Various Artists: Blinded by the Light (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Various Artists: Blinded by the Light (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

  • Columbia
  • Legacy

2019

The coming-of-age film reveals the life-changing power of some of Bruce Springsteen’s most famous songs, but its soundtrack doesn’t measure up.

In the new movie Blinded By the Light, the lead character Javed is saved by rock’n’roll, delivered into salvation by two scuffed Bruce Springsteen cassette tapes. Born in the U.S.A. and Darkness on the Edge of Town transport Javed away from his dreary English hometown of Luton, suggesting all the directions his life could lead if he only followed the gospel of Springsteen.

Generations of listeners have seen their own dreams reflected in the songs of Springsteen. For Javed, Springsteen is a lodestar, guiding him as he figures out how to develop a personality separate from his family. Teenage rebellion may be a cliché, but Javed isn’t merely interested in breaking curfew. He’s the son of Pakistani immigrants, whose father is determined to follow tradition in a new homeland—a country also populated with far-right skinheads who spit on Javed as he’s walking home.

These scenes of racial discord anchor Blinded By the Light, offering a reminder that the movie isn’t entirely fiction. It’s a cinematic adaptation of Greetings From Bury Park, the 2007 memoir from Sarfraz Manzoor, a British journalist and documentarian, and its best moments are grounded in how Javed, the fictionalized version of Manzoor, squares his familial obligations with his own burgeoning dreams. The film has a less secure grasp on music—the catalyst for his emotional evolution—a problem accentuated on its accompanying soundtrack.

Given the Springsteen’s centrality to the plot, the Blinded By the Light soundtrack taps into the deep reservoir of Boss classics written and recorded between 1975 and 1984. As part of his participation in the project, Springsteen gifted the producers “I’ll Stand By You,” a song he originally composed for the 2001 adaptation of Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone. The fact that “I’ll Stand By You” could be so easily swapped from a fantasy film to a coming-of-age comedy hints at how the song is a pro forma ballad in the vein of “Secret Garden,” Bruce’s smash from the Jerry Maguire soundtrack.

“I’ll Stand By You” provides a sedate contemporary coda to the bustle of the film, murmuring reassuringly over the film’s credits and slotted toward the end of the soundtrack, after all the rousing, restless anthems have been aired. These are the songs you know by heart even if you’re not much of a fan, the songs that form the backbone of any Bruce greatest hits collection: “Dancing in the Dark,” “Badlands,” “Hungry Heart” and “Born to Run,” augmented by relative rarities of live versions of “Thunder Road” and “The River” from the 1970s.

Tellingly, this list of Springsteen songs lacks anything from Tunnel of Love, the melancholy masterpiece released in 1987, which is when Blinded By the Light happens to be set. Its absence is deliberate. Tunnel of Love is steeped in middle-aged disappointment, not adolescent yearning, so its songs don’t quite suit Javed’s journey, but the deeper reason they’re missing is that it suits the film’s thematic purposes to have Springsteen portrayed as he was in his glory days of the late ’70s and early ’80s. That generous, working-class rebel stands in direct contrast to Javed’s world, whether it’s the Pakistani heritage at his home or the big-haired New Pop evangelicals on his campus. Neither camp understands Bruce. The father’s complaints are predictable, but the college DJ dismisses Springsteen as “history,” even though Born in the U.S.A. went triple platinum in the UK just three years prior. They may be on opposite sides of the cultural spectrum, but these naysayers are united in their belief that Springsteen says nothing about British life.

All this helps paint Springsteen as a conduit to liberation, a theme the film handles with heavy hands by plastering lyrics on the screen and mocking anybody who believes synthesizers are the sound of the future. This didacticism trickles down to the soundtrack, where the Pet Shop Boys’ “It’s a Sin” and A-Ha’s “The Sun Always Shines on TV” help paint the steely, cold landscape of Thatcher’s Britain, while Heera’s pounding Mideastern disco cut “Maar Chadapa” and Amer Chadha-Patel’s stiff New Wave protest “Get Out of My Way Fascist (Pigs)” are no more than period accents. Bits of dialogue are scattered throughout the record to help make the case that Springsteen is not merely Javed’s savior, but protector: At one point, Javed and a friend chant the lyrics to “Badlands” as a way of warding off a bunch of racist louts.

It’s a moment that’s crucial in the film but on record, it’s corny and clunky, as are all the dialogue snippets and the pair of drippy original songs from composer A.R. Rahman, for that matter. Both are contextually necessary, though, because without them, Blinded By the Light is a pretty rote Springsteen best-of collection, diligently hitting the expected beats but carrying none of the urgency, spectacle or grandeur of Bruce’s original albums. As they’re presented here, none of Springsteen’s songs have the power to change a life. Instead, they can merely soundtrack it.

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