar to that of Jesminder Bhamra, the young Brit of Sikh descent at the center of Gurinder Chadha's film Bend It Like Beckham. Instead of being infatuated with a now-aging footballer, though, he's infatuated with a now-aging rock icon.
Even for those of us rock fans no farther than a bus ride from the Jersey shore where he ascended to Bosshood three decades ago, Bruce Springsteen has come to represent all things American: hard work, hard play, hard rock. Oh, and one more item, even more precious to a young misfit whose hard-toiling immigrant dad regarded his passion as frivolity at best and wastefulness at worst – freedom. While Manzoor may have taken his obsession with Springsteen's lyrics and lifestyle several leagues beyond simple fandom, he does uncover a simple truth: No engine has sufficient horsepower to permit us to slip the surly bonds of our upbringing.
In some ways, Sarfraz's journey mirrors Springsteen's own: first rebellious, then reflective, finally reconciled. InManzoor's case, the last came a bit too late, as his father passed away the very same day Sarfraz's first byline graced the pages of the Manchester Evening News, proof positive that the Vauxhall assembly line – Manzoor senior's path – wasn't the only road to respectability.
When Manzoor visits America, both pre- and post-9/11, he's forced to confront the fact that his Muslim heritage and his British residency have conspired to tangle him in the roots he once longed to sever, and which now seem more comforting than confining. The mature Manzoor is now living out his own Springsteen lyric: "Some folks got fortune, some got eyes of blue / What you got will always see you through / You're a lucky man."
Thane Tierney's musings on The Boss may be found in the "World of Bruce Springsteen" feature on the Apple iTunes website.