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#NewJersey

  • ENLIGHTENED...by "BLINDED BY THE LIGHT"

    ENLIGHTENED...by BLINDED BY THE LIGHT

    By

    Chuck Cascio

         My students were adamant: "You have to listen to this guy, Mr. C.! You love Dylan, so you have to hear this guy!" One young woman waved a cassette tape in my face.

         Me: "Whoever this guy is, he is not Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan is a poet, the voice of the heart and of the conscience."

         Students: "But, Mr. C., you always tell us to try new things! You always say: 'Trying new things broadens your thinking and creativity.' So come on!”

         It was 1973 and I was a young English and Journalism teacher at George C. Marshall High School in Falls Church, VA. I loved my students' reactions when I had them analyze lyrics by Dylan and apply them to the socio-political climate of the time, or when I would play a Beach Boys song and ask them something seemingly bizarre like, “Equate their harmonies with the textured flow of a Dickinson poem.” At first, they would look at me confused, skeptical, but gradually they would dig in and they would come up with analogies I never dreamed of. Now, they were convinced, it was my turn to grow.

         So I relented: “Okay, so who is it that you want me to listen to? This ‘Dylan Equivalent?' "

         They did not waste a second. A cassette player appeared, the  tape was snapped in, and the entire class stood in a circle, smiling in anticipation as they awaited my reaction.

         The first sounds I heard from the recording were surprisingly appealing--a couple of engaging guitar riffs, a subtle drumbeat, another guitar floating through, hinting at something different. A few seconds passed and I was interested--not yet hooked, but interested. Then I heard the raspy, almost whispered words…

         "Sandy, the fireworks are hailin' over little Eden tonight

         Forcin' a light into all those stony faces left stranded on this fourth of July..."

    …and just two lines in, I knew I had to hear the rest. I listened intently, while my students nudged one another and some softly sang along with Bruce Springsteen's "Fourth of July, Asbury Park."

         My students did what they knew they could do--they hooked me on Bruce, and over the years I have thought often about that classroom experience (and many others)—and about how much we all have to learn by listening, looking, sharing. 

         That day, and those feelings, rushed back recently when my wife and I went to see the movie Blinded By the Light, which is based on the true story of a young Pakistani man facing the racism of late 1980s England. A friend turns the young man on to Springsteen, and his life is changed by The Boss's lyrics and music. 

         In the movie, Springsteen’s songs contribute to the young man’s development of personal strength. He experiences new insights into society. His thinking is influenced by many of Springsteen's lyrics, including one that especially hits home with him…and me… from the song "The Price You Pay": 

              “Now they'd come so far and they'd waited so long

             Just to end up caught in a dream where everything goes wrong

             Where the dark of night holds back the light of the day

             And you've gotta stand and fight for the price you pay…”

         I won't go into what are, to me, the rather obvious applications those particular lines have to life today. But it makes me think back to the 1970s when the kids I taught were experiencing a continuing era of overt racism, conflict over segregation versus desegregation, worldwide economic turmoil, a foreign war that was not formally termed a “war” by politicians of the time, talks of impeaching the president and more...and I wonder:   

         Exactly how far have we come? 

         Those kids in my classroom found a reality in the songs of Springsteen, and they shared that reality with one another and, fortunately,  with me. But they also heard and shared an element of change and a sense that life is fleeting, that people must determine what is right and what they want to pursue, and that the opportunity for personal or social change always exists…though sometimes with a price.

         Sure, they might metaphorically catch their shirts, as “Fourth of July, Asbury Park” says, on that "tilt-a-whirl down on the south beach drag" that "kept me spinnin'/I didn't think I'd ever get off…" but there is also this bit of hope at the end of the song:

              “…the aurora is rising behind us

             This pier lights our carnival life forever

             Oh, love me tonight and I promise I'll love you forever…”

         None of this is to imply that Bruce Springsteen or Bob Dylan or some singer-songwriter today has all of the answers to the looming socio-political issues we face or to the vast personal questions today’s youths confront. But the movie Blinded By the Light  emphasizes the importance of capturing the elements of hope and change, grabbing onto them, and not being afraid to “stand and fight for the price you pay.”

         Our natural instinct is to hope that the price we pay is not too high and that what we pay for will have a lasting positive effect for us and for all. As Springsteen warns in his song "Better Days," we shouldn't be "just sittin' around waitin' for my life to begin/While it was all just slippin' away." 

         I don’t know what happened to most of those students I had all those years ago, the ones who felt comfortable enough to have me listen to Springsteen, knowing that I would be captivated by The Boss. I do hope that they are all and that they still enjoy his music, that they also see how his words apply to today’s world, and that they have lived with this simple lyric in mind from Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark”:

              “You can’t start a fire without a spark.”

         If you want to rekindle that fire, go see Blinded By the Light. It brings back memories, but more important, it serves as a reminder that art can spark meaningful thought, and that we are all responsible for starting our own fires.

    Copyright: Chuck Cascio. All rights reserved.

  • March Howls, 1968

    Excerpt from THE FIRE ESCAPE BELONGS IN BROOKLYN by Chuck Cascio

          March howled through the Ides, each day bringing grisly new horrors. We plucked pistachios from a huge bowl in front of Bingham's color TV, sucking the sweet salted green nuts from their red shells, spitting the hulls into a wastebasket, fingers and lips stained blood-red with dye, we judged…and we theorized about the slaughter we were seeing:

          Bingham: "Soldiers do what they have to do."

          Bobby: "Overdo it just a little, maybe, bro? This war gonna kill us all; everyone in this fucking room."

         Bingham: "Who's to say we overdo it?"

         Moon: "What the hell, man, we are to say…I mean, someone gotta say somethin!"

         Fish: "Stuff happens. It’s war."

         Me:  "Does that mean it has to happen again and again?"

         Bobby: "All them people bein mowed down every day, like the cows in that movie Hud.”

         Moon: "Yeah, but those cows had a disease, man; all that these people have is slanty eyes."

         Bobby: "Sometimes that's all it takes to build the wall, right, brother?"

         Moon: “Say, you got that right—slanty eyes, different religion, different language, diff…er…ent skin. Just about any goddam thing’ll do if people want to hate bad enough. And one thing you can count—people sure enough want to hate.”

         We watched and thought and surmised and wondered and assured and speculated; to me, the world seemed increasingly littered with garish obscenities, human slaughter, human suffering, personal loss, vanishing youth:

         The Erica I met that night with Bingham was gone; the night of winning pool was an innocent piece of history; my Bob Dylan story seemed juvenile; Sally-Boy was a lingering dream becoming less real than our fire escape; the Fish I knew was morphing into something unrecognizable before my eyes, his wild mass of hair suddenly neatly trimmed; ancient Vietnamese watched their culture explode; young servicemen returned limbless…or not at all…and we sat in the now-vulnerable room of a college campus and watched life change while we ate pistachio nuts and, eventually, washed their red stain from our fingers.

    Copyright: Chuck Cascio, all rights reserved