We learned more from a three-minute record, baby, than we ever learned in school (Break Yourself)

[Edited 12/10/16. It’s still messy and not right but I realised I was just wrong on my first reading and completely missed so much of it, so trying to fix it now.]

This is the song my family listen to every Christmas Day morning. The best bit is when Clarence says ‘you better be good for goodness sake’ so low it almost doesn’t sound real.

The first time I saw Springsteen live was in Cardiff maybe 10 years ago. My dad took us all for my mum’s birthday present (though he likes him more than she does). The only song I knew was Born in the USA and he didn’t sing it. The second time was in 2012 in Hyde Park where he sang with Paul McCartney and then had the power cut off after performing for more than three hours. I knew all of his Wrecking Ball album that time. A few months ago we saw him again at Wembley. This time I could (nearly) sing along to them all.



This is the ultimate Springsteen concert experience.

When Bruce Springsteen brings you up on stage the crowd goes wild. In part this is because one woman- it’s usually a woman, when he brings groups up he’ll bring up men too, but he always pulls a woman up because he dances with them as if it were his lover, staring intently and singing to her, and his image is very much heterosexual- gives you the feeling that maybe one day that could be you, you’ll be the one to be pulled away from the crowd and held by a super-hero, rock god alpha male. Fair, in part it’s also because Springsteen is just really cool and it’s amazing to be up on stage with him, and being up there makes you feel like a bit of a rock god. But still, the heterosexual-alpha-male thing too.

This is Springsteen being a lad and drinking the crowds’ beer.




This is Ira Brand in her play dressed as her character Ollie dressed as his idol Springsteen.

break yourself

‘Poor man want to be rich
Rich man want to be king
And a king ain’t satisfied
‘Til he rules everything’

This is what I wrote about Ira Brand’s show Break Yourself for Fest Magazine.

‘Bruce Springsteen in 1984 is the epitome of the masculine man, with his rippling muscles, gristly voice and words of love and power. He’s the type of man who would be comfortable sitting with a beer without looking at his phone.

Ira Brand performs in drag as Ollie, the graphic designer who wants to be The Boss. In an exploration of power, sexuality and desire, she confronts important questions about gender today.

Rocking between stories of sex with strange men, uncertain questioning and lip-synced Springsteen, Brand defies the traditional tropes of the drag king scene in becoming androgynous. Her breasts, chest hair drawn on, are on show as she smashes an air guitar – the costume may be masculine but her female body is swinging free. Brand’s gender in Break Yourself is a blank slate, heavy with layers of performance.

She shines as a storyteller, her clear, crisp voice honest and no-nonsense as she gently deconstructs the subtleties of gender, switching between herself and her character. Her attraction to strong men and sex that’s on the “right side of violence” links to her disdain for apologetic traits in female language. Tapping into the desire to have the qualities of those we admire or fear makes Brand’s piece universal.

Though Break Yourself suffers from a lack of cohesiveness in terms of its structure and story, individually each part shouts about an inherent sense of worthlessness disguised by performance, be it through mannerisms or clothes.

Break Yourself asks more questions than it answers, forcing us to consider the way we perform gender and identity, and how we judge others. Perhaps we’re all just dancing in the dark.’

But then you listen back to the lyrics of ‘Fire’, and you realise that Ira Brand’s play is trying to shout about all of this, buried under layers of oozing alpha male sex appeal and Springsteen’s sick tunes.

I’m pulling you close
You just say no
You say you don’t like it
But girl I know you’re a liar
‘Cause when we kiss
Ooooh, Fire

‘You just say no.’ You don’t mean it. You want to kiss me.

That’s not really okay, Bruce.

I say I wanna stay
You say you wanna be alone

Burnin in my soul
It’s outta control

He’s wrong. To say it’s out of control would suggest that men doesn’t have control over his sexual desire, which would be an offensive suggestion to men. Sexual assault is not an inability to make a move, it’s a decision to make a move. It’s a choice. It’s not ‘outta control’ of the perpetrator at all.

There was so much furor over Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines in 2013. Perhaps if the video of Fire illustrated the lyrics, it wouldn’t be so celebrated.

I know you want it
I know you want it
I know you want it.

I’ve idolised Springsteen for years, and still adore his music. I’m still going to listen to that version of Santa Claus is Coming to Town every Christmas morning. But it makes me uncomfortable to listen to him sing those lyrics about getting with a woman who clearly doesn’t reciprocate the ‘burnin’ desire.

Is it okay just because he’s The Boss?


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