In this memoir, British journalist Sarfraz Manzoor explores the impact of several bosses — one of whom happens to be the Boss, Bruce Springsteen — on his life. Others include his exacting father and Allah.
The book is, in many ways, an archetypal immigrant tale: Manzoor’s father leaves Pakistan for England in search of a better life, eventually bringing his family to Britain as well. As Manzoor grows up, he naturally begins to feel and identify as British, despite the taunts of his white schoolmates and the efforts of his parents, who constantly remind him that England is not his real home. As a teenager, Manzoor is introduced to “the greatest music ever recorded” by a Sikh friend whose headphones regularly become tangled in his turban. Thus begins Manzoor’s somewhat unhealthy infatuation with Asbury Park’s finest.
His quick and complete discipleship of Springsteen raises existential questions for the author throughout his life. In one chapter, Manzoor describes how the song ‘Born to Run’ justifies his refusal to pursue an arranged marriage, a choice that divides his family: “The girl I wanted to spend the rest of my life with was someone to whom I could say the lines that Bruce sings to Wendy in that song: ‘We’ll live with the sadness and I will love you with all the madness in my soul.’ I was not going to be able to say that to some girl from a Pakistani village whom my parents had imported into the country.”
While as a whole the memoir is disjointed, Manzoor’s attempts to navigate his British upbringing and his Pakistani heritage — using the music of Springsteen as both map and compass — are fascinating. A World Cup match leaves him feeling resolutely British, yet the attacks on the London Underground instantly make him feel he is, in the eyes of his adoptive countrymen, nothing more than a Muslim from a hometown with a solid reputation for producing religious extremists. Your own love/ironic love/hatred of Springsteen aside, Manzoor’s devotion to The Boss demonstrates the surprising force music can have on the formation of your identity, if the right music finds you at the right time.