Blinded by the Streetlight

I’m a sucker for movies about music fans. So when I saw a preview for Blinded by the Light, the story of a Brittish-Pakistani Bruce Springsteen fanboy, I was in. Admittedly, I’m not too familiar with the Boss’s work. Turns out you don’t need to be to appreciate Blinded. It really captures the euphoric rush of discovering your favorite music for the first time.

During my screening, I couldn’t help but think of another UK film: Sing Street, which along with Blinded are two of the very best movies about music fandom. The film adaptation of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity is up there too. But the characters in that movie are derisive, burned-out record store clerks. What Blinded and Sing evoke is more jubilant, the feeling of being young and infatuated with music, a time when you feel like the songs you love belong to you. It’s that feeling that your favorite bands are speaking directly to you.

The protagonists in both films are young high school guys living in economically depressed towns, coping with difficult home lives, and using music as a balm for their troubles. However, the way the films individually approach this subject matter is distinct. Sing is about the joy of being young and performing music. Blinded is about being young and obsessing over music.

Both of these expressions are forms of music fanaticism. I use the words “fanaticism and “fanatic” because I think “fan” has become too soft of a descriptor. I’m a fan of Dorritos. But I’m not a Dorritos fanatic. I am definitely a music fanatic, and I became one in high school, just like our guys from Sing Street and Blinded by the Light.

In the Garage I Feel Safe

The majority of high school bands aren’t good. I can say this partly because I was in a band in high school that definitely wasn’t good. Sing Street, the titular band, start out bad but get really good by the end of the movie. In fact, the musical sequences in the film become more and more fantastical and whimsical as the movie progresses, begging the question of whether Sing Street is actually good or if they just perceive themselves to be. Take, for example, one song that crescendos into a dreamy 50’s sock hop—bright swing dresses, greasy pompadours, the whole shebang. But at the end of the song, reality sets in, and the audience realizes the entire thing was a fantasy.

This fantastical underpinning is what drew me in most. Because even if your high school band isn’t great, it feels great to play together. Playing a show in a shitty high school band is a nerve-wracking, vulnerable, and adrenaline-inducing experience. Sing Street only play one gig together. But the way the filmmakers stage the concert combined with the likable cast’s performances really give audiences a taste of what it’s like to perform, even if it’s just for your school friends in a random church.

Sing also nails a key part of being in a high school band: emulating your influences. I love that every time the protagonist, Conor, discovers a new band or song he likes, his band immediately starts to sound very similar. After hearing Duran Duran’s “Rio,” he and his bandmates write the similar-sounding “Riddle of the Model.” After being introduced to Joe Jackson’s “Stepping Out,” Sing Street comes up with “Drive It Like You Stole It.” And so on and so forth.

And what is the inspiration for all of this creative output? To impress a crush, of course. Sounds like high school to me.

I Got Posters on the Wall

Even if high school musicians have ulterior motives (i.e., trying to get laid), being in a band is ultimately an outlet for their love of music. But for the fanatics who are obsessed with music, simply watching a favorite band or artist perform is one outlet, among many other acts of devotion.

In Blinded by the Light, we get to see our teenage protagonist, Javed fall hard for the music of Bruce Springsteen. I’ve never connected with Springsteen’s music the way Javed has. But the film’s main strength is that it translates the specific experience of becoming a Springsteen fan into the universal experience of discovering music you love for the first time. I came away wanting to listen to more Springsteen to try and tap into how Javed feels about it.

I think I also just really related to Javed’s obsessive tendencies. After finding some discarded Springsteen posters at a record store, he plasters them all over his room. He quotes lyrics from “The Promised Land” with the same reverence as Christians quote the Bible. Javed even serenades his crush with his own rendition of “Hungry Heart.”

I never dared to publicly croon for a romantic interest. But I did distribute a lot of  CDR mixes laden with coded messages of my love. My walls were also plastered with band posters. (My mom made me take down the Green Day one because it had cuss words on it. But I’m not bitter.) On the way to and from school, I had my headphones practically glued on, much to my dear mother’s chagrin. (But that’s what she gets for making me take down my Green Day poster.) For an inappropriate amount of time, my favorite shirt featured the band Weezer posing with the Muppets on the set of their joint music video for “Keep Fishin’.” Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

No One Hears Me Sing This Song

God, I realize now that this somehow has turned into me reminiscing about my own personal music fandom in high school. I graduated 12 years ago, but like a lot of Americans, I still think about it a lot, especially the music part of it. Your relationship with music evolves as you age. I kind of miss, and probably overly romanticize, how passionately I felt about my favorite music as a 15-year-old. Thinking back on it, a lot of the bands I liked were not good. The thought of a movie featuring me dramatically listening to a Reel Big Fish song and falling in love makes me chuckle.

But I kind of miss how shamelessly I liked that stuff. I didn’t care if the music I liked has a Best New Music label on Pitchfork. I didn’t care that the songs my band wrote and performed were silly. I guess I miss not overthinking things. Now I have nightmares about people discovering old Myspace pages containing embarrassing recordings.

At least I get to relive those feelings with Sing Street and Blinded by the Light. Isn’t that why we love high school movies in the first place? It gives us the chance to revisit the stuff we loved about that time without having to re-experience the actual nightmare of adolescence.

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