Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Stepping Out Over The Line

Right then – four days to go!

So – what shall I write about today? The tapering? The nerves? The excitement? Bruce Springsteen?

Oh go on then – yes, let’s talk about Bruce…
…not least because I figure I haven’t done enough of that over the past year or so!

This blog has been reassuringly free of ‘Born To Run’ references. The one instance on which I wrote about my relationship with Springsteen and his music came back in June last year, when it was one of the 7S I credited/blamed with me being the person I am. So for all that thoughtful, introspective stuff, go read that. Today I want to spend a little time listing his songs that have accompanied me across these 1,503 miles over the past 372 days. Trust me, I won’t waffle.

Pre-Scriptum: Remember, I don’t run with an MP3 player. As someone who often runs in the dark along roads with no pavement, I feel I can only expect drivers to look out for (and avoid) me if I am fully focused on the road ahead. That and the fact that I like running time to be my quiet time.

Not your typical thumping running song. But it does often come to mind when I’m tired or running uphill. Usually the verse that springs to mind is either “Running into the darkness” or “Trying to learn how to walk like heroes we thought we had to be” neither surprising! And, ‘Backstreets’ being a song about human bonds, nor is it that surprising that it’s come to mind when I’ve been struggling and needing all the friends I could muster. Because, believe you me, I’m blessed to have many special friends who’ve carried me through many a tough run. Even though they have no idea. Thanks, Guys. And sure, we can gloss over the fact that in the song that bond turns sour.

On his 1980 double-album “The River”, Springsteen blurred the line between rock and pop. ‘Cadillac Ranch’ is no exception. Its jangly riff normally comes to mind as I’m approaching home and running well. I couldn’t quite fathom why until I sprinted towards our front door singing, in my head: “Open up your engines let’em roar/ Tearing up the highway like a big old dinosaur”

A perfect thumping beat for running! And it’s actually the beat, more than any of its epic lyrics, that comes to mind. In particular, it’s the version from the “Live In New York City” double-live album that comes to mind, and the section when drummer Max Weinberg accompanies the crowd in its chant before Springsteen returns with the final verses (see 3’01”-3’58” into this video). I was there for those shows in N.Y.C., arm held upright in a gesture of defiant belief. “Defiant belief” comes in handy when you’re running.

Maybe it’s the “When I’m out in the street / I walk the way I wanna walk” line. More likely it’s the simple “Oh-oh, oh-oh… oh-oh, yey yey yeah” line added to the live version (see 4’10” into this video). Again, can be found on “Live In New York City”: no doubt the fact that I was there plays a part in my mind’s selection process! Oh, and it really frustrates Karen when I sing those lines at home, totally out of any context..!

Those are the songs that have got me here – not least during the 1,527 miles I’ve run since signing up for the Greater Manchester Marathon 202 days ago… But which songs will come to mind on the day and get me… well, ‘there’?
An iconic shot by rock photographer Neal Preston:
Springsteen during a soundcheck in Kyoto in 1985, checking the
sight and sound from across the floor. It’s all about the preparation…
The four listed above and plenty more, no doubt. I’ve not actually listened to Springsteen non-stop in recent weeks, as you may suspect: there’s been plenty of Gaslight Anthem, Richard Hawley and Ligabue, amongst others. On Saturday mornings, when Big’Un (5) goes for his swimming lessons, I have been running a Music History Course for Littl’Un (3): so far I’ve opened his ears to Dylan, Hendrix, Aerosmith (the earlier, good stuff)… But sure, come Sunday I expect Bruce to me my main musical companion on the road, not least since from this point onwards his music will enjoy a monopoly of my CD player, if not necessarily of my iPod on the trains to Sheffield and later Manchester on Saturday.

Right now I’m listening to a recording of his Paris concert from July 5, 2012… an amazing night. You really had to be there – and I was! ‘No Surrender’, ‘Racing In The Street’, ‘Land Of Hope And Dreams’, ‘Glory Days’… yeah, I can see a connection with the blood, sweat and tears that await me on Sunday, can’t you? Besides, the performance was mind-blowing - but the company I was in, the ties that bind that got me there, were equally if not more special. And that’s the kind of feeling I need to take with me through the streets of Manchester.
Even by Springsteen standards,
Paris 05/07/2012 was special
photo by (the special) Martin Nisbet
All those are ‘maybes’, though – I cannot predict which way my brain will go, a sentence that is true now as it was before they took a bit of it out in November 2011. But I think I can safely make two additions – and only one is Bruce-related…

Yes, ‘Born To Run’ will find its way to the front of my psyche. Not because I was born to run, because I still don’t believe I was. But, as Springsteen would say in the beautiful introduction to the even more beautiful acoustic version performed on the 1988 “Tunnel Of Love Express Tour”:

“I guess when I wrote this song I wanted to write about a guy and a girl that wanted to run and keep on running… never come back…
that was a nice, romantic idea…
but I realised that after I’d put all those people in all those cars I was gonna have to figure out someplace for them to go… […]
so this is a song about two people trying to find their way home”

Believe you me, Manchester is no home for a Tyke! But heading back to Sheffield after the run, spending some time with my family Up Theyre… that always feels like a homecoming. I’ve got my own family Darn’Ere nah, and sure, these four walls are home, the soundtrack a mixture, often comprising Big’Un talking about Lego, Littl’Un talking about “Thomas the Tank Engine” and Karen telling me about Guides and Brownies. But it’s no coincidence that I embraced Simon’s recommendation and chose Manchester to make my mark: I want to conquer Red Rose country and I want to hop back over the Pennines to my beloved White Rose to celebrate. I want to face this challenge with the fresh Northern air in my lungs and the embracing Northern love in my heart. Here’s hoping that’s how it will play out.

Right, back on track – I said there were two songs…

The second choice isn’t quite as obvious. Yet it’s likely to be the last song in my mind before I cross the starting line and the first one to echo after I cross the finishing line. In both instances it will most probably make me cry because of what it means to me, because of the connection I make with it. I’m not going to spell it out, because that alone gets me a little teary: but, if you want to know what song it is, it’s
this one. Or, if you know your music, the name Mike Batt will tell you all that you need to know.

Two classic songs, so different in rhythm and sound yet so alike in the fundamental questions they raise. Is love real? Yes, it is. But how could the light that burnt so brightly suddenly burn so pale? Well, God only knows. In my ignorance, I can but hold my flame up to them like a true Olympian and run, run and run. Why?

Because I gotta know how it feels…

…I know how it feels to be in awe of the Jersey Devil when he puts on a 3h30
’ - 4h00’ performance of blood, sweat and tears. It’s a privilege I’ve enjoyed some thirty-five times. And, whether you step out on stage or over the line, you’re putting on a performance. Now it’s my turn.

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