Archive for January, 2014

Stuck inside of Jersey

26 January 2014

I watched a music journalist on a BBC documentary explain that Bruce Springsteen’s music was about escape and freedom. Fortunately I can’t remember her name, because she was deeply and fundamentally wrong, so much so that I can’t believe that she actually listened to the lyrics.

Springsteen’s songs are actually about the steel trap that slammed shut on blue-collar America in the mid-70s, the same story that carves through the lives of the characters in Saturday Night Fever. Although they sound as if they might be about escape, a second listen makes it absolutely clear that his characters dream of escape, but they are but moments, and almost always moments that are doomed.

The journalist was talking about Born to Run, Springsteen’s breakthrough record in 1975, and it’s worth going back to some of the lyrics to check.

On the title song, for example, which seems to set out as a song about getting away (“Baby we were born to run”: note the tense), about getting out, it becomes clear in the last verse that this is an illusion:

The highway’s jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive
Everybody’s out on the run tonight but there’s no place left to hide
Together Wendy, we’ll live with the sadness
I’ll love you with all the madness in my soul.

If there’s a theme in the record it’s about the “one last chance”, one last drive, the loss of optimism. In “Night”, the narrator is “sad and free.” Even in “Thunder Road” (“The screen door slams”), the narrator also says he has “one last chance to make it real”, and although it’s probably the most optimistic song on the record, the story that “It’s town full of losers/ And I’m pulling out of here to win” is undercut by the language all the way through. As for “Meeting Across The River”, if ever there was a song about a small-town guy in too deep, and babbling delusionally to keep his fears about the meeting at bay – surely he’s going to get smoked – it’s this:

Well Cherry says she’s gonna walk
‘Cause she found out I took her radio and hocked it
But Eddie, man, she don’t understand
That two grand’s practically sitting here in my pocket.

Yeah, right. As the lyric says a couple of verses earlier, “the word’s been passed this is our last chance.”

In “Jungleland”, the big set-piece at the end of the record, which starts with a familiar trope of 50s and 60s America (“The Rangers had a homecoming/In Harlem late last night”, people are “drinking warm beer on the hood of a Dodge”) it turns sour at the end:

And the poets down here
Don’t write nothing at all
They just stand back and let it all be
And in the quick of the night
They reach for their moment
And try to make an honest stand
But they wind up wounded
Not even dead.

Of course, the journalist wasn’t alone in making this mistake about Bruce. Ronald Reagan extolled the virtues of “Born in the USA” without listening to it properly. Springsteen soon put him right. Perhaps the power chords on Born To Run and Born In The USA confused people, or perhaps it was just the titles. But after that – in records like The River and Nebraska and The Ghost of Tom Joad – he made sure there was no room left for misinterpretation.


Margaret Robinson, 1927-2013

19 January 2014

My mother-in-law, Margaret Robinson, known throughout her life as ‘Tiggie’, died just before Chrsitmas, after “a long illness”, as they say in obit-land. Her funeral was a couple of weeks ago now, and we wrote a short obituary for her Order of Service.


“One would not have guessed from Margaret’s upbringing in Newbury that she would become a pioneer in social work and family therapy. She was one of three children of the managing director of the town’s department store, Camp Hopson, attended Newbury Girls School, and joined BOAC as a stewardess after a spell at Nottingham University. While flying she met Denis, then a BOAC pilot, and once they had married also took on Denis’ two children from his first marriage, Max and Barry.

In 1959, a few years after the birth of Sue, she was one of the first students on the London School of Economics‘ Psychiatric Social Work course, where she met her lifelong friend Phyllida Parsloe. In the 1970s she set up with Margaret Adcock the first social work course at Goldsmith’s College, and was one of the founding members of the Institute of Family Therapy.

During the 1980s, partly as her result of her own personal experience, she developed the idea of the “reconstituted family”, in papers and later in her book Family Transformation Through Divorce and Remarriage: A Systemic Approach. In the following decade, she became involved in mediation-led approaches to family breakdown, and co-founded with Lynn Hoffman and Ros Draper the Dartington Event (an eclectic gathering of therapists, and others) that pre-figured the current vogue for the ‘unconference’.

Her professional and personal life was cut short by a serious stroke in 2000, which left her all but completely paralysed. Since then she has been supported in life by Denis, her family and friends, and staff at the Brendon Care Nursing Home in Winchester.”


The image of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, by Beatrix Potter came into the public domain in the UK on 1st January 2014. We used it on the cover of the Order of Service. 

The Memorial for the Missing at the Somme

14 January 2014

Source: Wikimedia

Why Gavin Stamp’s book, published on the 90th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, and why now? I’ve owned it for a few years. I think perhaps I was trying to find a way to think about the Great War on its anniversary without going back to the literature or the history, which I think I know quite well; this was a more elliptical approach.

And in truth I knew little of the War Graves Commission, other than that a grief-stricken Rudyard Kipling was its literary adviser; it was a huge and heroic undertaking which I plan to write about a little more.

The Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, like the Cenotaph, was built by Sir Edward Lutyens, whom Stamp describes in at least two places as the greatest English architect of any generation, which may come as a disappointment to Wren or Hawksmoor. But he makes his case well, well enough for me to want to visit the Memorial and go and have a better look at the subtleties of the Cenotaph. The Memorial, in particular is built as a series of interlocking arches, the better to make the space for 60,000 names of the British and French missing.

As for the missing, in what was surely the greatest disaster in terms of British military history – so many lives lost for so little gain – Stamp quotes some lines from Sebastian Faulk’s novel Birdsong which are worth repeating here:

“‘These are just the … unfound?” She looked at the vault above her head and then around in panic at the endless writing, as thought the surface of the sky had been papered in footnotes. When she could speak again, she said, “From the whole War?” The man shook his head. “Just these fields.”

Stamp’s account of the battle and its aftermath also makes me want to read Geoff Dyer’s The Missing of the Somme, which, I suspect, will also be an elliptical approach to the dead.

Image: Wikimedia