As a Pakistani-born Muslim raised in Britain by Old World parents, Sarfraz Manzoor would seem unlikely to write a love letter to the music of Bruce Springsteen. But the British journalist’s charming and affectionate memoir is exactly that, chronicling his struggles to navigate the territory between the expectations of his strict parents and his own hopes and dreams.
At the center of the story is the iconic American rock star whose teenage struggles with a strict working-class father inspired the music that Manzoor would cling to throughout his adolescence in the neighborhood of Bury Park.
Greetings From Bury Park (the title is an homage to Springsteen’s first album, Greetings From Asbury Park) rises above the predictable coming-of-age genre on the strength of Manzoor’s unflinching honesty and his unique world view. He rejects his father’s blind allegiance to religious rules and Pakistani traditions, but he never rejects his father. His rebellion is quiet and respectful — no drug or alcohol binges, no rehab, no destructive behavior. And he poignantly shows how he comes to admire the life his father led even though it wasn’t what he chose.
In Springsteen’s lyrics, Manzoor discovered the courage to want something different and the wisdom that he could forge his own path and still be a good son. He recounts the night, at 16, when he lay in bed, headphones on, and listened to Springsteen for the first time. “A piercing harmonica announced the start of the first song. `I come from down in the valley,’ it began, `where mister, when you’re young, they bring you up to do just like your daddy done.’ From those opening words I wanted to know what happened next.”
You don’t have to be a Springsteen fan to enjoy this book or understand Manzoor’s devotion. You just have to recall a time when you were still open enough that music had the power to shatter the world view you inherited.
Manzoor takes us back to that tender place in a vivid way. But he doesn’t abandon us there. He takes us along as he journeys to manhood and makes sense of all that teen angst. And he doesn’t reject his adolescent obsession from the middle-aged cynicism that sometimes rewrites our personal histories. He embraces the geeky “nutter” of a university student who slept on the sidewalk to buy tickets for a Springsteen show as enthusiastically as he embraces the thirtysomething man who overcame his terror of being a Muslim traveling to the U.S. after the 9/11 attacks by taking a trip to see The Rising tour. He celebrates his past and his present equally, honoring one’s relation to the other. Ultimately, that’s his lesson, and it’s a good one.