x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Wisdom of The Boss applies to everyone

Growing up in the UK as part of a Pakistani family and a life-long passion for the music of Bruce Springsteen form the basis of Sarfraz Manzoor's latest stand-up show.

The author, journalist and broadcaster Sarfraz Manzoor. Drew Farrell / Photoshot / Getty Images
The author, journalist and broadcaster Sarfraz Manzoor. Drew Farrell / Photoshot / Getty Images

Growing up in the UK as part of a Pakistani family and a life-long passion for the music of Bruce Springsteen form the basis of Sarfraz Manzoor's latest stand-up show.

When Sarfraz Manzoor went to his first Bruce Springsteen concert in 1988, he was 17. Walking to Wembley Stadium with his friend Amolak, he quickly became aware that there were probably no other Asian teenagers from Luton in the entire crowd. But it didn't matter. Manzoor had made a connection beyond race or religion, and a lifelong obsession had begun.

The British journalist, author and broadcaster discusses his preoccupation with Springsteen to wonderful effect in his first show, which has been running at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and wraps up today. The Boss Rules is an exploration of his belief that the songs of Bruce Springsteen contain the secrets to life, love and happiness.

"Just think, you're an Asian teenager dreaming of escape from dull, provincial Luton," he says. "And you hear Thunder Road's very last line: 'It's a town full of losers/And I'm pulling out of here to win.' It's inspirational stuff. There isn't a problem in life that can't be solved through Springsteen."

If The Boss Rules sounds like great fun, it is, but this is less stand-up comedy and more warmly rendered spoken memoir, the basis of which comes from his 2007 book Greetings From Bury Park. Chronicling Manzoor's youth as the child of a first-generation Pakistani immigrant, desperately (and amusingly) trying to work out what it meant to be both British and Muslim, it tackles faith, fatherhood and family to thought-provoking effect.

But it was written five years ago. It took the spectacular reaction to a piece Manzoor wrote in 2010 about getting married to a white woman - much to the disappointment of some elements of his family - for him to realise that people not only like personal stories, they like his personal stories.

"I'm 41. I got married and had a baby at 40. I've got a mixed-race, mixed-faith child. I'm from Luton, I'm a Springsteen fan and a Muslim. So there's a lot of potential for comedy there, or something funny at least. I mean, so many Jewish writers have managed to extract their childhoods and turn them into comedy very successfully. Muslims and Asians haven't really done that. On the whole we do tough upbringing stories. But the absurdities are, I think, more interesting."

Manzoor, who is going out on a UK tour from October, explains some of these in the show. His unemployed father would wear a three-piece suit on the way to the job centre in order to project success, for example. More recently, Manzoor found himself actually discussing with his wife that if they had a boy, he would have to "trade off" his desire for circumcision with her wish for the presence of a tree at Christmas. It was perhaps for the best that they had a girl.

Actually, The Boss Rules is at its best when it's more thoughtful; Manzoor's relationship with his father was tricky and the problems caused within his family when he announced his engagement to his now wife Bridget are as vividly told as you'd expect from a journalist. What is surprising is who within that family finds his relationship most difficult.

"That's the weird thing," he says. "The conservatism that was there with the first-generation parents has returned now the second generation are parents themselves. My elder brother and sister are 49 and 50. They were raised in the UK, so they know what it's all about, what's changed. And yet they didn't turn up to my wedding and my sister has not even met my daughter. It must be because they've got kids, and they don't want them to think that what I have done is acceptable."

Manzoor says he's not "a professional Muslim" but his daughter is being brought up in a dual-faith household, and he doesn't drink. For a teenager so heavily into rock'n'roll, who ended up going to university in the notorious party city of Manchester, the latter decision seems odd, somehow.

"It was difficult and Mum was convinced I did drink, even though I didn't specifically because of her," he says. "On the night before I went to Manchester, she said to me: "It doesn't matter how far away from us you are, don't be far away in your heart." So what kind of betrayal would it have been to leave them and immediately turn my back on everything they were about? I just couldn't do it."

Such generosity of spirit is perhaps why, after listening to the Bruce Springsteen song Walk Like a Man, Manzoor's younger sister called him in tears the day before his wedding. What happens next is such a beautiful part of the story, it would be almost a plot spoiler to reveal it. But it's apt that it should be like something from a rom-com: Manzoor is working on a screen adaptation, to be helmed by the Bend it Like Beckham director Gurinder Chadha. Hopefully, the licensing of Springsteen songs won't be an issue.

"The reason Springsteen continues to make sense to people is that he writes to his age," says Manzoor. "He's not like Mick Jagger who still pretends to be in his 20s - he doesn't look back in that way. He often says at gigs: 'I can't promise you life everlasting, but I can promise you life right now.' And that's what he's all about for me."

Manzoor's book Greetings From Bury Park (Bloomsbury) is out now. Visit www.sarfrazmanzoor.co.uk for more information.

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