Obsessions often come with negative connotations; some deem them unhealthy or in fact detrimental to every day life. Personally, I would say that over the last few years I have developed a slight obsession with the working class hero Bruce Springsteen, but my perceived obsession has been downgraded to ‘interest’ after being trumped by broadcaster and journalist, Sarfraz Manzoor.
Describing the show as a comedy seems slightly unjust as this is far more than a ‘set’, this is basically a man’s life story – warts and all. Although Sarfraz dismisses the notion of being a comedian early on, there is no doubt that his whit and grand tales of fanaticism are humorous within themselves and bring his story to life.
A second generation immigrant from Pakistan, Manzoor grew up in Luton – a place that its own residents voted ‘Britain’s worst town’. Despite being anything but a promise land, Luton provided him with a reason to dream and it was only when he met young Springsteen aficionado Amolak that this dream began. Initially dismissing Amolak and The Boss, his first exposure to the symphony that is Born to Run changed everything.
A huge part of Bruce’s appeal was the escapism he offered Sarfraz, epitomised most famously in Thunder Road “It’s a town full of losers, and we’re pulling out of here to win”. Springsteen’s songs provided more than just inspiration; they provided layouts and plans on how to do it.
Being a well respected broadcaster and journalist it’s bewildering to hear the turn Manzoor’s life took as a teenager. His first encounter with The Boss was in 1988 on the Tunnel of Love Express tour, and although his strict parents allowed him to go they couldn’t have envisaged the effect it would have on him. Sarfraz describes how his devotion was born out of necessity, as if he were almost in need of the man’s direct wisdom, and only after Bruce himself pointed out “what are you doing in Pittsburgh?” did he realise quite how consumed he had become.
As I say comedy doesn’t cover all aspects of this show, Manzoor’s moving account of meeting and marrying his white wife Bridget, against strong apposition from his family brought a tear to the eye of many, even him, confessing “it’s still hard, no matter how many times you do it”. But joy was found when he revealed his family did attend the wedding, after yet another intervention from Springsteen. Manzoor’s account of love is enthralling, and although Springsteen wrote many beautiful ballads he also presented somewhat of a challenge – to love someone“with all the madness in my soul”was something that intimidated the young Sarfraz.
The show is a rollercoaster of emotions as we trace Manzoor’s very footsteps from child, to troubled teenager, obsessed globe trotter and now the happy family man and successful journalist. For Boss fans it’s a treat to meet someone with such passion, but liking Bruce is not a pre-requisite for this show, in fact Bruce is just a catalyst for the developments in Sarfraz’s enchanting story. The experience is an altogether inspiring one and has the power within itself to change the outlook we take on life, something I’m sure The Boss would approve of.